Recruiters Explain How They Use Applicant Management Software & How to Optimize Your Resume
Recruitment isn’t as simple as it once used to be.
With the rise of online applications, recruiters often receive hundreds (if not thousands) of applications for a single position.
The only way for them to cope with such a high volume to use some sort of resume tracking system.
That’s where applicant tracking systems, or ATS, come in.
You may have heard that most resumes get automatically rejected by the software and never make it into the hands of a recruiter.
You may have also heard about the importance of keyword optimizing your resume to help it pass these automated screenings.
We wanted to provide you with straightforward answers to the most common questions we get about applicant tracking systems – from the people who actually use them.
We spoke to recruiters to find out:
- What is an applicant tracking system?
- How do recruiters filter applicants using an ATS?
- What percentage of applicants get eliminated by automated ATS screenings?
- How can I optimize my resume for ATS?
- How is AI technology used for recruitment evolving?
After reading this article, you’ll feel more confident when tailoring your resume to specific applications and submitting your resume online.
What is an applicant tracking system (ATS)?
Simply put, applicant tracking systems are a type of recruitment management software used to collect, evaluate, and manage applications.
“I view ATS software primarily as a way to keep applicant information organized,” says Matt Erhard, Managing Partner of Summit Search Group.
“It allows resumes to be easily reviewed and compared for key skills and experience, as opposed to the process of flipping through folders of resumes or using clunky spreadsheet-based databases.”
Applicant tracking systems also allow for increased efficiency and automation.
“Our ATS enables our in-house recruitment team to stay lean, focused, and purposeful with their time,” explains Chris Reed, Head of Business Development for Protect Line.
“Candidate [resumes], evaluation questions, and LinkedIn profiles are merged automatically to offer the recruitment team a clean and concise way to evaluate candidates.”
Reed says that his team uses ATS integrations to automate the process of:
- Posting positions to major job boards such as LinkedIn and Indeed
- Sharing roles on social media
- Tracking internal referrals
- Voting on candidates
- Emailing status updates
How do recruiters filter applicants using an ATS?
Your primary concern as an applicant is likely to be how recruiters will use the ATS to filter through resumes.
It’s impossible to determine exactly how an individual recruiter will leverage the software throughout the evaluation process, but by understanding its typical uses, you’ll be able to adjust your application strategy accordingly.
Reed, who recruits for financial services, says that “candidates are screened for tenure in previous roles, relevant experience, geographical locations, and any supporting comments the candidate may have made.”
Recruiters can also filter by more specific criteria such as degree title, university, and skills.
For technical roles, past job titles and coding languages, for example, provide insight into a candidate’s seniority level and area of expertise.
“Typically we are looking to match the job title and technologies used to perform the job. Secondarily, we will look at the location of the candidate,” explains Melissa Davis, CEO of Elev8 Hire Solutions, a data-driven tech recruiting firm.
Erdhard says that he will “usually start by entering the key skills and requirements from the position into the software," which the ATS uses to automatically rank candidates based on their suitability for the role.
“I find this the fastest way to come up with a shortlist of potential candidates, which I then review in more depth,” he explains.
What percentage of applicants get eliminated by automated ATS screenings?
The extent to which recruiters filter down, or automatically eliminate, candidates varies.
“For some roles, we receive hundreds of applications per day,” Reed says. “Dependent on the role, up to 85% of applications can be ‘filtered out’ by the initial search.”
Davis shared a similar range, saying that “80-90% of candidates should be filtered out by search alone. We are generally trying to look at the top 10-20% of the candidates for any job.”
For some roles, we receive hundreds of applications per day.
Dependent on the role, up to 85% of applications can be ‘filtered out’ by the initial search.
- Chris Reed, Head of Business Development, Protect Line
Some recruiters choose not to rely as heavily on automation – especially if they’re part of a smaller company or recruiting for senior-level roles that don’t receive as many applications.
“The way I use applicant tracking doesn’t necessarily filter out any candidates, in the sense that I review every resume that gets entered into the system,” Erhard explains.
“As a rough estimate, I’d say 50-60% of applicants that are potentially qualified for the position end up ranked a high enough match to get reviewed.”
How can I optimize my resume for ATS?
“As AI becomes integral to the recruitment process to hone searches, it is more important than ever for candidates to tailor resumes to specific job postings,” Davis says.
According to Davis, resumes have not changed in the sense that their language and format still needs to be tailored to what your target audience expects to see.
