ATS Explained: 20 Eye-Opening Facts You Never Knew About Applicant Tracking Systems

ATS Explained: 20 Eye-Opening Facts You Never Knew About Applicant Tracking Systems

Introduction 

Today, Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are redefining the way employers sift through job applications, streamlining the recruitment process while also adding new complexities for job seekers. In a world driven by technology, the landscape of job recruitment has transformed dramatically. Gone are the days of paper resumes piling up on the desks of HR professionals.

What is an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)?

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a software application designed to automate the recruitment and hiring process. From posting job openings to collecting applications, screening resumes, organizing candidate data, and even scheduling interviews, an ATS assists recruiters and hiring managers to manage their job openings and candidate applications in a more organized, efficient manner. 

The core functionality of an ATS is to electronically handle recruitment needs. However, they are not just for tracking applicants. These systems can also be used to post job openings on a company website or job board, screen resumes and generate interview requests to potential candidates by email. In a nutshell, an ATS serves as a one-stop-shop for all recruitment needs.  

The Role of ATS in Modern Recruitment

Applicant Tracking Systems play an integral role in modern recruitment. They are particularly beneficial to large corporations that handle thousands of applications daily. ATS systems make it possible to manage this volume of applications, removing the need for human resources to manually sift through every single one.

Beyond mere efficiency, ATS also help improve the quality of hires by automating the initial screening process. They can be programmed to search for specific keywords, skills, and qualifications in applicants’ resumes and cover letters. This means that recruiters can ensure only candidates who meet the basic requirements move onto the next stage of the recruitment process, thereby improving the overall standard of applicants.

In an age of data privacy concerns, ATS also ensure compliance with data privacy laws, providing a safe and secure environment for storing and managing applicant data.

Moreover, ATS have ushered in a new era of recruitment analytics, providing employers with insights into their recruitment process. For example, an ATS can track the source of applications, enabling recruiters to understand which recruitment channels are most effective.

While ATS have transformed the recruitment process for employers, they have also changed the game for job seekers. Understanding how ATS work is now a crucial part of the job application process and a necessity for anyone hoping to make it past the initial stages of application screening.

20 Eye-Opening Facts about ATS 

01). Majority of Large Companies Use ATS – The Odds Are You’ll Encounter One

According to recent studies, over 98% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS to streamline their recruitment process. In fact, it’s not just the big players; many mid-sized and even small businesses have started utilizing ATS for their hiring needs. Given this prevalence, there is a high chance that your application will be screened by an ATS at some point in your job search. Thus, understanding how ATS works and how to optimize your resume for this system has become a fundamental skill in today’s digital job market. 

02). Many Qualified Candidates Get Overlooked – It’s Not You, It’s the System

One of the major criticisms of ATS is that they often overlook qualified candidates. Since these systems are programmed to filter resumes based on specific keywords and phrases, a highly qualified candidate who doesn’t use the right terminology could be rejected. Some studies suggest that up to 75% of qualified applicants are rejected by ATS even before they reach a human eye. This is why it’s so crucial for job seekers to understand how ATS works and tailor their applications accordingly.

03). Resume Formatting Can Make or Break Your Application – Simple Is Best

ATS are notoriously sensitive to resume formatting. Complex layouts, unusual fonts, and even certain types of bullet points can confuse the system, leading to potential misinterpretation or rejection of your resume. Therefore, keeping your resume format simple is a crucial strategy for getting past ATS. Use a standard font, avoid graphics and images, and keep your layout as straightforward as possible. Remember, when it comes to ATS-friendly resumes, simplicity is key.  

04). ATS Have Evolved – They’re Smarter Than You Think

Applicant Tracking Systems have evolved significantly over the years. Early versions were fairly straightforward, using simple keyword matching to screen applications. However, modern ATS are much more sophisticated, using complex algorithms and even artificial intelligence to evaluate resumes. These advanced systems can recognize synonyms, evaluate the context in which a keyword is used, and even predict the candidate’s fit for the role based on the information provided in their resume. This means that trying to game the system by ‘keyword stuffing’ your resume is less likely to work, and a more nuanced approach to using relevant terms and phrases is necessary.

05). Some ATS Check Your Social Media – Be Aware of Your Digital Footprint

In today’s digital age, many ATS are equipped with capabilities to scour the web for information about candidates beyond what’s provided in the resume. They can check your social media profiles and other online activities to get a fuller picture of you as a candidate. This process, known as ‘social recruiting,’ can work in your favor if your online presence is professional and aligns with your career goals. However, it can also work against you if your online profiles contain inappropriate content. Therefore, it’s wise to ensure that your digital footprint represents the best version of yourself. 

