How to Beat an Applicant Tracking System (and land an interview)

What’s an Applicant Tracking System?

An Applicanapplicant tracking systemt Tracking System, or ATS, is an online system that allows hiring companies to screen resumes and applications. It electronically sifts through massive amounts of data searching for the right keywords and phrases.

You can think of an applicant tracking system like a gatekeeper or security guard. If you don’t have the right credentials or secret code word, you will not be allowed to enter–i.e. a human being will probably not actually lay eyes on your resume.

applicant tracking system



An ATS also provides and additional benefit to the employer in the form of compliance. Employers in every industry are required by the U.S. government to consider people regardless of gender, age, sexual preference, race and ethnicity. Basically–to avoid discrimination, which is a good thing. Many companies use technology to help manage it.

Is your resume falling into a “black applicant tracking systemhole?”

Many job seekers experience this. They attach their resume and cover letter over and over again to online application sites and never hear anything. Ugh! Why is this?

How Does an Applicant Tracking System Work?

When a company is getting ready to hire for a certain position, someone, usually an HR employee or the hiring manager, writes a job description for the open position. Often times recruiters are enlisted to help with this process.

The job description contains all the skills, experience and qualifications that are most desirable in a candidate. These are the keywords.

These designated keywords determine which resumes are identified for further consideration, which will hopefully lead to an interview.

If your resume doesn’t contain a certain number of these keywords, you won’t be considered for the job.

Related: Reasons to Avoid Filling Out Job Applications

How Do I Beat the Applicant Tracking System?

Have you ever heard, “You don’t have to have every single qualification in order to be considered for a job?”

Well, the same is true for an ATS. If you have about 60% of the keywords, this should get you past the gatekeeper. Most job descriptions are written for the perfect candidate, but one rarely finds someone who matches every qualification exactly. Hence, the 60% average–they assume they can train the right candidate for the remaining 40%.

This is why it is important to tweak your resume and cover letter slightly for every job you apply for.

Read the job description and then modify accordingly. Be sure to use the exact words in the description. It really doesn’t pay to try and be clever and find some other way of describing a skill set. Use the words they give you.

applicant tracking system

Don’t Get Creative with Fonts and Colors. Remember, a computer program is looking at your resume, not an art dealer. Simple black ink on white paper with a simple font is best. Don’t embed images either.

Follow Up. If you are really interested in a position and feel that you are very qualified, be sure to follow up after you submit your resume.  Give the hiring manager the opportunity to remember your name and seek out your resume personally because you called.

In addition, reach out to your contacts and networks and see if you know anyone who already works for the company or has a connection and can make an introduction. Sometimes beating the computer is all about who you know.

If you follow these tips and stay consistent and persistent you should be able to avoid falling into the job search black hole.

Tell us about your experiences with Applicant Tracking Systems, on either side of the computer, and what you think about them.

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