Jobseeker’s Guide to Applicant Tracking Systems: Part 2

Last week in Part One of this series we went over why companies are starting to use these tracking systems. This week lets look at exactly how they work.

One advantage for jobseekers applying through an applicant tracking system is that some systems automatically notify candidates whose résumés don’t meet the position requirements as identified by the ATS software. Receiving a response to a manual résumé submission is rare due to the volume of applications many employers receive — so notification by the ATS that the application has been rejected allows the candidate to pursue other opportunities to be considered for the role (i.e., using networking contacts), to tweak the résumé, or to simply move on.

There are no clear statistics about the number of companies using applicant tracking systems; however, it’s clear that those numbers will continue to grow as the software’s cost comes down. You also might not be aware of which companies are using an ATS when you submit your résumé; however, applicant tracking systems are currently being used primarily in midsize and larger companies. Research indicates that almost all Fortune 500 companies use ATS software.

How Applicant Tracking Systems Work
Most online applications end up in one of two places: an applicant tracking system, or an email inbox. Neither are particularly easy to get out of.

Although companies can search their database for candidates (much like you would query Google to find what you’re looking for), most companies use their ATS only to manage applications for a specific job. They only look at résumés submitted for that particular job; they don’t query the database for other candidates.

There are numerous different ATS software programs on the market — including a few new ones that operate “in the cloud” — and all applicant tracking systems are slightly different. However, they all work in a similar way, by allowing for filtering, management, and analysis of candidates for a particular job opening.

Applicant tracking systems “parse” the information in the résumés submitted, pulling them apart and placing information in specific fields within the ATS database, such as work experience, education, contact data, etc. The system then analyzes the extracted information for criteria relevant to the position being filled — such as number of years of experience or particular skills. Then, it assigns each résumé a score, giving the candidate a ranking compared to other applicants so recruiters and hiring managers can identify candidates who are the “best fit” for the job.

Criteria used by the applicant tracking system to determine a match includes:
• Appearance of a keyword or phrase — this can be measured by its presence in the document at all — as well as the number of times the keyword or phrase appears.
• Relevance of the keyword within context. (Does the keyword or phrase appear with other keywords you would expect?)

The higher the résumé ranking, the more likely the application will end up being reviewed by a human reader. Next week we'll look at how you can move up in those all-important rankings.

Full series:
Part onetwo and three.