Ever wondered why you aren’t getting invited to job interviews. It could well be down to a ATS (Application Tracking System). This automated software acts as a robot gatekeeper and is being used by an increasing number of recruiters to receive, store and search job applications.


The rise of the ATS
Technology has made it easier for employers to publicise their vacancies to a mass audience via their own website or third party job boards. It has also become a lot easier for people to apply for jobs, all it takes is just a few clicks. These two factors combined has meant that companies can get a huge response to each advert they place, making it tough for them to sift through all the noise and find the right candidate.


What is an ATS
It is a piece of software that receives, processes, stores and searches submitted CVs, resumes and Cover Letters. Its detractors say that it is a glorified database used by lazy recruiters who do not want to spend the time reviewing applications. However, others say it’s more than that, and praise it as a complicated piece of software that streamlines candidate management from sourcing right through to submittal. All of this before a real person even sees any paperwork. For its supporters it’s an ideal way of sorting through thousands of CVs, to determine which one best fits a particular vacancy. It can be used to;

  • post jobs
  • receive applications
  • screen CVs
  • store CVs
  • search CVs
  • invite candidates for interviews
  • generate reports


How to beat an ATS
Use the infographic below as a guide on how to get past these automated guard dogs.

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The importance of an ATS
The whole process of reviewing and evaluating CVs is evolving fast, its therefore vital that you understand exactly how these systems work and how best to optimize your CV, Resume and Cover Letter for them.

Application Tracking Systems use algorithms to read documents and make a split-second decision on whether to accept or reject an applicant. For a job seeker, the first step to getting a job interview is to make it past this stage.

Another point to remember is that in the past it was mostly big companies that used Application Tracking Systems. however, in today’s era a growing number of smaller companies are also beginning to use them.

How they work

Essentially your CV contains the keywords, skills and qualifications that a prospective employer may be interested in. An ATS will basically search your CV for keywords that the employer is looking for. It will downgrade or reject your CV according to the results, the more it finds the more ticks you get, the less it finds the less ticks you get. CVs with the highest matches (scores) relevant to the searched for keywords and phrases combined with other factors such as your years of experience will be marked for further review. All of this is different to a Hiring Manager who has to read your CV and who is more likely to reject you on the grounds of spelling errors or lack of relevant skills.

How to beat an ATS

Your can do a number of things to optimise you CV and get it highly ranked by them. Here are some tips;

Customise your CV to the job you are applying for
This is an excellent way to stand out from those who send the same CV to every job. Find the skill sets required and be sure to include them in your CV.


Read the job advert to find the all important keywords
Job adverts are an excellent source for finding those competencies that the employer wants. Read them carefully, make a list, and then mirror these in your CV.


Keyword optimization
At its core an ATS uses keywords to determine whether you’re worth shortlisting. Keywords can represent the soft skills and hard skills you possess and the expertise you’ve acquired over the years.

So, where do you get these keywords? Answer, from the job description, company website or other job descriptions that represent the type of position you’re pursuing.

Frequency, as well as the placement of these keywords is also important. An ATS can determine the strength of your skills based on the number of times a term shows up in your CV and also its location. For instance, they can associate the length of experience for a skill, based on how long you held a particular job. Meaning that if you worked at a company for three years and mentioned your skill in it, the ATS will assume you have three years’ worth of relevant experience from that job.


Avoid keyword stuffing
A word of caution, don’t go over the top with your keywords. Having too many can get you struck off.


Don’t confuse the ATS
Avoid using fancy tables or fonts in your CV, as some Applicant Tracking Systems may not be able to understand or ‘read’ these and reject your application.


Bullet points
Stick to simple solid circles and avoid using arrows or other intricate symbols for your bullet points. This again is because many applicant tracking
systems may not be able to read them and even worse could skip over the section completely.


Spelling errors
If you misspell a keyword or skill then the ATS software can’t read it and will ignore it.


Stick to commonly used conservative fonts like Times New Roman and Calibri. Avoid unusual or fancy ones that the ATS may not be able to read.


Headings and section titles
Use standard headings like ‘Work Experience’ or ‘Education’. The ATS can understand these. Avoid titles like ‘About Me’, these can confuse it.


Try to use a flowing chronological format where everything flows in sequence.


Its best to use a simple text based document like MS Word rather than say a PDF. This is because some older systems may not be able to read PDFs.


Avoid tables or columns
Don’t use these as they often cause major parsing errors and cannot be read.

Benefits of an ATS for employers

Recruiters like it because it is an automated processes that reduces paperwork, cuts costs and saves time by stopping HR staff from having to manually go through paper applications. It is a system that streamlines the hiring process by allowing users to quickly capture information, and store, view and edit records within minutes. In a high-volume recruitment environment it can help Hiring Managers to be more organised and allows them to automatically generate interview requests to potential candidates by e-mail.

Aside from the above it also helps to source and keep the details of talented candidates for potential future openings. This enables the company to build a valuable talent pool even when they are not currently recruiting.


Remember an ATS can be your best friend or your worst enemy. Like all relationships the one between your CV and ATS will take a bit of effort to make it work, but will a little bit of TLC the rewards can be great.