They go by many names: applicant tracking systems (ATSs), online application systems, CV scanning software or resume robots. These handy tools are used by employers to vet candidates’ CVs, using algorithms and key words to find the best applicants for the job and prioritising these for the second round of review.
The use of ATSs is incredibly widespread and, if you’ve ever applied for a job directly through an employer’s website, chances are your CV went through an application system before a human set their eyes on it. But it’s not just employers that use them; ATSs are widely used by:
1. Job boards & CV databases including Indeed, Monster, Milkround, Google and CV Library
2. Social platforms like LinkedIn and Glassdoor
3. Recruitment firms – GradJobs, MichaelPage, Hays and Graduate Recruitment Bureau to name a few
Knowing whether your CV will go through an ATS or not is incredibly important because it gives you the chance to optimise it for that purpose. Application systems notoriously struggle with highly visual CVs, so everything from swanky images and graphs to symbols and specialised fonts can trip up the system and at worst this could mean your CV is rejected outright. Missing or confusing headers, repeated sections and spelling mistakes can have the same effect. A clear, text-based CV with minimal formatting in .doc file format is your best bet to make it through the system successfully.
Then there’s the question of how to recognise an ATS. Here are a few things to look out for:
1. Online forms
Whenever you are asked to fill in an online form with individual text fields you can be sure that you are dealing with an ATS. Some systems will ask you to simply upload your CV, which will then automatically be scanned (analysed) behind the scenes, or you may be asked to paste in the text of your CV manually. Don’t be fooled by the latter; the text of your CV will still be scrutinised by a machine once you hit ‘send’. Online forms like these are commonly found on larger company websites, but recruiters and job boards also use them.
2. One-click apply functions
Some social platforms like LinkedIn and Glassdoor use one-click apply functionalities to simplify the application process. LinkedIn’s ‘Easy Apply’ button for example lets you apply for jobs advertised on the platform without sending you to an external page. All you need to supply is your email address, phone number and CV. Once submitted your application goes through an ATS, prioritising the best and most relevant candidates for the hiring manager based on their CVs as well as the content of their LinkedIn profile.
One of the easiest ways to spot an ATS is to look at the URL. Employers that work with ATS companies will often direct you from their own careers page to another website which, although carrying their branding, may have the name of the ATS company in its URL. Names to look out for include: Oracle, Jobvite, Workday and SAP SuccessFactors.
With 98% of Fortune 500 companies using applicant tracking systems, the chances of your encountering them during your job search are high. Spotting them is only half the work though; your success will ultimately depend on your CV making it through that initial vetting round, so make sure it’s fully optimised to take on the machines.