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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  • 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
  • Angélica V
    Angélica V
    Is a bad way to hire people because, they ask questions that never had happens in my work experiences or make a ridiculous questions and disqualified people who really want to work, can learn quickly and the system don't show what good is that candidate.
  • Bettie E
    Bettie E
    The applicant tracking system used by employers is very sterile and impersonal, but the job seeker, once hired cannot be sterile, disconnected and impersonal to their consumers.
  • Rod Koelker
    Rod Koelker
    Addendum -A tracking system should not be necessary if HR and the Hiring Manager would take the time to write a decent, and more importantly, accurate job description. As it stands, I see way too many job descriptions that simply do a blast of technical terms from a Google search and get included without any proofreading (e.g., MUST need 5 years experience in Windows Server 2008. ... You really have to be good to have 5 years experience on a product that's only been on the market for 4!) ... Another example of a poorly crafted job description is to require an idividual to have 5 (or other random number) years experience in management for a Tier 1 service desk position.In my 30+ years of employment, I have seen only two (yes two) well crafted, well thought out, and job appropriate solicitiations for resume submission. ... Present me with a good job description and I will present you with a good resume.A tracking system is a cop-out. To really hire good workers, HR and the Hiring Manager need to work together to develop appropriate search criteria rather than relying on a cut-and-paste template from the internet or other generic standard that hasn't been proofread or updated.Finally, to eliminate bias (real or assumed) EEO collection should NEVER be part of the application process. All these things currently make it too easy to eliminate (or exclude) the really good workers.
  • Getachew A
    Getachew A
    great comment and excellent informtion.
  • Dolores C. P
    Dolores C. P
    Hello Melissa.  Thanks for the clarification.  I have heard about this in Career Link, but this made it very clear. Thanks for sharing this article for people like me looking for a new job.  Best Regards, Dolores
  • Rod K
    Rod K
    I concur with Dionne. To add to it, there are ways to 'cheat' the system by padding the resume with buzzwords from the job description multiple times then changing the font color to white. This way, you can add your experience several times so that it's flagged as highly qualified by the system and yet not have it be a lie. . . .  This still does not help if the actual job description is padded which I find to be the case very often, especially for IT positions.
  • Louise T
    Louise T
    Wish there were more specific information such as, are they using code words or headings to cue computer to what to seek? Some hints to have resume recognized for a job you're qualified for.
  • Victoria G
    Victoria G
    I've been searching for months and I use the exact same words in my cover letter and resume that's indicated in the job ad. I actually copy and paste the requirements and qualifictions and re formate my resume specifically to each job ad to ensure I am completely covered. I have not had one call. So, even though this is great for companies, it's bad for employee's. Actually I'm starting to think the moment you hit upload and then submit or appy, it goes to the Bermuda Triangle.
  • Dionne V
    Dionne V
    The tracking system is a good initial method to weed out those not qualified, but anyone can put information on a resume to "look" qualified.  This method of selecting human capital does not often net the company the best candidates.  I found that reading resumes gave me a better sense of those that just "fluff" their resume for the position.

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