Your Top 7 Questions About Applicant Tracking Systems, Answered

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If you’ve been through a job search in the last five or so years, you probably know all about the importance of using keywords to tailor your resume for applicant tracking systems (ATSs).

Chances are, however, that those keywords are just about where your ATS knowledge ends. For being such commonly used hiring tools – 98 percent  of Fortune 500 companies use them – ATSs are still a mystery to much of the professional world.

But the more you know about ATSs, the easier it is to crack them. These seven answers to common questions are a great place to start unraveling the mystery shrouding ATSs:

1. Why Are ATSs Important?

ATSs are important to companies and hiring managers because they help manage the massive number of resumes that come in from online job postings. ATSs are important to you as a job seeker because they determine whether or not the hiring manager ever sees your resume.

2. How Does an ATS ‘Read’ Your Resume?

An ATS automatically “parses,” or re-categorizes, text from your resume into new fields under new headings. Most ATSs automatically create new profiles for every applicant for hiring managers to quickly skim.

3. What Do ATSs Look For?

ATSs don’t exactly “look for” anything in particular. Their job is mostly to parse your resume. The hiring manager or recruiter will then search the ATS database using search terms like keywords and zip codes, which shrinks the pool of applicants. Some ATSs even rank applicants based on how many times the exact keyword is used in their resume.

4. How Do I Get My Resume to Pass an ATS?

There are several ways to optimize your resume for ATS. Among the top strategies is tailoring your resume using the right keywords. As mentioned above, hiring managers will search candidate databases using keywords to find relevant candidates in the job market. You want to anticipate the keywords the hiring manager will search for and include them on your resume. Matching the keywords in your resume with those in the job posting itself will give you the best chance of getting your resume to surface in the hiring manager’s search.

5. How Should I Format My Resume for the ATS?

There is no surefire resume format to get past an ATS. However, formatting your resume correctly for your particular job history will help the ATS more accurately parse the most important sections of your resume into your profile. Using common section headings in your resume will help with parsing as well.

6. How Many ATSs Are There?

There are about 350 applicant tracking systems out there, though only about 25 of those have substantial client bases. Some of the top ATSs include Taleo Recruiting, iCIMS Talent Platform, Kenexa Brassring, Jobvite, Greenhouse, and Bullhorn.

Don’t let the number overwhelm you. While each ATS has its own quirks, they all function similarly.

7. Which Type of Companies Use ATSs?

Believe it or not, the vast majority of mid- and large-sized companies use applicant tracking systems. If you’re applying for a job online, you should assume you are applying through an ATS.

Applicant tracking systems are a bit like dark passageways: The only thing that makes them scary is not knowing what’s behind them. Learn about how ATSs work, and you’ll find it easy to conquering these resume-parsing robots.

James Hu is the founder and CEO of Jobscan.

By James Hu