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Why Employers Use an Applicant Tracking System

Posted By: Staff Editor In: Job Seeker - Resume

If you've taken the time to customize your resume, write a great cover letter and submit your applications, everything is out of your hands. But, what happens to your resume after you hit send? You might be surprised to learn that almost all employers, even very small companies, use an applicant tracking system.

So, why is this important?

If you understand the process, you're much more likely to be asked for an interview. Many people still believe that most companies have hiring managers who read through every resume and make a decision about who they want to contact. This couldn't be further from the truth. Today, it's so easy to use a screening program. These programs sort through all of the resumes looking for keywords that apply to the position. The screening program will eliminate resumes from people who don't match the criteria, leaving only the most suitable matches for the hiring manager to look over. It saves the company time and money, making the hiring process more streamlined. Although the applicant tracking system may rule out resumes from people who are actually qualified, it leaves the ones that understand how the process works.

So, why do employers use these systems if they miss some qualified applicants?

There are too many resumes to read - Especially now with the tight job market, employers are being flooded with applications for just a handful of job openings. It's estimated that most employers receive about 1,000 applicants for each job posting. Added to that, job boards have made applying for jobs very easy and quick, which means that unqualified people aren't risking much by applying for jobs they don't expect to get. The applicant tracking system can quickly go through the stack and narrow the list down to just the people who are truly interested in the job and who have the necessary skills.

Prevents discrimination and charges of misconduct - There are many laws on the books that prevent employers from discriminating against job seekers because of their age, gender, ethnicity and more. For most companies, it's important to show that they aren't using any of that information to disqualify otherwise acceptable applicant. This is where the applicant tracking system really comes in handy. Because a non-biased computer program is sorting through the resumes, there's no chance that a hiring manager could be swayed, even without realizing it, by any of these factors. The system also allows companies to quickly show that they are complying with all federal laws.

They save money - There are lots of different applicant tracking programs. Some of them are free, while others are not as expensive as hiring someone to read over all of the resumes. Because they are easy for even a small business to use, they are a good investment. The low cost, combined with high results means that this type of screening is probably here to stay.

The good news is that once you understand how the applicant tracking system works and why almost every company uses them, it's easier to make your resume stand out. Be sure to use the same keywords in your resume and cover letter that the company used in the job listing. If they list specific requirements, make sure that you have them listed clearly so that your resume won't end up in the trash pile.

Are you familiar with the applicant tracking program? Do you think that they are a good thing or a bad thing for business? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


