The secrets to beating an applicant tracking system

By Terena Bell

Job hunters should know that nearly 40 percent of employers use an applicant tracking system (ATS) to screen candidates for their job openings. Don’t let the name fool you. Applicant tracking systems don’t “track” where you are in the recruitment process. They’re aimed at saving employers time by dividing strong candidates from the weak. But the way in which your resume is written — not the information it conveys — is what the technology actually uses to decide. As a result, says Josh Bersin, principal at HR consulting firm Bersin by Deloitte, “Most companies have thousands of resumes sitting in a database that they’ve never looked at.” In fact, 75 percent are never seen by a real person.
How applicant tracking systems work

“If a job offer is posted via a job board, your resume will likely be scanned by bots before it reaches an actual human being,” says Michael Tomaszewski, a content creator at Upwork. Hit apply, and an applicant tracking system scans your resume for terms that match those used in the job description. Say you’re applying for a product evangelist position, for example. If your resume uses the word “evangelist,” great. The system will pass your application on to a real person. But if your current job title is listed as “sales engineer,” no dice.
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Of course, not all systems are so harsh. Some ATS brands are better equipped to take synonyms into account. But the problem is older, exact-match systems are still in use. And Tomaszewski says, “There’s no surefire way to check if your prospective employer uses ATS.”

With a little bit of sleuthing, though, Oracle Resumes President Dustin Polk says you may be able to figure it out. Look on the employer’s job page, he says: “Most will be branded somewhere with the ATS vendor’s logo. If you can’t find this anywhere in their listing, mouse over the apply or submit resume buttons and check the destination URL in the bottom of your web browser. If the company is using recruiting software, the destination URL may show which one.”

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