06). Potential Bias in ATS Algorithms – You Might Be Filtered Out Unfairly

An ongoing concern with Applicant Tracking Systems is the potential for inherent bias within their algorithms. Just like any technology, ATS are created and programmed by humans, and there’s a risk that these systems might inadvertently favor certain types of candidates over others, based on factors like wording, resume formatting, and even the presence of certain skillsets or experiences.

For instance, consider the resume of a candidate who has had a non-linear career path or who has taken an employment gap for personal reasons like maternity leave or health issues. Despite possessing valuable skills and experiences, such a candidate’s resume might not be ranked highly by an ATS that prioritizes linear, continuous employment history. Similarly, someone switching careers might possess transferable skills but could be overlooked by an ATS programmed to shortlist resumes based on the presence of specific industry-related keywords.

While these systems are designed to be impartial and efficient, there’s no guarantee that they are entirely devoid of bias. Therefore, it’s essential for job seekers to understand these potential pitfalls and craft their resumes in a way that highlights their most relevant skills and experiences to increase their chances of being shortlisted.

07). ATS Keep Your Data – But Not Forever

Applicant Tracking Systems not only track and sort incoming applications, but they also store this data for future use. That means if you apply for a role with a company and aren’t successful, your resume and application information might still be stored in their ATS for future consideration for other roles.

The duration for which your data is stored can vary based on company policy and regional data privacy laws. Some companies may keep your data for a few months, while others might store it for a couple of years. This persistence of data can work in your favor if a future role that matches your skillset opens up at the same company.

However, candidates should be aware of the data privacy implications. When you submit your application, you are essentially giving the company permission to store and use your personal data for recruitment purposes. Ensure that you understand the company’s data privacy policies before submitting your application.  

08). ATS Technology Is Constantly Changing – So Should Your Approach

As with most technologies, Applicant Tracking Systems are constantly evolving. Improvements in artificial intelligence and machine learning are leading to increasingly sophisticated ATS that can do more than just scan for keywords—they can understand the context of your resume, analyze the sentiment of your cover letter, and even predict your success in a role.

This constant evolution of ATS technology means that job seekers need to stay up-to-date with changes and adjust their strategies accordingly. Just as you would update your skills to stay relevant in your job market, it’s equally important to update your approach to job applications in response to changes in ATS technology.

This might involve keeping abreast of the latest trends in resume writing, understanding the new features and capabilities of modern ATS, and being open to adopting new strategies, like using AI-powered resume optimization tools to increase your chances of getting past the ATS and into the hands of a human recruiter. Remember, in the ever-evolving job market, adaptability is key.

09). ATS Shorten the Hiring Process – Don’t Wait To Apply

While ATS have streamlined the hiring process for employers, they’ve also significantly sped up the process. Because of their ability to screen and sort applications rapidly, hiring managers can make decisions faster. This often means that job postings may not stay open for very long, especially if the ATS quickly identifies a pool of qualified candidates.

If you come across a job you’re interested in, it’s best to apply as soon as possible. Delaying could mean that the ATS already has a shortlist of candidates before your application is even submitted. Furthermore, some ATS prioritize candidates who apply early, considering them more enthusiastic or more organized. To increase your chances of making it to the shortlist, apply promptly when you see a suitable job posting.

10). Keywords Are Crucial – Your Resume Should Speak the Job Description Language

Despite the sophistication of modern ATS, keywords remain a critical factor in how these systems evaluate resumes. ATS often filter applications based on the presence or frequency of keywords that match those in the job description. These could include specific skills, certifications, job titles, or other relevant terms.

However, stuffing your resume with keywords is not a smart strategy. Modern ATS can detect keyword stuffing and may even penalize your application for it. Instead, your goal should be to integrate relevant keywords naturally into your resume and cover letter.

For example, if the job description requires proficiency in a particular software, ensure that this is clearly stated in your resume. If specific soft skills, like leadership or problem-solving, are highlighted in the job description, include examples of how you’ve demonstrated these skills in your past roles. By mirroring the language of the job description, you can increase your chances of passing the ATS screening and progressing to the interview stage.

To identify the right keywords, scrutinize the job description and note the specific skills, qualifications, and attributes that the employer is seeking. Be aware that industry jargon and specific terminology can often play a role in the keyword matching process of the ATS. Including these terms in your resume, where applicable, can also help to increase your visibility in these systems.

