Why Employers Use an Applicant Tracking System

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If you've taken the time to customize your resume, write a great cover letter and submit your applications, everything is out of your hands. But, what happens to your resume after you hit send? You might be surprised to learn that almost all employers, even very small companies, use an applicant tracking system.

So, why is this important?

If you understand the process, you're much more likely to be asked for an interview. Many people still believe that most companies have hiring managers who read through every resume and make a decision about who they want to contact. This couldn't be further from the truth. Today, it's so easy to use a screening program. These programs sort through all of the resumes looking for keywords that apply to the position. The screening program will eliminate resumes from people who don't match the criteria, leaving only the most suitable matches for the hiring manager to look over. It saves the company time and money, making the hiring process more streamlined. Although the applicant tracking system may rule out resumes from people who are actually qualified, it leaves the ones that understand how the process works.

So, why do employers use these systems if they miss some qualified applicants?

There are too many resumes to read. Especially now with the tight job market, employers are being flooded with applications for just a handful of job openings. It's estimated that most employers receive about 1,000 applicants for each job posting. Added to that, job boards have made applying for jobs very easy and quick, which means that unqualified people aren't risking much by applying for jobs they don't expect to get. The applicant tracking system can quickly go through the stack and narrow the list down to just the people who are truly interested in the job and who have the necessary skills.

Prevents discrimination and charges of misconduct. There are many laws on the books that prevent employers from discriminating against job seekers because of their age, gender, ethnicity and more. For most companies, it's important to show that they aren't using any of that information to disqualify otherwise acceptable applicant. This is where the applicant tracking system really comes in handy. Because a non-biased computer program is sorting through the resumes, there's no chance that a hiring manager could be swayed, even without realizing it, by any of these factors. The system also allows companies to quickly show that they are complying with all federal laws.

They save money. There are lots of different applicant tracking programs. Some of them are free, while others are not as expensive as hiring someone to read over all of the resumes. Because they are easy for even a small business to use, they are a good investment. The low cost, combined with high results means that this type of screening is probably here to stay.

The good news is that once you understand how the applicant tracking system works and why almost every company uses them, it's easier to make your resume stand out. Be sure to use the same keywords in your resume and cover letter that the company used in the job listing. If they list specific requirements, make sure that you have them listed clearly so that your resume won't end up in the trash pile.

Are you familiar with the applicant tracking program? Do you think that they are a good thing or a bad thing for business? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


