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How to Beat an Applicant Tracking System

Updated on Feb 17, 2023 4291 views
How to Beat an Applicant Tracking System

Statistics have shown that recruiters receive an average of 250 applications per job opening. This is why they are constantly looking for ways to make the process of hiring candidates easier and faster, and one of the ways is by using a tracking system that sieves applications. Actually, nearly 98% of companies use an ATS for their hiring process. This helps them ensure that only candidates with the right CVs get to them. 

But what makes the right CV? And how do you ensure the recruiter eventually sees your CV? This is what this article is about. 

Read on to learn about the Applicant Tracking Systems, how they work and how you can beat them. Ideally, at the end of the day, only the candidate that knows how to beat an applicant tracking system moves to the next stage of the hiring process. 


What is an ATS?

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is software employers use to determine the most qualified candidates for job openings. It enables recruiters to hire the best candidates based on their CVs. The software sieves and removes CVs that do not meet the job requirements, leaving only the candidates who have optimized their CVs and tailored them to the job role available. After this, the recruiter concentrates his energy and focuses on CVs that have made it through this stage. The overall aim of an ATS is to make the recruiting process easier for the employer. In addition to sieving through CVs, an ATS is also used to:

  • Store information of candidates such as resumes, cover letters, and other recruitment data that the employer can easily access.

  • Organize and track candidate application status throughout the hiring process. 

  • Automate time-consuming administrative activities in hiring, such as scheduling interviews, sending out emails, etc. 


How does an ATS work?

There are lots of Applicant Tracking Systems, however, they have the same general functions in the way they work.


Stores data of candidates 

One of the basic functions of an ATS is to store the data of candidates. Once you submit your CV for an application, the ATS stores your data and parses it into a central database. It scans through your document to extract your details (name, contact details, and even work experience) and arranges it into an easy-to-read format for the recruiter. 


Scanning of CVs for keywords  

This could probably pass as the most important function an ATS plays in the recruitment process. Rather than the recruiter searching through hundreds and maybe even thousands of CVs, the ATS searches each CV for important keywords relevant to the job role and differentiates the CVs that have those keywords. With this function, the ATS basically works like the human mind, using the keywords necessary for each job. These keywords could be words, phrases, work experiences, skills, job titles, locations, etc. With these, the recruiter is then able to pick the best candidates based on the optimized CVs. 


Sourcing for the right candidates through knockout questions  

In addition to using keywords to get the right candidates, ATS can also help in sourcing the right candidates using certain knockout questions. These knockout questions help to filter the candidates so that candidates who fail the questions or do not answer them are knocked out of/rejected by the system and do not get to move to the next stage of CV review. 

Some of the knockout questions could be: 

  • Do you have X certification? 

  • How long have you been a Project Manager?

  • How many years of experience do you have with JavaScript?

  • Are you willing to work full-time?

  • Are you willing to resume immediately?


Tracking Applicants 

The ATS system enables recruiters to track applicants to know what stage they are in the recruiting process. They can show which candidate is a first-time applicant, and also if they have been scheduled/attended any interview. 


Features of an ATS 

There are some key features of every Applicant Tracking System. Here are some of them: 


Job Postings Online

One fundamental feature of an ATS is the ability to post jobs on multiple platforms at the same time. They could be job sites, social media, etc. this is one of the reasons applicants must ensure to read through any job opening properly, because the job opening you’re seeing currently may be posted using an ATS. 


Customizing job application software 

An ATS can be used to enable candidates to upload their CVs and also answer some preliminary questions about themselves, the job role and even their reasons for applying. This helps the recruiter sieve through applications. 


Keyword Filters 

This is another fundamental feature that attracts recruiters to use an ATS. The software searches through submissions to identify certain keywords relevant to the job opening. This will enable the applications not to be rejected by the system and give the candidate a chance at being interviewed and hired by the organization. 


Automated messaging 

An ATS enables a recruiter to send automated messages to candidates after they have submitted an application. If you’ve received a message after submitting your application that says: “Thank you for submitting your application. We’ll be reaching out to you shortly!” Then, it’s probably from an ATS. 


Career Pages 

Some ATS allow the organization to include other details about their organization and other career opportunities. So, after submitting an application, a candidate can easily get more information about a company through the career pages available on the job opening which can be helpful to prepare for an interview with the recruiter. 


