You might wonder – do I really need to know what an applicant tracking system (ATS) is?

The quick answer to this question is – yes, you do. Mostly because the majority of companies are using recruitment software. According to Jobscan research, 98,8% of Fortune 500 companies in 2019 (with an increase of 0,6% from the last year) are using an ATS to manage their hiring processes. Those are not just large companies – the usage of applicant tracking systems is becoming more common in medium and small-size organizations as well. Check out question number 3 for further reasons why an ATS for SMEs can benefit small businesses as well.


The essential point is that no matter the size of businesses, recruitment software is a vital component for an effective, timesaving and cost-reducing hiring process. Because of that, knowing what an ATS is and how it works can be a great help for your next job application.

Here are 6 fundamental questions about Applicant Tracking Systems and their corresponding answers:


1. What is an applicant tracking system?

First and foremost, an applicant tracking system is software that manages and organizes both the recruiting and hiring process of companies from job postings to job applications. As the name suggests, candidates are tracked. Their application information is organized down the hiring process. Whether that is to schedule future interviews, send automated email replies, handle the onboarding, or present an overview of the candidate based on their applications. There are different feature sets depending on the recruitment software, however, the listed above are standard and expected functionalities of an ATS. Some have add-on extensions with added benefits. Here is an example of such recruiting software.

How do you know that an ATS will screen your CV? If you are applying through an online form, then the company is using an ATS.


2. What are the advantages of using ATS for businesses?

Recruiters have limited time and cognitive capacity to review all resumes that they receive. That is especially the case in large organizations where the application pool is big or they want to mass hire quickly and effectively.  ATS manages the CV pool of all applications in one place and helps hiring teams stay organized – all in one platform.

Those automated systems save valuable time and save the recruiter the trouble of reviewing hundreds of resumes. Instead, those applicant tracking systems outline the relevant job matches between a job position and a candidate in a matter of seconds, and the recruiters can take it from there without missing remarkably skilled candidates in the talent pipeline.



3. Does an SME need an ATS?

As a small business owner, you might think that ATS is not essential for your current needs. On second thought, however, small companies might need it even more than large enterprises.

Think about it in this way: an ATS streamlines your hiring efforts by automating many time-consuming tasks such as:

  • sending custom emails
  • managing and storing applications
  • tracking and managing candidates down the hiring process, etc.

Plus, those applicant tracking systems provide you with reports that you might not be able to do independently. Depending on the ATS vendor, there are various features for optimizing the company’s recruitment processes.

All that automation is not even a costly service – there are applicant tracking system providers with packages, especially tailored for small companies’ budgets.

4. How does an applicant tracking system work?

As explained in the previous section, recruitment software stores all applications in an extensive database accessible for hiring teams. From there, hiring managers can search for applications, get an overview of candidates, and sort resumes in several ways – all depending on the ATS’s features.

Some do a quick scan and review resumes based on the highlights in them (previous experience, education, skills, etc.); others let the ATS scan and evaluate applications first and then consider only the candidates that are the best bit.

Here different ATS vendors vary on the depth of variables considered in the ranking – going from simply evaluating based on skills to including personality, values, and culture in the ranking mix.  Also, some recruiters chose to do keyword searches within the database.


5. Are there any special resumes and application formats needed?

If you want your application to be ATS-friendly, make sure to check that it complies with few general criteria regarding the formatting of the file and the text. Or you can use already made ATS resume-friendly templates and ease your efforts. If you want to optimize your current CV, make sure to:

  • Have it in pdf or docx format (read the application details carefully)
  • Use simple layout
  • Use a simple standard font
  • Stick to bullet points for or highlighting your achievements
  • Label your sections correctly

5. Optimize your resume for an ATS

There are high chances of your resume or/and application letter being evaluated by an ATS when applying for a job online. Those systems are designed to optimize the hiring team’s recruitment processes, which often means (especially for large organizations with hundreds of applications for a single job posting) that your application will be read firstly by a machine. That machine might identify you as a strong fit or not. Recruiting teams have limited time, and your resume risks being unread if it ranks lower according to the ATS’s analysis.


That recruitment software is filled with linguistic metrics that analyze your application’s content; they pick up words and identify both your hard and soft skills. You can do a few tricks to make sure that you increase your chances of a job-skills match; however, be honest and not overstuff your CV with unnecessary words. You can outsmart the machine but not a recruiter’s judgment.

Here are a few tips on what you can do to improve your resume and application letter for ATS systems.



Does it sound intimidating?


Perhaps. But it does not have to be.

Rather than fearing it, you could instead prepare and see what a linguistic-powered scanning tool can tell about your strengths and weaknesses.