What Is an Applicant Tracking System? Definition and Tips

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 22 September 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When you apply for a job, your resume typically passes through an applicant tracking system (ATS) before reaching the hiring manager. This software helps streamline and automate the hiring process, allowing hiring professionals to focus on reviewing the most qualified or best-fit candidates for the job. Having knowledge of the ATS can help you create and submit applications that meet employers' requirements and standards. In this article, we discuss what an applicant tracking system is, what it does and how it works and share some tips for making your application materials compliant with the ATS program.

What Is An Applicant Tracking System?

An ATS is a software tool that helps HR managers screen candidates during the recruitment process. The software collects, sorts and ranks application materials, including CVs and resumes, based on pre-defined criteria. It gathers information about each candidate from their resumes, then organises them based on their skill set, experience and qualification. This process can help a hiring manager shortlist qualified candidates. When you optimise your CV or resume specifically for the job you're applying for, your application passes the ATS and reaches the hiring manager.

Related: How to Write a Resume Employers Will Notice

What Does The Applicant Tracking System Do?

An applicant tracking system can help HR managers collect essential information about candidates and organise everything in one place. The primary job of an ATS is to automate the recruitment process by tracking and organising candidates' data. Here are some other important tasks an employer can accomplish with an ATS:

  • Receive and sort applications automatically

  • Store CVs and other application materials based on pre-defined criteria

  • Match the skills of a candidate with the skills required for an open position

  • Ensure compliance with hiring laws

Benefits Of Using An ATS

Hiring managers and recruiters rely on their ATS software to shortlist a handful of candidates from hundreds of applications they may receive for a single job posting. Apart from helping recruiters collect information in one place, an ATS may help schedule an interview, perform reference checks and complete important paperwork. An applicant tracking system can benefit recruits in many ways, such as:

  • Saves time: An ATS reduces the time a recruiter has to spend on completing administrative tasks. It sends follow up emails to potential candidates, tracks candidates' responses and organises resumes and applications. This gives recruiters time to focus on other important work.

  • Filters candidates: The software can easily filter potential candidates by setting minimum requirements and removing those who don't meet those requirements. These requirements may include years of experience, educational background or particular skills. This saves time rather than reviewing all the applications that they receive.

  • Streamlines the recruitment process: The software lists every detail about the recruiting process in a single system that helps you track, monitor, control and optimise the hiring process. Hiring managers can use an ATS as a database to search for qualified candidates for their company.

  • Facilitates collaborative hiring: Using an ATS, hiring managers can quickly share the rating and notes of every candidate they shortlist. This helps in collective decision-making, in which every recruiter or hiring manager has a say.

  • Ensures better tracking: Companies can use their ATS to identify where candidates find their job postings. Recruiters can use this information to adjust their recruiting activities and process. For example, if a recruiter finds that most of their applicants applied through Indeed's job portal, they may decide to focus more on the Indeed portal.

  • Increases quality of hire: An ATS uses resume parsing technology and advanced filters that help recruiters shortlist potential candidates for their company.

How Does An Applicant Tracking System Work?

When you apply for a job, your CV passes through an ATS, which immediately scans the resume for keywords and terms that match the employer's requirements. For example, an ATS may search for keywords like digital content or content creator in an application for a digital content creator role. If your application has those keywords, the ATS can pass it on to the next phase. An applicant tracking system usually offers the following services:

Searching for keywords

Recruiters and hiring managers can use keywords to search through the applications stored within their ATS software. They often use keywords pulled from the job description that focus on particular skills, job titles, experiences or responsibilities. This method enables these professionals to filter for candidates who share alignment with the job description and the employer's established requirements or preferences.

Ranking candidates

ATS software can also rank candidates by comparing their application materials to job requirements. Hiring managers and recruiters can use this method to focus on the candidates who rank highest and demonstrate strong alignment with the job description and necessary qualifications.

Examples Of Applicant Tracking Systems

Recruiters use ATS programs to automate certain parts of the hiring process. There are two different ATS programs widely available:

Artificial Intelligence (AI) powered ATS

An AI-powered ATS program supports hiring decisions and removes bias from the selection process. An ATS with AI features typically uses predictive models based on machine learning that take candidate and job input. The ATS then predicts using its own extensive knowledge based on jobs, competencies and skills and gives a score describing how well the candidate fits in the job. The AI-powered ATS uses real data about candidates and statistical inferences to match the best-fit candidates.

Non-AI powered ATS

These are the standard ATS without AI capabilities. This type of ATS program offers many advantages to the HR manager, like offering an overview of the full employee cycle and building career sites. The software reduces the dependency and spending on third-party recruiters.

Tips On Passing An ATS

Here are a few tips for creating an ATS-friendly application material:

Use keywords from the job posting

After reading the job description, write down your skills or experiences that align with the employer's requirements. To pass the ATS, try to use the exact or nearly the same keywords so that your resume reaches the hiring manager.

Use both acronyms and full forms

When reviewing job descriptions, you may identify acronyms that you can incorporate as keywords into your resume. However, the applicant tracking system or hiring managers and recruiters may search for these keywords using their long-form phrasing or acronym. To be safe, you can use both forms throughout your resume to make sure it gets recognized either way. For example, the job description may seek candidates with SEO experience. In your resume, you can use both terms by writing something like, “Utilised search engine optimisation techniques (SEO) to improve organic traffic to the company website.”

Keep formatting simple

While using tables, charts, symbols, borders, headers and footers may make your resume look visually attractive, they can cause challenges with applicant tracking systems. Overly complex formatting can reduce the chances of getting shortlisted, as the software cannot typically read and organise such information. To help this, you can use a standard resume template and have clearly defined sections to make sure that the ATS can organise the information on your resume.

Use standard fonts

To enhance the readability of your resume, try using a standard font throughout. Two types of standard fonts are Serif and Sans serif. Some examples of Serif fonts are Times New Roman and Georgia, while some commonly used Sans Serif fonts are Aerial, Calibri and Tahoma. While you can choose between any of the two, many ATS finds it difficult to read Serif fonts. This software may also change your font if you use something unfamiliar to the system, potentially impacting your resume's design. So, it is advisable to use standard fonts when writing your resume.

Related: Best Font for Resume: How To Choose Type and Size

Choose simple phrases

When writing your resume, it can be helpful to use simple phrases because an applicant tracking system cannot understand idioms, unique phrasing or metaphors. Rather than using section headings like find me here, use concise and clear language like contact information. This helps the ATS to understand what you mean.

Reduce information on your header and footer

Many people add their contact information to the header and footer. This can be a great tactic if a human professional is reading your application material. A majority of ATS programs have trouble reading text from headers and footers, so you can write your contact information in the body of your resume.

Select the chronological format

Most ATS programs are compatible with resumes written in chronological formats. In a chronological resume, you can list your work history in reverse chronological order. This typically appears towards the top of the document just below the resume objective, contact information and summary sections. If you have little or no work experience, you may prefer using the functional resume format.

Related: Resume Format Guide (with Examples)

Use standard headings to label resume sections.

When formatting your resume, you can use standard heading labels like Work Experience, Education, Skills and Certifications. These standard labels make your document easy for applicant tracking systems to read and organise your information. If you use creative headings, the software may not pick up the information, which can potentially impact your chances of getting through the system.


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  • How To Format An E-Resume (With Types And Benefits)

  • How To Use Resume Keywords (With Templates And Examples)

  • 10 Tools for a Visual Resume (With Tips to Create One)

  • How To Create An Infographic Resume (With Types And Tips)

  • Recruitment Process: A Step-by-Step Guide

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