What do you think?
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Posted by: Tami G
Keeps everything honest and fair.
Posted by: Dawn K
I think it is a great idea.  This weeds out those that just are applying just to be applying.  You want people that are solely interested in the position in which they are seeking.  Hence a resume that is built for exactly that.
Posted by: Jeff S
On the surface for busy companies, this sounds like a good idea.  As you think about it longer-term, not only does everyone's resume end up looking and sounding the same, but it leaves no room for  individuality, at all.  If they also do this for the interview process, then - they just get robotic people with no heart who say and appear to do "all the right things" for a while anyway.  As long as they keep these systems, I hope on the ground, companies will allow people to be who they are - as long as they are following company policy.  Being "a robot" for 40hrs not only destroys your health, but also the health of the company and the world.  Once the human element (because we are all human, correct?!) comes back into business - the world will once again upright itself into the happier place that it once was.  You don't have to trade your soul for success or money - you just need to include it...Because It is actually taking you: THERE!
Posted by: Sharen N
Programs such as these  are only a good tool when coupled with good interview and follow-up with references or claims.  Too often the programs are the only tool used.  I know this may be cost effective to employer in the beginning but it can be costly to them if they are not well versed on the follow through if the employee doesn't stand the test of time.  It is a good screening tool and a component of the selection process.
Posted by: Polly M
This was a great article for people who are job seeking.  I myself have had to write a Resume that would catch a potential employer eye.  And the cover letter the same.  Now that I know that it is sorted out by key words, makes a lot of sense.  If you do not have the right key words then you aced out.  This article at least give you the opportunity to be seen and read, Thank you for your information.
Posted by: frankie g
To be updated instead of wondering if you got the job is a plus
Posted by: carl c
tracking systems are the way to go,saves time amd money
Posted by: Pamela k
I think it's a good because the skilled will get a good job and the boss will get a employee who can do the job without so much training
Posted by: Melissa Kennedy
This is such a great discussion.Anne, that's a huge problem with ATS. I'm surprised that special interest groups haven't begun objecting to the use of these types of systems to screen for all sorts of discriminatory information.Paul - Even though you only mentioned SQL once, it's a hot commodity these days. Once is all it takes!Rod - 5 years experience with Office 2010? They must want to hire a hipster who knew about it before it was cool.
Posted by: Anne C
This "non-biased" computer system (ATS) can absolutely rule out by age - you cannot get around entering the date you graduated from college. I believe this helps the companies hiring to weed out older applicants.I've heard as much from a few friends who are HR managers. ATSs don't ask for DOB, but graduation dates are the biggest give away.What these tracking systems do is make the application process as murky and anonymous as possible, so no one can prove age discrimination.I'd like to know more about how to hit the right key words and phrases in these Kafka-esque systems.P.S. I despise Taleo and all the other ATS's out there. I believe they are a major contributor to the high jobless rate among perfectly qualified candidates.
Posted by: Paul W
Three observations with this thread where using keywords can generate 'false positives.'  First, the outplacement service we were given after 'downsizing' showed us how to search job listings for keywords matching our experience, and those with a higher count is what we wrote into our resumes.  Also, some of these programs count the number of times a keyword is used to establish the relative strength of one's experience.  But on the flip side I only used 'SQL' once and have received many calls for a 'SQL admin.'  The problem was that the human who called hadn't read my sentence and took it out of context.  When I re-explained I gathered user req's and wrote the database schema, which was the high-value part of the project, and then gave it to a SQL group to code, the phone went dead.  Secondly, one recruiter called about a 'scripting' job but didn't understand there are differences, and so I took the time to explain these to her.  And third, many jobs list so many requirements as in a daily 'walk on water' mentality, it'd take several lifetimes to learn that much.  I was surprised when one recruiter called about one of these 'miracle performing' jobs and he said that's not what they really wanted.  So why I asked and he responded with various speculations about the client's HR department as he had somehow spoken directly with the hiring manager.  Amazing, and as this thread points out, the human touch has gone 'thin' on several fronts.
Posted by: Jose A. N