But remember, while optimizing your resume for an ATS, it’s equally important to keep it readable and engaging for the human recruiter who will read it if you make it past the initial ATS screening. Balancing ATS optimization with human appeal is the key to an effective job application.

11). ATS Help Companies Stay Legal – They’re Designed To Be Impartial

One of the less recognized, but equally important, roles of ATS is their contribution to ensuring fairness and legality in the hiring process. As per federal laws in many countries, hiring processes must be non-discriminatory and equal-opportunity, meaning every candidate must have a fair chance at the position irrespective of their gender, race, religion, or age. ATS are designed to facilitate this impartiality.

Since ATS screen applications based on pre-set criteria such as keywords, skills, and experiences, they inherently rule out any personal biases that could otherwise affect the decision-making process. In other words, these systems don’t know anything about a candidate’s race, age, gender, or other protected characteristics unless explicitly mentioned in the application.

Furthermore, they can keep detailed records of the recruitment process, providing an audit trail that can be helpful if a company ever needs to prove that its hiring practices are fair and consistent. It’s important to note, however, that while ATS are designed to promote fairness, the responsibility to avoid discriminatory practices also lies with the individuals who program and use these systems.  

12). ATS Can Improve Your Application Experience – Companies Use Them To Stay Organized

Although ATS might seem like a hurdle to job seekers, they can also significantly improve your application experience. Without an ATS, your application could easily be lost in the sea of applications, overlooked, or forgotten. ATS ensure that every application is logged, tracked, and considered.

For employers, ATS offer a central repository for all applicant data, which means they can easily find and refer to your application at any stage of the recruitment process. So, when you’re called for an interview, the hiring manager can quickly pull up your information and refresh their memory about your application.

Moreover, many ATS offer status updates for applicants, keeping you in the loop about where you stand in the hiring process. Whether you’re moved to the next round or not, the communication capabilities of ATS can provide closure, something that’s often lacking in traditional hiring processes.

However, the organization level offered by each ATS can vary, and not all provide optimal applicant experiences. Some might be easier to navigate, offer better communication, or provide clearer instructions for application than others. As a job seeker, dealing with different systems can be a challenge in itself, but the overall trend is towards more intuitive, applicant-friendly systems as companies recognize the importance of providing a positive application experience.

13). AI Is Becoming More Prevalent in ATS – It’s More Than Just Keyword Matching

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning have become an integral part of many modern ATS. These technologies have allowed ATS to go beyond simple keyword matching and to better interpret and analyze the data contained within resumes.

For instance, AI-enhanced ATS can identify contextual clues in your resume, analyzing not just the presence of keywords but their placement and relevance to the role. These systems can evaluate a candidate’s career progression, identify core competencies, and even predict a candidate’s potential success in a role based on their prior experience and accomplishments.

Moreover, AI capabilities can enable ATS to learn over time. They can refine their algorithms based on hiring outcomes, allowing them to make increasingly accurate predictions about which candidates will be successful.

For job seekers, this evolution of ATS presents both challenges and opportunities. It means you have to be more strategic and thorough in how you present your skills and experiences on your resume. However, it also opens the possibility that your unique career path or non-traditional background will be better understood and valued by these advanced systems.

14). The ATS Market Is Huge – Different Companies, Different Systems

The ATS market is vast and varied, with numerous providers offering systems that range from simple application tracking tools to sophisticated, AI-powered recruitment platforms. Some popular ATS providers include Taleo, Workday, Jobvite, and Greenhouse, among many others. Each system has its own capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses, and companies choose the one that best fits their specific needs and budget.

This means that the ATS a company uses can vary greatly, and as a job seeker, you may encounter different systems when applying for jobs at different companies. Each ATS may prioritize different factors, have unique keyword matching algorithms, or offer different user experiences.

While it’s impractical to familiarize yourself with the specifics of each ATS, understanding that there’s a variety in play can help you adopt a flexible approach to your applications. In general, following ATS-friendly practices, such as using relevant keywords, keeping your resume format simple, and providing complete and accurate information, can help your resume perform well across most ATS.

Furthermore, when applying for a job, it may be worth researching the company’s ATS (if the information is available) to understand its unique features and optimize your application accordingly. For example, some ATS may weigh the job title or recent work experience more heavily, while others might place more emphasis on skills or education. Tailoring your application to the specific ATS can potentially increase your chances of being shortlisted.

15). More ATS Are Becoming Mobile-Friendly – You Can Apply On the Go

With the rise in smartphone usage and the trend toward mobile-first technology, more ATS providers are offering mobile-friendly applications. This development is crucial, considering a significant number of job seekers use their smartphones for job searching and even application submission.

