ATS: What you need to know

Not sure what an ATS is? We’ve got you covered…

Applicant tracking systems are a popular tool for recruiters, allowing them to sort and filter candidates in order of suitability. But what do they mean for your application – and how can you use them to ensure your CV stands out?

To make sure you’re clear on how an ATS works, here’s everything you need to know about applicant tracking systems:


What is an ATS?

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System, which is a type of software that allows employers to manage their applications more effectively.

It works by scanning through each CV that is submitted for a vacancy, using keyword trackers to find the candidates that have the essential skills and experience needed to carry out the role. It then ranks them in order of suitability.

For example, if a certain qualification is a prerequisite for a job, an ATS would filter out any applicants who don’t have it.


Why do employers use applicant tracking systems?

An applicant tracking system makes it quicker and easier for recruiters to assess candidates, and also provide an organised system for them to keep track of their applications.

Instead of having to go through each application in-depth, an ATS filters and orders CVs, allowing employers to get straight to the most relevant ones that come through.

As a result, companies can speed up the hiring process for themselves – and their candidates.

And with some roles receiving hundreds of applications every single day, they’ve become an invaluable tool for businesses across the UK.


How do applicant tracking systems work?

By inputting CVs into an ATS, a recruiter can set up focused searches – using keywords specific to the job they’re hiring for.

For example, if an employer is looking for someone with sales experience, they might use ‘sales’ as a keyword to find the candidates that match their criteria. Or, if a specific qualification is essential (for example, AAT), they can carry out a search which focusses specifically on that.

This search will cover everything from your work experience to your education, with some ATS systems ranking candidates in order of suitability (based on how well your skills match).

CVs can also be stored in the system long-term, meaning that candidates who have submitted theirs a while ago may still get shortlisted for a newer vacancy.

So, even if you’re not right for the current role, an ATS could help ensure your application isn’t forgotten.


Do applicant tracking systems stop recruiters from seeing my CV?

Although an ATS is an effective way of sorting CVs, it doesn’t replace the human part of the recruitment process (contrary to popular CV myths).

Instead, it orders candidates in a way that makes it easier for employers to shortlist them. As long as you’ve tailored your CV to the role you’ve applied for, you shouldn’t have to worry about an ATS filtering you out.

And, once the best-matching candidates are shown, employers are still required to go through and read them in order to pick the ones they think are best.

Recruiters may also carry out a number of different keyword searches to pinpoint the most suitable applicants.


How should I optimise my CV for an ATS?

An ATS doesn’t have to be a hindrance for your application; you just need to find the best ways to make your CV stand out.

Here are a few of our top tips to help you tailor yours effectively:

  • Research the company, as well as the role you’re applying for
  • Include keywords relevant to the job
  • Specify your qualifications by name
  • Use simple formatting
  • Use bullet points
  • Don’t forget to include your address
  • Avoid using graphics, tables, or logos
  • Pick a professional font
  • Check spelling (again)

And, since most of the above is an essential requirement for any CV, you might find that you’re already halfway there to beating applicant tracking systems.


How should I format my CV?

Just because an employer might use an ATS, it doesn’t mean that you should forget about formatting.

Your CV should still be two pages long (and no, keyword stuffing won’t work), presented in a logical order, and written in a professional font. Bullet points are also a great way to make your CV easy to digest.

For more tips on how to set yours apart, read our CV layout dos and don’ts now.

How to write a CV

Four tips for optimising your CV for ATS


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