One of the reasons for which I believe the resume tracking system is very unfare is due to the fact thatthe tracking system software nor the person programmer feeding the information into it have never adjusted any claims and the proper information is not feed to the software in order for it to know who is really qualified for a job and who is not.  For example, an all lines adjuster who indicates in his resume that he has experience in subrogation, PIP and property damage, the investigations, negotiations, settlements and trial preparations of slip and fault, bodily injury, uninsured motorist and worker’s compensations, that adjuster is qualified to work as a pip & property damage adjuster, as a BI adjuster, a field adjuster, a claims investigator, workers compensation and subrogation adjuster. You will find many independent adjusters that have all of that experience including   handling homeowner claims.   Any experience supervisor who is able to review that type of resume, immediately realizes that he should interview the all lines adjuster, however, due to the flaw in the keyword tracking system that type of adjuster is penalized because the resume is ruled out and the supervisor is not able to review it.Another very important factor that is hurting the chances of an all lines adjuster to get hire is that usually when someone has all of the above mentioned experience the companies shy away from them because they don’t want to pay a high salary.      In order to be able to get hired, If that adjuster decides to complete six different resumes, he is not lying he is just complying with the flaw tracking system.  
Posted by: Robert C
I did not initially know that applicant tracking systems companies use operates by identifying key words. These key words are thrown from the cover letter and  resume and matched against the job requisition advertised. Back to the drawing board for me.
Posted by: Rod K
Karlene - Could not agree more! But it should be taken a great deal further. The hiring manager and HR need to take a serious look at BFOQs (no, that is not a swear word!) before posting an opening. ... Just saw an opening yesterday that required 5 years experience on MS Office 2010, so in my observation, the entire process is extremely broken.
Posted by: KARLENE M
I think this tracking resume should be the thing of the pass and go back to manager reading the candidate resume.
Posted by: Melissa Kennedy
@morgan - I never thought of it that way, but I suppose the tracking system could be used to discriminate in the same way that employer used to toss out resumes with a "too ethnic" name.@Rod - yes, it's a shame when good employees are overlooked. Sadly, it happens frequently.
Posted by: Rod K
Morgan J.Precisely one of my points. I fail to see why there is a need for EEO items to be part of an application. Should not the process be gender, color, faith, etc. neutral? ... Considering the availability of info on Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. a savvy HR person could still gleen enough EEO demographics to exclude whoever they want. ... A search criteria to exclude anybody over 40 will never be recorded thus no evidence of discrimination.
Posted by: Morgan J
Melissa, this system hardly prevents discrimination.  It can easily be designed to do exactly that.  If a company does not want anybody over age 40, then the system can be set to ignore any resume that shows any earliest year of employment that is 1990 or earlier (which assumes the applicant began working at age 18,)
Posted by: Rod K
Viorel L, et al:I wouldn’t say that HR is the weakest or most incompetent part of an organization. It’s just that they are very strong and competent for the things that interest HR in current society. I would submit that they are very adept with such things as retirement and EEO objectives. Health benefits are another biggie. These items have become such major factors for employers that large companies will have huge departments within HR just to deal with them. Given the large (and getting bigger by the day) need to comply with these items, it’s no wonder that the small detail of finding qualified candidates has been reduced to a cold, mindless piece of software that can only scan for buzzwords but miss the overall character of an individual. It sees the parts. Not the sum or the immense contributions that can be made by someone that possess more than just the skills in a checkbox. … This is another reason you will see a plethora of oddly combined skill sets listed in a grossly padded job description.
Posted by: Melissa Kennedy
@Mike, thanks for the great advice. It's a great idea to call the hiring manager. If you're very qualified, they probably won't think you're being annoying or pushy, just determined and enthusiastic.@sheryl, the keywords should be in the job posting. If the company uses the words "excellent computer skills" make sure your resume mentions your "excellent computer skills". It's important to use the same exact words in order for the ATS to pick it up.
Posted by: Mike Stephens
I understand the realities and limitations of ATS' and that they are a necessary evil.  They work well in identifying candidates for specific jobs, i.e. a Java programmer.  They are terrible at identifying soft skills, i.e. a seasoned sales person.  HR people are frustrated at this and especially, the hiring managers.  I have found success by identifying and cold-calling the hiring manager, presenting my value to them in one or two sentences and asking for them to invest 20 minutes of their time to further explore my "fit" with their Org.  This allows you to get over the "electronic wall" and sell the relevant person on your abilities.  It also shows them you can establish rapport, are ambitious and confident.  Hope this helps.  