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  • Fred P
    Fred P
    ....a very interesting perspective on 21st century new resume employment submission.   It appears a new resume (heavily modified or tailored) is required for each job application weighted on job-description key words.  I too, will incorporate this new reality into my job search.  What a revelation!
    Useful tips for how to apply for job opening?
  • Bill M
    Bill M
    To say keyword screening "Prevents discrimination and charges of misconduct" is ludicrous.  To discriminate on age, they just eliminate any resumes with an earliest date before some certain threshold or if it shows no dates at all (common among older candidates.)  To eliminate on the basis of race, just pitch resumes with names associated with a certain race/origin (Mohammed, Miguel, Probilsky, Aronowitz.) I get far more interviews when I include only my 2004 engineering degree (which I don't call an M.S.) and just eliminate the 1985 B.S. engineering degree and 19 years of experience in between them.
  • Sue S
    Sue S
    I have been re-writing my resume for years!  I have hired professionals, taken advice from recruiters, etc.   I do not get selected for interviews for positions I know I am qualified for.  This article is very informative and an eye opener.  I will AGAIN review my resume to see if I can improve the "keywords".  The job market is very competitive right now and the more I can improve my search efforts, the closer I will be to getting hired!  Thank you for sharing the information
  • Melanie H
    Melanie H
    I think the article spent a lot of time explaining why companies use it and not enough explaining how applicants can overcome falling through the cracks which is what I was looking for.  
  • Kathee W
    Kathee W
    I think age discrimination is the biggest problem for a lot of applicants. Just because your over 55 does not mean you are old and unable to do the job.
  • James E. M
    James E. M
    I understand why they use them, but that doesn't make the hiring any less of a game.  I've had my resume professionally written, independently reviewed, and still don't get interviews.  Iguess I'm jaded by the process.
  • William L
    William L
    Personally I think applicant tracking software has taken the personal touch out of recruiting and left too much of the screening process to computers who only do what they are programmed to do. Getting the right "key" words to be recognized can be downright impossible sometimes. Someone who has 20 years experience in AR or Collections can get over-looked for a position in those areas by software that is only looking for data entry or minimal management experience. By being honest and listing all of one's experience can get you in the wrong pile of resumes very quickly.  
  • Jose H
    Jose H
    I have been one of those who have been passed by because of the tracking system. And quite a few of those positions were exactly what I have performed.And in stating the laws to discrimination. I as a former employer they are there, I also know from other employers and being in the job market, that aging discrimination is rampant in the construction industry
  • Raul B
    Raul B
    I am over 50, that's what I think I am always not accepted for the job that I had over 10 years of experience.  A lot of times I was called for an interview but had been promised to get called in few days or so and never happened. Another factor that I could think of not being accepted is being an Asian.  I belong to the minority.  With the job tight market, foreigner comes least to be accepted.
  • Katherine M
    Katherine M
    I really don't see the positive in any of this just because someone knows the "KEY" words doesn't mean they are qualified for the job !Whats wrong with the face to face approach ? What happened to the human touch and intuition and the apprentice ,and helping one another! The computers now rule the world I think its just wrong,I have a learning disability and was doing fine as a hands on nurse now that computers RULE I cant find WORK ! I don't know what I'm going to do now ! Thanks internet
  • Timothy M
    Timothy M
    These types of articles further confirm my long standing belief that HR hiring people have the collective IQ of a walnut.  Most that I have ever encountered have no idea as to what a qualified person is.  Too bad for persons looking to get hired and too bad for the companies that hire these small thinkers.
  • Ellen K
    Ellen K
    I give up--lazy HR making computers doing hiring..  They will vote partyline too??  Sad what our country has become.  My husband and I served this country for this type of consideration and discredit for working hard and doing and going to whereever in the World we were asked,with a smile no less?   Sad our country hires by color,and computer not by the person,or at least give someone a trial?
  • Janet S
    Janet S
    I have read through most  of the comments and have to agree that a tracking system is not the the way to hire an employee. Another thing that  I have noticed half of the jobs that are on the different websites are posted more than once. The HR department don't remove the postings when the job is filled so half the jobs you apply  are all ready filled.Companies need to hire more Hr people.Not spend money on computer software.
  • Joy B
    Joy B
    Applicant tracking can be very misleading and a waste of time.  
  • Bev C
    Bev C
    Didn't tell what the assorted key tracking words areWorthless article
  • Fred San M
    Fred San M
    The tracking system as explained is not a smart way to find the right fit. Many job seekers are playing the game of using key words to be invited to an interview, but their true persona and competence is immediately shown.Then the recruiters will most likely face a disproportionate number of key words players but largely incompetent while the good applicants have been discarded. This system is not the smart one to be used at the higher levels.Corporate America is deeply affected by a plague of incompetent managers, and administrators who are destroying values and marketability, sometimes it's too late to make any adjustment, as an example see the many retail, hospitality and customer goods companies going the wrong way.
  •  Deborah P
    Deborah P
    I will use the tracking system if I have to to get a job, but I thjnk it is a major invasion of privacy for the job seekers.  Also, I would definitely see it making the company's hiring process easier, but I don't really think it would help them to hire the right person for the job as well as the old way.  Lots of people who know their online skills well aren't necessarily more suited or better employees than the hard working ones who don't happen to have the knowledge of this process.  In conclusion, I basically dislike this way of applying for jobs.
  • Shawn W
    Shawn W
    Didn't really give any info. as to how to key-in on what a resume-tracker does.
  • Dorothea F
    Dorothea F
    I do not agree with the applicant tracking programFirst of all there are billions of people looking for jobs, or employment. The applicant program can only detect what the resume is conveying.  It does not detect that person's character. People tell great lies on their resume for it to standout from the rest. SO, can the applicant tracking program detect a LIE? No I disagree with that program.I have been told by employers that I am over qualified for certain positions. I also have streamlined my resume,and have not even had an interview for a job. I have been applying for jobs for the last five years. I am very frustrated and and depressed. There has to be a better way, this is AMERICA not TIMBUKTO.... The top and the bottom line is I need a job Right NOW!  Please Help Me, I can not take much more of this bad economy.
  • doug d
    doug d
    This article just confirms why its difficult to speak to someone who actually knows the product of interest you may be in question of.  If this is true, employers really need to slow it down a notch and take a little time in finding which applicants might be his best investment for promoting the company.  How long would it actually take to thumb through 1000 applications compared to relying on a computer program that will choose someone who can write the right words.  What ever happened to quality, I am sure there is a computer program being written that will take care of quality control, eliminate any human involvement.  This world is changing alright, I enjoy technology but I will tell you what I do not enjoy.  Being a computers helper.  What happens with all the workers out there that have nothing to be proud of, they are just a computers helper.  Think about it, this might be a problem in the next 100 years that will bring on a negative effect among humans,  That is my story and I am sticking to it.
  • Sean S
    Sean S
    I don't think its very honest for an applicant to be cutting and pasting parts of the job description on your resume. I was just told by a placement adviser that most resumes should be following the job description and including that part in your resume but that seems a little dishonest by cutting and pasting or even paraphrasing job descriptions.
    Thanks for the explanation of how the selection process works with the program used by the companies. Agree with you that several qualified candidates rule out by this method.In relation to: "There are many laws on the books that prevent employers from discriminating against job seekers because of their age, gender, ethnicity and more, etc. ", I will comment the following , based in personal experience: we found the right person for the position, etc.
  • Patrick T
    Patrick T
    If Hiring Managers and HR Personnel use this systems. Then why are they needed? Eliminate their positions and let them fight for jobs like everybody else. Evaluate their resumes by the exact same systems they used on others. They would be one of the first ones to scream unfair. Funny about computers it takes human flesh and bone employees to build, repair, program, and operate them. Computers are cold, hard,   unfeeling, lifeless, has no people skills, can't get a physical connection with someone. Further, they are homogenized, pasteurized and are meant to our servants not our masters. Let's put things back into perspective. We still need the person to person contact. I agree with Rod K.
  • Patricia F
    Patricia F
    I think that the tracking systems are a bad thing for America. Americans need jobs, not more computers in the place of their jobs. Employers need to hire more Americans to do the vetting process, not use more machines. This is one of the problems with America's unemployment issue: Employers are not hiring PEOPLE because they can buy a PROGRAM  to put in the place of a PERSON. So PEOPLE are going without JOBS.Thank you for asking my opinion. And thank you for the tip, as I have wondered what happens to my multitudinous resume submissions.Sincerely,Patricia

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