Applicant tracking systems fulfill two purposes: to manage applications for positions (especially where there is a high volume of applicants), and to screen out candidates who lack the required skills for the job.
The ATS can assist companies with hiring compliance. U.S. employment law prevents employers from discriminating in hiring based on age, gender, and ethnicity. By using an applicant tracking system to select candidates to interview, the system allows employers to comply with the law.
They also provide hiring managers with metrics and data which can improve the hiring process. Some systems collect Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) data from candidates as part of the job application, streamlining compliance reporting.
Some applicant tracking systems facilitate internal communication among hiring professionals — allowing those with access to the system to share applicant résumés and notes.
Any time new technology is introduced into the hiring process, there is concern among jobseekers about what it means. It’s important to remember that technology is often used as a means to facilitate one goal: To make the hiring process more effective and efficient.
In the case of applicant tracking systems, the goal is to help hiring managers and recruiters more easily identify candidates with the skills, education, and experience that are most desired of candidates. Just like you want the most relevant search results returned when you type a query into Google, the hiring manager doesn’t want to sift through hundreds or thousands of résumés to find the handful of people he or she really wants to talk to. So if you focus your goal on ensuring you are the best fit for the types of positions you are seeking, the things that will make you findable in applicant tracking systems will already be in your résumé and cover letter — because they are important qualifications for the type of position you are seeking.
When there are a large number of applicants for a position, the ATS allows the hiring manager to screen out low-ranking résumés, saving valuable time. In this instance, the applicant tracking system works a bit like your email spam filter. It separates out résumés it doesn’t feel would be relevant for the position being filled. Like a spam filter, it recognizes content that might not be important.
The appeal of an ATS for those doing the hiring is clear. Looking for a candidate with specific skills? Type them into a database and receive a targeted list of candidates with exactly those skills.
Unfortunately, the reality hasn’t quite panned out that way. These applicant tracking systems are limited by the information they acquire from jobseeker résumés. If the résumés aren’t structured in a way that fits the applicant tracking system, they can enter a black hole. Success on the hiring side of things depends on querying the system with the right keywords, specifications, and requirements to draw out résumés that are the best fit for the position.
However, even if an applicant can do the job, if the résumé doesn’t work well with the ATS, the recruiter or hiring manager won’t find him or her.
One advantage for jobseekers applying through an applicant tracking system is that some systems automatically notify candidates whose résumés don’t meet the position requirements as identified by the ATS software. Receiving a response to a manual résumé submission is rare due to the volume of applications many employers receive — so notification by the ATS that the application has been rejected allows the candidate to pursue other opportunities to be considered for the role (i.e., using networking contacts), to tweak the résumé, or to simply move on.
There are no clear statistics about the number of companies using applicant tracking systems; however, it’s clear that those numbers will continue to grow as the software’s cost comes down. You also might not be aware of which companies are using an ATS when you submit your résumé; however, applicant tracking systems are currently being used primarily in midsize and larger companies. Research indicates that almost all Fortune 500 companies use ATS software.