Posted by: Patricia F
I really think it's a bad thing cause I'd prefer to actually talk to the person one-on-one and see how their personality is and how they are relating to people.
Posted by: Sheryl F
ATS actually make sense from the recruiters' viewpoint and I get that.  However, how does one go about finding out exactly what/how/where the keywords are?  Not everyone can afford $400 for a professional resume; so how do I find these keywords and apply same to my resume?  Thanks.
Posted by: Viorel L
The Human Resources in any corporation or firm is the weakest and most incompetent link inside the company.It may be partially because of some internal corporate directives which most of them are as incompetent as their Human Resources Dept.It is a mystery why some companies do exist still with so much incompetence in them !Imagine if they will make an effort to choose employees properly, how much more profits they can have ...Personally, I would expect integrity and loyalty first from my employees and skills secondary.Why?I can teach someone skills but the character is to late to change or improve.I will promote from inside employees first and consider outsiders second.Is it possible to continue with this National Incompetence for long?No!This country goes down under our eyes and the employers are at fault.  And the Liberalism...
Posted by: Rhonda O
The applicant tracking system used by employers - now the new way of discriminating against job seekers (age, gender, etc.)
Posted by: Fred P
....a very interesting perspective on 21st century new resume employment submission.   It appears a new resume (heavily modified or tailored) is required for each job application weighted on job-description key words.  I too, will incorporate this new reality into my job search.  What a revelation!
Posted by: GIRISH K
Useful tips for how to apply for job opening?
Posted by: Bill M
To say keyword screening "Prevents discrimination and charges of misconduct" is ludicrous.  To discriminate on age, they just eliminate any resumes with an earliest date before some certain threshold or if it shows no dates at all (common among older candidates.)  To eliminate on the basis of race, just pitch resumes with names associated with a certain race/origin (Mohammed, Miguel, Probilsky, Aronowitz.) I get far more interviews when I include only my 2004 engineering degree (which I don't call an M.S.) and just eliminate the 1985 B.S. engineering degree and 19 years of experience in between them.
Posted by: Sue S
I have been re-writing my resume for years!  I have hired professionals, taken advice from recruiters, etc.   I do not get selected for interviews for positions I know I am qualified for.  This article is very informative and an eye opener.  I will AGAIN review my resume to see if I can improve the "keywords".  The job market is very competitive right now and the more I can improve my search efforts, the closer I will be to getting hired!  Thank you for sharing the information
Posted by: Melanie H
I think the article spent a lot of time explaining why companies use it and not enough explaining how applicants can overcome falling through the cracks which is what I was looking for.  
Posted by: Kathee W
I think age discrimination is the biggest problem for a lot of applicants. Just because your over 55 does not mean you are old and unable to do the job.
Posted by: James E. M
I understand why they use them, but that doesn't make the hiring any less of a game.  I've had my resume professionally written, independently reviewed, and still don't get interviews.  Iguess I'm jaded by the process.
Posted by: William L
Personally I think applicant tracking software has taken the personal touch out of recruiting and left too much of the screening process to computers who only do what they are programmed to do. Getting the right "key" words to be recognized can be downright impossible sometimes. Someone who has 20 years experience in AR or Collections can get over-looked for a position in those areas by software that is only looking for data entry or minimal management experience. By being honest and listing all of one's experience can get you in the wrong pile of resumes very quickly.  
Posted by: Jose H
I have been one of those who have been passed by because of the tracking system. And quite a few of those positions were exactly what I have performed.And in stating the laws to discrimination. I as a former employer they are there, I also know from other employers and being in the job market, that aging discrimination is rampant in the construction industry
Posted by: Raul B
I am over 50, that's what I think I am always not accepted for the job that I had over 10 years of experience.  A lot of times I was called for an interview but had been promised to get called in few days or so and never happened. Another factor that I could think of not being accepted is being an Asian.  I belong to the minority.  With the job tight market, foreigner comes least to be accepted.
Posted by: Katherine M