Mobile-friendly ATS platforms allow you to complete applications, upload resumes, and even monitor the status of your applications from your smartphone or tablet. For job seekers, this convenience can be invaluable, enabling you to search for jobs and apply during commute times, breaks, or whenever you have a few spare minutes.

However, it’s important to note that while applying via mobile is convenient, it also presents some unique challenges. Small screens and mobile keyboards can make it more difficult to fill out forms accurately and completely. Also, resume formatting might appear differently on a mobile device. Therefore, it’s crucial to review everything thoroughly before hitting the submit button.

16). ATS Aren’t Perfect – Sometimes, Qualified Candidates Slip Through the Cracks

While ATS provide significant benefits to the hiring process, they are not without flaws. One major criticism is that ATS, even with sophisticated algorithms and AI capabilities, can still overlook qualified candidates.

ATS primarily screen applications based on the criteria set by the employer, such as keywords, qualifications, and experience. However, not all valuable skills or experiences can be easily quantified or matched with keywords. For example, soft skills like leadership, creativity, or adaptability are hard to measure and may not be adequately recognized by an ATS. Similarly, candidates switching careers or industries might bring valuable transferable skills to the table, but these might be overlooked if the ATS is programmed to prioritize industry-specific keywords.

Furthermore, some ATS might be too stringent, filtering out any resumes that don’t meet all set criteria, and causing potentially suitable candidates to be overlooked. Others might struggle with parsing certain resume formats or handling unique job titles or uncommon skills, resulting in potentially qualified candidates being erroneously excluded from consideration.

Therefore, while it’s essential to optimize your resume for ATS, it’s equally important not to rely solely on online applications. Networking, job fairs, and speculative applications can all supplement your online job search and help ensure you’re seen by the right people, even if your resume doesn’t perfectly align with the ATS criteria.

In addition, it’s worth noting that many companies are aware of these limitations and use ATS as a first-line filter rather than the sole decision-maker. Human review still plays a significant role in the hiring process, and your resume needs to appeal to both the ATS and the human recruiter.

17). ATS Work Alongside Other HR Systems – They’re Part of a Larger Process

Applicant Tracking Systems are just one piece of the larger Human Resources Information System (HRIS) puzzle. While the primary role of an ATS is to manage the recruitment process, it often needs to integrate seamlessly with other HR systems that manage different aspects of the employee lifecycle.

For instance, once a candidate is hired, their information might need to be transferred from the ATS to the HRIS for employee management, payroll system for compensation management, or the Learning Management System (LMS) for ongoing training and development. This interconnectedness of systems allows for smoother transitions and better data consistency.

Furthermore, ATS often integrate with job boards and social media platforms to distribute job postings more widely and attract a larger pool of candidates. They might also link with background check providers or assessment tool providers to facilitate other steps in the hiring process.

For job seekers, this interconnectivity means that the data you provide in your application can have a far-reaching impact. It’s therefore crucial to ensure the accuracy and completeness of your information.

18). ATS Software Gets Updated Regularly – What Didn’t Work Yesterday Might Work Today

Like any other software, ATS are subject to regular updates. These updates might involve minor bug fixes or significant overhauls that introduce new features or capabilities. Therefore, the ATS you interacted with last year, or even last month, might not behave the same way today.

Updates can also lead to changes in how ATS parse and interpret resume data. For instance, past versions of ATS might have struggled with certain resume formats or elements, such as tables or graphics. However, newer versions might be better equipped to handle these features.

That being said, it’s still advisable to stick with ATS-friendly practices when creating your resume. Using a clean, simple format, incorporating relevant keywords, and clearly detailing your qualifications and experience will generally serve you well, regardless of the specific ATS in use.

Furthermore, staying informed about trends in ATS technology can help you better understand what these systems are looking for and how to make your resume stand out. For example, with the rise of AI in ATS, providing more context around your skills and experiences, rather than just listing keywords, can increase your chances of getting through the initial screening.

Finally, remember that the ultimate goal of your resume is not just to pass the ATS but also to impress the human recruiter who reviews it. Therefore, ensure that your resume is not just ATS-friendly but also compelling and easy to read for human eyes. 

19). ATS Collect Lots of Data – Your Application Doesn’t Go Unnoticed

Applicant Tracking Systems are data powerhouses. From the moment you submit your application, an ATS collects and analyzes numerous data points from your resume and cover letter. These can range from your contact information, educational background, and work history, to the specific skills and qualifications you list. But that’s not all. The ATS may also track your interactions with the company’s recruitment platform, such as the jobs you’ve applied for or how often you visit the site.