However, now “your intended audience is a machine – and can be very unforgiving,” she says.
“Optimizing for ATS can help your resume feature higher in rankings and be more likely to come up as a match, so it’s worth doing,” Erhard adds.
How should I format my resume?
When it comes to formatting, keep it simple and consistent.
“AI does not care about creativity and presentation,” Davis says. “It only cares about information.”
The recruiters shared the following tips:
- Include your contact details at the top of your document
- Include a LinkedIn link, which the ATS picks up
- Use a clean, simple format
- Do not include any pictures or fancy fonts
- Do not use tables or multiple columns
- Submit your resume in a compatible format (usually .doc or .PDF)
In other words, don’t try to stand out with fancy designs, graphics, and lots of colors. Keep your formatting simple and let your experience speak for itself.
Your intended audience is a machine – and can be very unforgiving.
AI does not care about creativity and presentation. It only cares about information.
- Melissa Davis, CEO, Elev8 Hire Solutions
Your document will not only look more professional, but you’ll also increase your chances of passing ATS screenings.
How should I tailor my content?
You should make sure that your resume’s content aligns with the information outlined in the job description.
“You must tailor your resume to reflect the job title, skills, and location the search engine is going to focus on,” Davis explains.
Even if you don’t have relevant prior experience, be sure to highlight transferable skills as much as possible.
A candidate whose experience doesn’t exactly match the search criteria “may rise to the top if they have all five [technical] skills we are looking for repeated on their resume,” Davis said.
The way you phrase your skills and names of certifications also matters.
Erhard suggests that applicants “use both the acronym and written-out form of degree names and other keywords that may be written either way.”
He also recommends that applicants incorporate exact phrasing from a job description into their resumes.
If you’re looking to switch careers and are worried that you won’t have enough information to highlight, consider taking online courses on topics related to the field you are looking to enter.
How is AI technology used for recruitment evolving?
Artificial intelligence and recruitment may seem like an odd match.
After all, AI is all about automation. Recruitment, on the other hand, is a highly personal process.
Chris Gardner, an Executive Recruiter and CEO of Artemis Consultants, says that automation via AI recruiting software can only be so intuitive.
“While no hiring manager wants to sort through hundreds of emails or stacks of resumes, we must be aware of the limits of automated talent acquisition platforms,” he reasons.
“The ATS is looking for keywords and may be missing out on valuable experiences that fall outside the mold.”
The human element is at the heart of job-seeking – and recruiting.
At some point along the way, you stood out to a hiring manager – you connected with a human being.
- Chris Gardner, Executive Recruiter and CEO, Artemis Consultants
However, AI for recruitment continues to evolve to address such concerns.
One example of a technology that is looking to disrupt the traditional ATS model is Transformify, a freelancer management system (FMS). Its HR software solutions include an integrated job board and ATS that companies can use to source additional freelancers.
Transformify differs from traditional ATS in the sense that it leverages machine learning and specifically asks applicants to input their top skills, limiting them to 15 to prevent from keyword stuffing. An algorithm then checks these skills to make sure they complement each other.
Lilia Stoyanov, CEO of Transformify, explains that during the current pandemic, “the only option [many people] have is to work in another industry.”
As such, Transformify specifically discourages its users from filtering for applicants based on previous employer or job title and recommends focusing on skills and experience instead.
Stoyanov cited the airline industry as an example: “a flight attendant that speaks five languages has been trained on how to address difficult customers up in the air [and knows] how to handle extreme situations.”
While there may not be any openings for flight attendants in the near future, they have transferable skills in customer support or customer care that would be an asset in another industry.
“These applicants could be a great candidate for an account manager or customer support agent position with Amazon or Google,” she says.
Software such as Skeeled can also help reduce bias in the hiring process and improve productivity.
Its website explains that "the algorithms that sift through the applications don’t get distracted with subjective, unimportant details and they look at all the candidates with the same 'set of eyes.' They're simply laser-focused on the screening of applications and finding the candidates that best match a job."
ATS and other AI recruiting software systems will undoubtedly continue to evolve moving forward.
While ATS optimization is important to keep in mind, remember that recruiting will always involve a personal touch.
Research also shows that applicants are much more likely to get hired through a referral than through an online application.
“The human element is at the heart of job-seeking – and recruiting,” Gardner concludes.
“At some point along the way, you stood out to a hiring manager – you connected with a human being.”
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