Applicant tracking systems

How applicant tracking systems work, and how to beat them!

Published July 19, 2023

In the modern world of recruitment, applicant tracking systems (ATS) have become an integral part of the hiring process. These sophisticated software tools help streamline recruitment efforts for companies, making it easier to manage large volumes of applicants efficiently. In this article, we will explore what an applicant tracking system is, how it works, and the best practices that can increase your chances of being selected by it.

Understanding applicant tracking systems

An applicant tracking system is a software application designed to automate, optimize, and centralize the hiring process for organizations. Its primary purpose is to handle candidate data and provide recruiters with tools to effectively manage job applications. ATS helps to identify, sort, and rank applicants based on specific criteria set by employers. It acts as the first point of contact between the applicant and the employer.

How applicant tracking systems work

ATS operates through an automated process that begins as soon as you submit your application to a company. Here is a step-by-step breakdown of how an applicant tracking system works:

  1. Application Submission: You submit your resume and other relevant documents through the company's website or a job portal. ATS processes this information and creates a candidate profile.
  2. Parsing and Keyword Matching: The ATS scans your resume and extracts relevant details using a process called parsing. It then compares your resume against a set of predefined keywords and criteria provided by the employer.
  3. Ranking and Filtering: Based on the keywords and criteria, the ATS assigns a score to your application. Candidates with higher scores have a better chance of moving forward in the recruitment process. Applications that do not meet the minimum requirements may be automatically rejected or pushed to the bottom of the list.
  4. Applicant Database: ATS stores candidate data in a centralized database, making it easier for recruiters to search for potential candidates based on specific qualifications or job titles.
  5. Communication and Interview Scheduling: If your application meets the initial criteria, the ATS may trigger automated communication, such as acknowledgment emails or invitations to complete assessments. Additionally, ATS may also assist in scheduling interviews with candidates who have progressed to the next stage.

Best practices for ATS success

To increase your chances of being selected by an applicant tracking system, follow these best practices:

  1. Tailor Your Resume: Customize your resume to include relevant keywords found in the job description. However, avoid keyword stuffing, as the ATS may penalize applications that lack context or authenticity.
  2. Use Standard Formats: Avoid fancy fonts, tables, or graphics that might not be parsed accurately by the ATS. Stick to simple and widely recognized formats like .docx or .pdf.
  3. Keep it Clear and Concise: Use clear and concise language to communicate your skills, experience, and accomplishments. Avoid long paragraphs and use bullet points to highlight key points.
  4. Focus on Qualifications: Highlight your qualifications and relevant experience early in the resume. ATS algorithms often prioritize information located at the beginning of the document.
  5. Network and Referrals: Employee referrals can carry significant weight in the hiring process. Leverage your network and ask for referrals from employees already working at the company you are applying to.
  6. Apply to Suitable Positions: Apply only to positions that align with your skills and experience. ATS can detect applications that are not a good fit and may negatively impact your overall profile.


Applicant tracking systems are a vital tool for recruiters to manage the overwhelming volume of job applications efficiently. By understanding how ATS works and implementing the best practices outlined above, you can enhance your chances of being selected for the next stages of the hiring process. Remember to tailor your resume, focus on relevant qualifications, and leverage your network to increase your visibility and improve your overall success with ATS.