I really don't see the positive in any of this just because someone knows the "KEY" words doesn't mean they are qualified for the job !Whats wrong with the face to face approach ? What happened to the human touch and intuition and the apprentice ,and helping one another! The computers now rule the world I think its just wrong,I have a learning disability and was doing fine as a hands on nurse now that computers RULE I cant find WORK ! I don't know what I'm going to do now ! Thanks internet
Posted by: Timothy M
These types of articles further confirm my long standing belief that HR hiring people have the collective IQ of a walnut.  Most that I have ever encountered have no idea as to what a qualified person is.  Too bad for persons looking to get hired and too bad for the companies that hire these small thinkers.
Posted by: Ellen K
I give up--lazy HR making computers doing hiring..  They will vote partyline too??  Sad what our country has become.  My husband and I served this country for this type of consideration and discredit for working hard and doing and going to whereever in the World we were asked,with a smile no less?   Sad our country hires by color,and computer not by the person,or at least give someone a trial?
Posted by: Janet S
I have read through most  of the comments and have to agree that a tracking system is not the the way to hire an employee. Another thing that  I have noticed half of the jobs that are on the different websites are posted more than once. The HR department don't remove the postings when the job is filled so half the jobs you apply  are all ready filled.Companies need to hire more Hr people.Not spend money on computer software.
Posted by: Joy B
Applicant tracking can be very misleading and a waste of time.  
Posted by: Bev C
Didn't tell what the assorted key tracking words areWorthless article
Posted by: Fred San M
The tracking system as explained is not a smart way to find the right fit. Many job seekers are playing the game of using key words to be invited to an interview, but their true persona and competence is immediately shown.Then the recruiters will most likely face a disproportionate number of key words players but largely incompetent while the good applicants have been discarded. This system is not the smart one to be used at the higher levels.Corporate America is deeply affected by a plague of incompetent managers, and administrators who are destroying values and marketability, sometimes it's too late to make any adjustment, as an example see the many retail, hospitality and customer goods companies going the wrong way.
Posted by: Deborah P
I will use the tracking system if I have to to get a job, but I thjnk it is a major invasion of privacy for the job seekers.  Also, I would definitely see it making the company's hiring process easier, but I don't really think it would help them to hire the right person for the job as well as the old way.  Lots of people who know their online skills well aren't necessarily more suited or better employees than the hard working ones who don't happen to have the knowledge of this process.  In conclusion, I basically dislike this way of applying for jobs.
Posted by: Shawn W
Didn't really give any info. as to how to key-in on what a resume-tracker does.
Posted by: Dorothea F
I do not agree with the applicant tracking programFirst of all there are billions of people looking for jobs, or employment. The applicant program can only detect what the resume is conveying.  It does not detect that person's character. People tell great lies on their resume for it to standout from the rest. SO, can the applicant tracking program detect a LIE? No I disagree with that program.I have been told by employers that I am over qualified for certain positions. I also have streamlined my resume,and have not even had an interview for a job. I have been applying for jobs for the last five years. I am very frustrated and and depressed. There has to be a better way, this is AMERICA not TIMBUKTO.... The top and the bottom line is I need a job Right NOW!  Please Help Me, I can not take much more of this bad economy.
Posted by: doug d
This article just confirms why its difficult to speak to someone who actually knows the product of interest you may be in question of.  If this is true, employers really need to slow it down a notch and take a little time in finding which applicants might be his best investment for promoting the company.  How long would it actually take to thumb through 1000 applications compared to relying on a computer program that will choose someone who can write the right words.  What ever happened to quality, I am sure there is a computer program being written that will take care of quality control, eliminate any human involvement.  This world is changing alright, I enjoy technology but I will tell you what I do not enjoy.  Being a computers helper.  What happens with all the workers out there that have nothing to be proud of, they are just a computers helper.  Think about it, this might be a problem in the next 100 years that will bring on a negative effect among humans,  That is my story and I am sticking to it.
Posted by: Sean S
I don't think its very honest for an applicant to be cutting and pasting parts of the job description on your resume. I was just told by a placement adviser that most resumes should be following the job description and including that part in your resume but that seems a little dishonest by cutting and pasting or even paraphrasing job descriptions.
Posted by: GABOR S
