ATS (Applicant Tracking System). What It Is and How to Make it Love Your Resume

An applicant tracking system is an electronic resume-screening program that companies use to scan, screen, and filter resumes. One of an ATS’s main functions is to reduce the number of resumes the humans must eventually read. ATS’s are used by all large corporations like Tim Horton’s, Walmart, and McLeans, most big companies like Stuart Olsen, Kal Tire, CNRL, and, all Government agencies, all School Boards, City Departments, some Towns and Municipalities, City Police, RCMP, Banks, and on and on. Even smaller companies with large employee turnaround, like many small construction-trades companies, use an ATS.

Applicant Tracking Systems save companies tens of thousands of dollars a year in recruitment/acquisition costs and even smaller companies recognize the long-term value of these systems. ATSs do far more than just weed out undesirables—they manage the entire recruitment process from resume-screening to managing the paperwork on a new hire. So, it’s not surprising to learn that perhaps your neighborhood mechanic shop uses an applicant tracking system.

Some companies, particularly those who get a lot of walk-ins (restaurants, retail stores, small trade shops), prefer to use an ATS to ensure their hiring practices are fair. While applicant tracking systems are highly customized to suit the specific requirements of each business, they also are neutral. An ATS doesn’t know you may be the receptionist’s cousin or the foreman’s nephew so if you do get selected for an interview, no one could claim it was because you got preferential consideration, causing all kinds of nightmares for the business. For an in-depth understanding of what an ATS is and what it does, check out Jobscan’s comprehensive article. Jobscan is, in my opinion, the most reliable source of overall job-search information on the world-wide-web.

So, how do you get an ATS to love your resume?

The best way to make an ATS love your resume is to make sure it shows how you are qualified for the position you are applying for. No sense applying for a job you have no, or few, qualifications for. People argue with me all the time saying there is nothing wrong with dropping off a generic resume because you never know when you might be in the right place at the right time. I don’t argue because that’s true. There are no hard and fast rules about how to apply for a job and there are as many ways to do it as there are jobs to be had. But if you are committed to an aggressive job search with the intent of getting a job fast, do yourself a favour and at least use job postings to help you customize your generic resume with keywords and phrases.

Getting back to Applicant Tracking Systems, they score your resume based on how well the information in it matches the job requirements. This is how the ATS determines if you are qualified for the position. It’s all about being qualified. The fact that 98% of Job Applicants are Unqualified is precisely why an average of 76.5% of companies use ATSs.

While ATSs scan your resume for the keywords and key phrases used in the job posting, they also recognize when those keywords and phrases have merely been regurgitated into a resume. A resume that matches too closely (that is, a 90 % or higher match) may actually be flagged by the ATS and ultimately disqualified. You’ll have to put some work into incorporating the job posting’s keywords and phrases into your resume organically, using those you truthfully can, but being sure not to overuse them. Jobscan has a great tool for checking your resume’s keyword and phrases. It gives you a percentage rating, which will tell you if you should revise your resume to either increase or decrease the frequency of keywords and phrases.

ATSs are only the frontline screener

At the top of this post, I mentioned that an ATS is used to filter out unsuitable resumes. But what if you are well-suited to the job you’ve applied for and still didn’t get a call for an interview? In that case, it may be that you had enough keywords and phrases in your resume to get past the ATS, but not the right information to impress a human. Ultimately, it is a human being who decides who to call in for an interview, so while you need to make sure your resume is ATS-friendly, you must also ensure it will appeal to a human being. This is where describing your accomplishments is so critical. Click here for some help with that.

Why not grab your FREE copy of HOW TO WRITE A KILLER RESUME! to learn how to use keywords and phrases effectively? It contains a ton of examples to help you really see how this keyword thing works.

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Terri is an expert resume-writer and a pretty good job coach. During her 30 years in the conventional work force, Terri was fired from 11 jobs, got laid off from 2 jobs, quit 3 jobs, sued 1 employer (successfully), made another cry, and wrote over 100 resumes for herself alone! Since embracing the good old “take this job and shove it” attitude, Terri decided to put all of her shitty “workin’ for the man” experiences and life-lessons to good use, and thus was born www.goresumepro.ca/blog. Enjoy!