This extensive data collection serves a dual purpose. Firstly, it helps recruiters screen and sort applications more efficiently. But beyond that, it also provides valuable insights to the hiring team and company as a whole. For example, aggregate data on applicants’ qualifications and skills can inform talent acquisition strategies, identify skill gaps, and even shape future job descriptions.

For job seekers, this underscores the importance of every detail in your application. Rest assured, nothing goes unnoticed. Hence, it is crucial to present accurate and complete information. Additionally, be mindful of your interactions with the company’s recruitment platform. Consistent engagement may be interpreted as a strong interest in the company, which could potentially work in your favor.

20). Some ATS Use Video Interviewing – You Might Need To Be Camera-Ready

As the world moves towards more digital and remote operations, video interviewing is becoming a common feature of many ATS. Whether it’s a live interview or a pre-recorded one, ATS can manage the scheduling, execution, and analysis of video interviews.

Pre-recorded or asynchronous video interviews, where candidates record their responses to predetermined questions, are particularly gaining traction. They offer convenience to both candidates and employers, as they can be completed at any time and reviewed at a later date. Some advanced ATS can even analyze these video responses, assessing factors like speech clarity, language proficiency, and even non-verbal cues.

For job seekers, this adds another layer to the application process. Not only do you have to craft a stellar written application, but you also need to be prepared to make a strong impression on video. This means mastering the technical aspects of video interviewing (like camera positioning, lighting, and sound quality), as well as the performance aspects (like speaking clearly, maintaining eye contact, and conveying enthusiasm).

While video interviewing might seem daunting, remember that it’s also an opportunity. It allows you to showcase your communication skills and personality, which can make you more memorable and help you stand out from the crowd. Therefore, if you come across an ATS that utilizes video interviewing, embrace the chance to let your personality shine.

Conclusion

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) have revolutionized the recruitment landscape, making it more streamlined, efficient, and data-driven. While they may seem intimidating, understanding their workings can empower job seekers to craft ATS-friendly applications and navigate the job market more effectively.

For companies, ATS are invaluable tools for managing the complex process of talent acquisition. However, it’s crucial to remember that while technology can enhance the recruitment process, it cannot replace the human touch. ATS can identify potential matches based on set criteria, but the nuanced assessment of a candidate’s fit for a role, a team, or an organizational culture still requires human judgment.

Call to Action

While ATS are useful tools, nothing beats the personal touch, expertise, and extensive network that a seasoned executive search agency like Salmela provides. Whether you’re looking to fill an executive role or searching for the perfect fit for a specialized position, with our unique approach we can help you do just take that!

We understand that finding the right talent goes beyond matching skills and qualifications to job descriptions. It involves understanding your company’s unique needs and culture, and finding candidates who align with them. Our team of experienced recruiters works closely with you to understand your needs and leverages our extensive network to find top-notch candidates who might not even be on the market.

With Salmela, you can trust that your recruitment process is in capable hands. Not only do we fill roles, but we also find leaders who drive your company toward success. Contact us today to see how we can help elevate your talent acquisition process.

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Ciera is a born-and-raised Duluthian who recently graduated from Point Park University in Pittsburgh. When she isn’t designing the Salmela website or sending emails, she doubles as an actress! With over 15 years of acting experience, Ciera brings her creative artistry and understanding of people to her work at Salmela.

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Kate joins Salmela after a decade of non-profit arts leadership, where she shared her passion for building community, education, inclusiveness, and arts access. Her superpower is helping professionals identify their strengths and set them on a course for greater success. After work, she can be found reading Shakespeare, doing yoga, or prepping the next generation of theatre stars for college.

Cory spends his day advising senior leaders on talent acquisition strategy. He is happiest on his bike, skis, or helping his daughters rehearse lines. He began his career as a National Team Coach for the U.S. Ski Biathlon Team, followed by experience in pharma sales. In 2005, he founded Salmela. Today, Salmela places leaders across the healthcare industry. Salmela is the go-to vendor across marcomm disciplines in healthcare and beyond.

Chief Financial Officer, Olympian, and Health Coach, what can’t she do? When Kara is not managing the Salmela Financials, she spends her days educating and supporting people as a health coach. If that wasn’t cool enough, she also competed as an American biathlete at the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics.

Megan focuses on individual career wellness and team development for the healthcare advertising industry. As a natural networker, and with a career background in health/wellness and international corporate project management, Megan has the experience necessary to understand your needs. She enjoys being outside with her family, volunteering in the community, trail running and practicing yoga.

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