How Applicant Tracking Systems Work and How to Optimise Your CV for ATS
Applying to jobs online is easy, but due to high application volumes, getting noticed can be hard.
Today's online recruiting environment has led to the rise of applicant tracking systems (ATS), which companies use to collect, sort through and manage the hundreds of applications they receive.
Jobscan's 2019 Fortune 500 ATS research study revealed that 98.8% of Fortune 500 companies use applicant tracking systems.
As a result, CV keyword optimisation is clearly key when you're applying for jobs at large organisations.
When competing against a high volume of applicants, optimising your CV can help ensure it actually makes it past the ATS and into the hands of a human!
How do I know if a company uses an applicant tracking system (ATS)?
The best way to identify whether a company uses an ATS is to look at the link in your browser when you are filling out an online application.
Usually, the name of the applicant tracking system will be embedded right into the URL!
For example, HSBC uses Taleo:
Unilever, on the other hand, uses Workday:
That said, we recommend assuming any application you submit online will be fed into an ATS, just to be on the safe side.
What are the top applicant tracking systems?
According to Jobscan's research, the most common ATS systems used by Fortune 500 companies are:
- SAP / SuccessFactors
How do recruiters and hiring managers use applicant tracking systems (ATS)?
To get a better understanding of how your file moves through an ATS, let's take a look at the features of Taleo specifically.
In Taleo, recruiters can use disqualification questions and pre-screening questions to eliminate candidates.
Disqualification and pre-screening questions help recruiters ensure they are not wasting time on candidates who simply do not meet the minimum criteria set forth.
• Disqualification questions
When you're applying to jobs, you may encounter questions asking whether you have permission to work in the United Kingdom, for example.
If you do not meet these hard requirements, you may be automatically eliminated from the candidate pool (but these factors are often out of your control).
• Pre-screening questions
Pre-screening questions may ask you to rate your level of Excel skills or to answer a series of yes or no questions (such as whether you are able to work on weekends, etc.).
These pre-screening questions contribute to a score that recruiters can use to rank applicants.
Recruiters can also perform candidate searches to filter down the applicant pool.
Recruiters can use Taleo and other applicant tracking systems to conduct keyword searches on applications and filter search results.
There is simply no way to predict what terms a recruiter will search for or what they will filter by with 100% accuracy.
Recruiters can search anything provided in your online application including the CV and cover letter you submit.
Elements recruiters can filter by include your:
- Travel Preferences
- Preferred Location
- Education (Institution, Program, Education Level, Graduation Date, GPA, etc.)
- Work Experience (Current Job, Employer, Job Functions)
As Taleo explains in its training materials, the search criteria allow recruiters to narrow their candidate pool.
This step "typically results in fewer but more pertinent results [for recruiters].... [Recruiter] search results will then contain fewer candidates."*
At large organisations, application volumes can be significant:
"The search engine can retrieve any number of candidate files although, for performance and management reasons, only 300 will be displayed."*
What does this mean for me?
When it comes to your application, much of the search criteria are based on hard facts that you have no control over.
If a recruiter decides to filter for candidates with a master's degree in environmental engineering and you don't have one, you may be out of luck.
However, you do have control over your CV and cover letter and should take steps to make sure that they are optimised to maximise your odds of "beating the system."
Simply put, you may get filtered out if you don't have the education, skills or certifications a recruiter is looking for listed on your CV.
How can I optimise my CV to beat applicant tracking systems?
You can optimise your CV by following these steps:
- Read through the job description and make sure to naturally incorporate relevant keywords into your CV (solid CV writers can help with that too!)
- Stick to conventional formatting and use a simple layout (no two-column or graphic CVs!)
- Make sure to clearly label your sections (Education, Work Experience, Certifications, Relevant Skills, etc.)
- Use a chronological CV that lists your experience in order
- Avoid tables, charts and any graphics
Are there times when ATS optimisation is not essential?
If you are applying to jobs through a recruiter who is filtering applications on the company's behalf, you likely don't need to worry.
If someone within the company has referred you, your application will probably be looked at more closely as well.
The same holds true if you are applying for roles within a small company.
However, for roles at large organisations - especially at the entry and middle management levels - optimising your CV for ATS is 100% worth paying attention to.
The CV Pilots team can optimise your CV to help pass ATS scans.
Scroll down to see our services or email us at email@example.com with any questions!
Wondering how your CV stacks up? Submit it here! We'll provide you with feedback and let you know how we can help if needed.