Thanks for the explanation of how the selection process works with the program used by the companies. Agree with you that several qualified candidates rule out by this method.In relation to: "There are many laws on the books that prevent employers from discriminating against job seekers because of their age, gender, ethnicity and more, etc. ", I will comment the following , based in personal experience: we found the right person for the position, etc.
Posted by: Patrick T
If Hiring Managers and HR Personnel use this systems. Then why are they needed? Eliminate their positions and let them fight for jobs like everybody else. Evaluate their resumes by the exact same systems they used on others. They would be one of the first ones to scream unfair. Funny about computers it takes human flesh and bone employees to build, repair, program, and operate them. Computers are cold, hard,   unfeeling, lifeless, has no people skills, can't get a physical connection with someone. Further, they are homogenized, pasteurized and are meant to our servants not our masters. Let's put things back into perspective. We still need the person to person contact. I agree with Rod K.
Posted by: Patricia F
I think that the tracking systems are a bad thing for America. Americans need jobs, not more computers in the place of their jobs. Employers need to hire more Americans to do the vetting process, not use more machines. This is one of the problems with America's unemployment issue: Employers are not hiring PEOPLE because they can buy a PROGRAM  to put in the place of a PERSON. So PEOPLE are going without JOBS.Thank you for asking my opinion. And thank you for the tip, as I have wondered what happens to my multitudinous resume submissions.Sincerely,Patricia
Posted by: Angélica V
Is a bad way to hire people because, they ask questions that never had happens in my work experiences or make a ridiculous questions and disqualified people who really want to work, can learn quickly and the system don't show what good is that candidate.
Posted by: Bettie E
The applicant tracking system used by employers is very sterile and impersonal, but the job seeker, once hired cannot be sterile, disconnected and impersonal to their consumers.
Posted by: Rod Koelker
Addendum -A tracking system should not be necessary if HR and the Hiring Manager would take the time to write a decent, and more importantly, accurate job description. As it stands, I see way too many job descriptions that simply do a blast of technical terms from a Google search and get included without any proofreading (e.g., MUST need 5 years experience in Windows Server 2008. ... You really have to be good to have 5 years experience on a product that's only been on the market for 4!) ... Another example of a poorly crafted job description is to require an idividual to have 5 (or other random number) years experience in management for a Tier 1 service desk position.In my 30+ years of employment, I have seen only two (yes two) well crafted, well thought out, and job appropriate solicitiations for resume submission. ... Present me with a good job description and I will present you with a good resume.A tracking system is a cop-out. To really hire good workers, HR and the Hiring Manager need to work together to develop appropriate search criteria rather than relying on a cut-and-paste template from the internet or other generic standard that hasn't been proofread or updated.Finally, to eliminate bias (real or assumed) EEO collection should NEVER be part of the application process. All these things currently make it too easy to eliminate (or exclude) the really good workers.
Posted by: Getachew A
great comment and excellent informtion.
Posted by: Dolores C. P
Hello Melissa.  Thanks for the clarification.  I have heard about this in Career Link, but this made it very clear. Thanks for sharing this article for people like me looking for a new job.  Best Regards, Dolores
Posted by: Rod K
I concur with Dionne. To add to it, there are ways to 'cheat' the system by padding the resume with buzzwords from the job description multiple times then changing the font color to white. This way, you can add your experience several times so that it's flagged as highly qualified by the system and yet not have it be a lie. . . .  This still does not help if the actual job description is padded which I find to be the case very often, especially for IT positions.
Posted by: Louise T
Wish there were more specific information such as, are they using code words or headings to cue computer to what to seek? Some hints to have resume recognized for a job you're qualified for.
Posted by: Victoria G
I've been searching for months and I use the exact same words in my cover letter and resume that's indicated in the job ad. I actually copy and paste the requirements and qualifictions and re formate my resume specifically to each job ad to ensure I am completely covered. I have not had one call. So, even though this is great for companies, it's bad for employee's. Actually I'm starting to think the moment you hit upload and then submit or appy, it goes to the Bermuda Triangle.
Posted by: Dionne V
The tracking system is a good initial method to weed out those not qualified, but anyone can put information on a resume to "look" qualified.  This method of selecting human capital does not often net the company the best candidates.  I found that reading resumes gave me a better sense of those that just "fluff" their resume for the position.
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