How to Navigate Applicant Tracking Systems

Navigate an ATS

An applicant tracking system (ATS) is software employers use to filter job applications automatically based on a given set of criteria (such as former employers, relevant experience and education levels).

Robin Schlinger ( estimates that 70 percent of all online job placements in the U.S. are now being made through ATS software. Such programs are designed to select applications that best meet job requirements and help employers make sure they meet Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) requirements while automatically building a database of potential candidates for future job openings.

ATS software can be integrated with other human resources (HR) systems.

It all started in 1988 when U.S. defense contractors began using ATS. In 1994, job boards were hot, and they quickly adopted ATS. In 2006, the U.S. government issued regulations requiring demographic tracking for Federal contractors, and that increased the demand for ATS.

Now ATS is largely electronic and relatively cheap. Recruiters can quickly screen thousands of applicants to get the best qualified candidates available for a specific job opening.

Schlinger says this dramatic shift in how recruiters handle job applications has changed the way jobseekers need to create and format their resumes. In fact, with more than 12 years of experience writing job-winning packages, she now spends a good deal of her time coaching clients about how to navigate this new recruitment landscape.

From an ATS standpoint, here are her recommendations for what to do and not do as a jobseeker that she outlined during a November 2013 National Career Summit teleconference.

What to Do

  1. Write a chronological resume with a standard format that includes these headings: Title, Summary, Accomplishments, Education, and Certifications.
  2. Highlight your experience in the Title.
  3. Include in the Summary the phrases and keywords (describing needed skills and characteristics) that exactly match those in the job description.
  4. Include company names, locations and the job description’s skill words under the Accomplishments heading. Ask yourself: “What is my experience for each keyword?”
  5. Check the job description category for the open position on job boards and on O*Net Online for other keywords and then adjust your resume accordingly.  
  6. Save your resume in a .doc file.
  7. Be sure your LinkedIn profile is well-written, clean and up-to-date because many ATS are tied in social media and now have apps for accepting LinkedIn profiles of individuals who are already employed as well as those looking for work.

What Not to Do

  1. Convert your resume to pdf format, which can end up jumbled by going through the process.
  2. Strive to edit your resume down to one page. Longer but succinct resumes score higher with ATS software.
  3. Include tables or graphics in your resume. They cannot be read by the software.
  4. Delete your address from your resume. ATS will likely kick out a resume that does not have an address.
  5. Write a functional resume. ATS doesn’t readily recognize a functional format.

Schlinger says 20 years ago you could apply for a job if you possessed 80 percent of the needed skills and still have a chance of being considered. Today, because the talent pool available to employers through social media and ATS is so deep and wide, you need all the skills outlined in the job description to pass through the ATS screening.

Remember – ATS is designed to locate the right person for a job from a broader database that was possible 20 years ago. The highest ranking ATS resumes (just the prime candidates) go to the hiring manager for his or consideration. You want your resume to be on the top in that slim file.

For jobseekers with a disability, this new recruiting landscape may be disheartening because the competition for open jobs seems so intense.

But, savvy research and networking can give you an edge here. Know your field and network online so you’re highlighting the right keywords in your resume. And, many jobseekers are not yet readily aware of how much ATS has changed recruitment.

You can be a jump ahead of many people within your field for a job opening by following Schlinger’s guidelines.

Copyright © 2014. Hasse Communication Counseling, LLC. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:
Jim Hasse, Global Career Development Facilitator (GCDF), ( has compiled and edited the recommendations of HR experts and the personal observations of both jobseekers and hiring managers into Perfectly Able: How to Attract and Hire Talented People with Disabilities (, a comprehensive disability recruitment guidebook for hiring managers published by AMACOM (September 2010), the publishing arm of the American Management Association. Lighthouse International (, New York City, is the author of the 272-page hard-cover book, which continues to evolve online on Hasse’s forum, Timely Tips for Retaining Employee Talent (  He’s the founder of, a comprehensive career coaching guide for parents of youngsters with cerebral palsy.