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What is an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)?

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For many companies, the employment process is arguably one of the most important to manage.

Excellent employee hires add value to the company, but poor employee hires can conversely sap resources from the company without adding much or any value, especially if the company is then forced to terminate the contract.

Whether it be an SME or a large corporate, the challenge of hiring the best candidates is tedious, with hundreds or thousands of candidates applying. Furthermore, in the age of COVID-19, and with social distancing the norm, having software that allows recruitment to be carried out swiftly and safely can be crucial. 

What Is An Applicant Tracking System?

ATS is a human resource software that enables the electronic handling of the recruitment and hiring process, from receiving resumes to hiring employees.

Companies utilize ATS to organize and search large pools of applicants, filtering and shortlisting them, and even facilitating the process of communicating with these shortlisted candidates.

Thus, the hiring manager can focus his/her time and energy on the actual interviewing process rather than the quagmire of administrative work. It saves time, and money, and helps automate a tiresome process.  

Background Check

Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

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How Does It Work?

It works by tracking, filtering, and scoring relevant keywords from resumes, such as key skills, years of experience, educational history, and job titles.

Candidates who match the most resume keywords have the greatest chance of being reviewed by the recruiter. The best way to ascertain which skills are wanted is by utilizing keywords that match the job description. 

Additionally, the ATS may allow companies to see where applicants are applying from, whether that is an online job posting, through a referral, directly from a company website, or of another origin.

By being able to track this, employers can gather valuable data and focus on the most successful method of recruiting. 

Applicant tracking systems will also collect and compile resumes in a database for professional recruiters to use, evaluate, and assess.

The stored resumes may then be saved and readily accessed at any time ensuring good candidates are not missed out on other job opportunities that they may not have applied for. Recruiters can search and sort for characteristics important to them in a number of ways. 


The ATS system is not perfect, and as such, needs to run parallel to manual recruitment methods to calibrate.  One of the issues is candidates attempting to game the system. 

As the system allows the filtering of the pool of candidates by use of keywords, it is possible for applicants to ‘cheat’ the system by stuffing their resumes with keywords that match the job description.

Another drawback is that good and suitable candidates who have no prior experience or are switching careers will not have a high ranking or get recommended by using this system.

As such, the ATS should not be run independently without human interaction. It is vital that recruiters manually evaluate the resumes to see if candidates truly do meet the requirements of the company. 

Technical issues may also arise, such as issues in reading and interpreting a scanned resume, causing information to be distorted or lost.

Although modern and advanced applicant tracking systems have minimized or eliminated these errors, there are several ways to ensure this does not happen to your resume.

One tip is to use a traditional and widely-used font such as Times New Roman, use consistent formatting, especially for dates, keep section headings simple, and avoid using tables. Include the right documents such as cover letters, work samples, recommendations, and use the file format that is listed in the job posting, most commonly used are PDF and Word formats. 

On a Final Note

Due to the competitive nature of recruitment, the implementation of a modern ATS is becoming more of a priority, leveraging data to effectively rank and filter candidates that would add the most value to their organization.

Applicant tracking systems are limited by their programming, and so the selection of a proper ATS must be prioritized. 

The advantage is gained through an effective recruitment process and it is only to the detrimental effect of a company not to incorporate an ATS. 

Written by Shortlister Editorial Team
Written by Shortlister Editorial Team