There are also certain limitations of an ATS that candidates must be aware of. Being aware of these limitations will also help you optimize your CV better to beat any form of ATS the recruiter may be using. Some of those limitations are:


  • An ATS lacks the human element, and as such cannot read human potential in a cover letter or CV. So, as much as you try to be yourself in your CV and Cover Letter, also ensure that your CV is well-optimized with the right keywords. 

  • Some ATS have a certain limit to the number of characters they can parse. This is why you must keep your CV as concise as possible. Avoid unnecessary words in your CV and concentrate on relevant keywords for the job role.

  • An ATS can knock out your CV if your previous job titles do not align with the job role you are applying for. This is why you must only include relevant work experiences in your CV to keep it direct.

  • Certain ATS can only read documents in certain formats. This could be a limitation when submitting your CV. Always submit your CV in formats requested by the company. 


How to beat an ATS 

Now you know what an ATS is and how it works, but how do you beat an ATS and get a chance at being hired at your dream company? Here are some tips on how you can beat an ATS:


Only apply for jobs you are qualified for

This is the first unspoken rule to beat any ATS the recruiter may be using. The truth is, you can easily use relevant keywords for an opening when you are actually qualified for the job role. So, as much as you can, apply for jobs that you are qualified for. 


Be particular about the kind of jobs you apply for in the same organization

If you’re going to submit an application for more than one role in an organization, be careful and selective about the roles you apply for. Some tracking systems can knock out your CV if it appears for multiple job roles. Also, the recruiters can log into the tracking system to see which candidates are applying for which position. It may not be a good look for you if they find out you applied for multiple job roles, especially if they are unrelated, in the same organization.


Tailor Your CV to each job role 

If you're going to beat any tracking system, your CV and cover letter cannot be a one-size-fits-all kind of CV. For each application you make, your CV must be tailored to suit the job role. Using the same CV for every opening you come across, will make it impossible for you to beat every kind of tracking system successfully. 


Be sure to match your CV keywords to skills on the opening 

Keywords are necessary if you're going to get your CV to the right people. When submitting an application, ensure that your CV and cover letter comprise relevant keywords you have noticed in the job opening. Your CV stands the risk of being knocked out if you do not input keywords into your CV. Those keywords can be in the form of words, phrases, skills, locations, etc. 


Write out acronyms in full

When sending in your application, it is better that you write out acronyms in full. You can use the acronym but also type it out in full. 

For example: 

"Proficient in Search Engine Optimization (SEO)" 

This way, you keep yourself safe for whatever format the tracking system will use. 


Submit the right kind of file format

Some job openings specify the kind of format to use when applying for jobs. And if you're asked to submit in a particular format, it's most likely that the ATS accepts only that format. Be sure to submit the document in the format requested. Don't Submit a word document when you are told to submit a PDF file. 


Avoid using tables, columns or graphs

You have to keep in mind that an ATS is not human, so it would not appreciate your CV the way a human being would. Keep your CV simple, don't use tables or columns in your CV. 


Use a chronological CV format 

Most tracking systems are designed to prefer a chronological resume format. So, while writing your CV, always start from your most recent job to the least recent job. Using a CV format that does not include job titles and functions makes you run the risk of having your application knocked out before it gets to the humans that will see it. 


Use a simple CV template 

As much as you would like to make your CV look fancy and nice, try as much as you can to use a simple CV template. Avoid using too many images on your CV. It could make it difficult for the ATS to parse your CV appropriately and may leave out vital information. 


Check your spelling and grammar 

Having lots of typographical errors in your CV makes you run the risk of having your CV knocked out. While a human may know that you meant “manager” and not “manger,” an ATS definitely won’t. Always check your spelling and grammar before making any application. 


Use the right font

Truth is, sometimes it’s not you, it’s just your choice of font. As much as you can, use the right font for your CV. The big question could be, what’s the right font then? Fonts like Arial or Calibri are usually easier for most ATS to read and parse. 


Leave your headers and footers empty

If you want to beat the ATS, you must keep your header and footer empty. The system won’t be able to read them and would probably make a mess of your CV. It’s even riskier if they have images because the ATS will not be able to read them. 


Keep your bullets round

If the goal is to have a beautiful CV, then by all means play around. However, the goal is to beat an ATS, so it would be better if you keep it simple. Having bullets in different shapes will make it harder for the ATS to parse your CV.


Now you know what to do to make your CV beat any form of ATS an organization may be using. Remember that at the end of the day, your CV speaks for you before the recruiter gets to meet you. So, once you know how to write a good CV and cover letter and also optimize it, you are good to go! 


Staff Writer

This article was written and edited by a staff writer.

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