What are Applicant Tracking Systems, and how can your online job application score highly in one?

If there is one topic you don’t really get careers advice about when applying for jobs, it’s application tracking systems (ATS). I’m here to tell you how to score your job application highly in an ATS.

What is an Applicant Tracking System?

An Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, is a system which is used to filter out candidates based on the desired skill sets, education, and experience for any vacancy being advertised. Most employers – especially larger businesses – use an ATS to sift through a bulk of CVs, which helps to speed up the recruitment process. In this blog, I would like to talk about why the ATS is used by companies, and its advantages (and issues) in the current labour market. I’ll also share some of my personal experiences.

The functionality of ATS isn’t really covered in university, colleges, and careers advice. It’s important for young people to know that they may be scored by an ATS system for future roles as there may be an increase for small to medium businesses using an ATS system. So you need to know how one works!

What happens when a CV goes onto the ATS?

Your CV usually goes onto the system after you apply to a role online. Your CV will be stored on a database which checks your CV and cover letter, as well as any aptitude tests you may have taken.

If your CV and cover letter have passed the applicant tracking system, they will be checked by the employer manually depending on the number of applicants, quality of CVs and recruitment requirements.

Once you have passed this check, you should get a response from your employer.

If your CV and cover letter do not make it past the applicant tracking system, you will be given an automated message which tells you that your application has not been successful. Usually, reasons will not be specified in this email. However, in some cases, if your application meets some of the requirements, they may be placed into a separate holding database which may mean that your employer will check your application manually.

How can job applicants pass through the ATS?

Top tip: Match the keywords in the job vacancy with what you say in your cover letter and CV.

Job applicants can pass through the applicant tracking system by matching the keywords from the job description and attach it to your covering letter and CV. It’s essential to look at the roles and responsibilities as this information can give you the framework on what skills and attributes you can include in your CV.

You really need to look out for keywords within your job description, as these are usually found under the roles and responsibilities section.

Making sure your application contains the keywords in the job description can help your application score higher as your CV is tailored to the employer’s criteria. It will also improve ranking.

Fonts are also a crucial factor to consider when sending your CV online.

In most cases, and ATS would have trouble reading serif fonts such as Times New Roman or Cambria. This is because some applicant tracking systems may not recognise serif fonts and may be rejected by certain types of screening software. To clarify, serifs are little lines and tails on letters.

San-serif fonts such as Arial, Calibri and Verdana are fonts which do not include lines and tails on the letters. These fonts are picked up by ATS screening software, so use them if you can.

What are the limitations of using an ATS?

Interpretation is key to determining how people can understand the job description, which determines their ability to match it against their CV. This undermines other abilities which an applicant may have throughout their job history. Depending on the applicants understanding they may under or over represent specific abilities depending on how the job description was interpreted. There is also an issue of candidates being automatically filtered out by the vetting process, which can be caused because of poor calibration of the system. Therefore, it is essential to make sure that the employers have calibrated the ATS system to make sure that candidates are hired based on their required skills and attributes.

What are the advantages of using an ATS?

ATS allows companies to speed up the recruitment cycle, which gives recruiters faster access to the hiring process. Additionally, Many ATS programmes are equipped with automated communication features can make it faster for an applicant to receive a response. As a candidate myself, ATS can enhance my application experience as I am updated and informed if there are changes to my application status in a timely manner. When an ATS system is calibrated to match the required set of skills and criteria, it helps me as a candidate to know which type of skills the employer is looking for. Therefore, this makes the interview process much smoother as the interviewer and myself are aware of the roles and responsibilities in greater detail. Therefore, there is more focus on soft skills an interpersonal skills during the interview process.

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