Jobseeker’s Guide to Applicant Tracking Systems: Part 1

Over the next couple of weeks we will be looking at the advantages and disadvantages of companies using an applicant tracking system.  In part one we will define exactly what these systems are and why many firms are starting to use them.

The promise of applicant tracking systems (ATS) is an alluring one: Apply the principles of technology search to the complicated hiring process, allowing recruiters and hiring managers to have access to a search system like the one that exists online with Google, Bing, Yahoo, and other search engines. Type in what you want and voilà! The perfect candidate appears. That’s the idea anyway. Applicant tracking systems allow companies to determine which candidates may be a match for a particular position, based on their résumé.

Applicant tracking systems fulfill two purposes: to manage applications for positions (especially where there is a high volume of applicants), and to screen out candidates who lack the required skills for the job.

The ATS can assist companies with hiring compliance. U.S. employment law prevents employers from discriminating in hiring based on age, gender, and ethnicity. By using an applicant tracking system to select candidates to interview, the system allows employers to comply with the law.

They also provide hiring managers with metrics and data which can improve the hiring process. Some systems collect Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data from candidates as part of the job application, streamlining compliance reporting.

Some applicant tracking systems facilitate internal communication among hiring professionals — allowing those with access to the system to share applicant résumés and notes.

Any time new technology is introduced into the hiring process, there is concern among jobseekers about what it means. It’s important to remember that technology is often used as a means to facilitate one goal: To make the hiring process more effective and efficient.

In the case of applicant tracking systems, the goal is to help hiring managers and recruiters more easily identify candidates with the skills, education, and experience that are most desired of candidates. Just like you want the most relevant search results returned when you type a query into Google, the hiring manager doesn’t want to sift through hundreds or thousands of résumés to find the handful of people he or she really wants to talk to. So if you focus your goal on ensuring you are the best fit for the types of positions you are seeking, the things that will make you findable in applicant tracking systems will already be in your résumé and cover letter — because they are important qualifications for the type of position you are seeking.

When there are a large number of applicants for a position, the ATS allows the hiring manager to screen out low-ranking résumés, saving valuable time. In this instance, the applicant tracking system works a bit like your email spam filter. It separates out résumés it doesn’t feel would be relevant for the position being filled. Like a spam filter, it recognizes content that might not be important.

The appeal of an ATS for those doing the hiring is clear. Looking for a candidate with specific skills? Type them into a database and receive a targeted list of candidates with exactly those skills.

Unfortunately, the reality hasn’t quite panned out that way. These applicant tracking systems are limited by the information they acquire from jobseeker résumés. If the résumés aren’t structured in a way that fits the applicant tracking system, they can enter a black hole. Success on the hiring side of things depends on querying the system with the right keywords, specifications, and requirements to draw out résumés that are the best fit for the position.

Full series:
Part one, two and three.