Why Employers Use an Applicant Tracking System

Posted by

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.


Become a member to take advantage of more features, like commenting and voting.

  • Lisa L.
    Lisa L.

    Everything is stored in the cloud anyway. Competion too succeed must be offered to everyone. Good luck to everyone.

  • Tami G
    Tami G
    Keeps everything honest and fair.
  • Dawn K
    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.
  • Jeff S
    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!
  • Sharen N
    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.
  • Polly M
    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.
  • frankie g
    frankie g
    To be updated instead of wondering if you got the job is a plus
  • carl c
    carl c
    tracking systems are the way to go,saves time amd money
  • Pamela k
    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
  • Melissa Kennedy
    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.
  • Anne C
    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.
  • Paul W
    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.
  • Jose A. N
    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.  
  • Robert C
    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.
  • Rod K
    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.
    I think this tracking resume should be the thing of the pass and go back to manager reading the candidate resume.
  • Melissa Kennedy
    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.
  • Rod K
    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.
  • Morgan J
    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,)
  • Rod K
    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.
  • Melissa Kennedy
    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.
  • Mike Stephens
    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.  
  • Patricia F
    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.
  • Sheryl F
    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.
  • Viorel L
    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...

Jobs to Watch