This is What Really Happens When You Submit an Online Job Application

Photo :  Becki Smith

PhotoBecki Smith

With the number of applicants increasing, many hiring managers and recruiters default to either using an applicant tracking system or doing keyword searches to determine if candidates are qualified. Keyword searches are an easy way to determine if it’s worth taking the time to look at a resume or not, which is why applicant tracking systems have become so widely utilized. There is a lot of information out there, but there are four main things you should know about applicant tracking systems.

What is an Applicant Tracking System?

An applicant tracking system is a system used by many hiring managers and recruiters to sift through resumes and find qualified candidates. It basically lets the user type in keywords to find candidates who have those words or qualifications listed in their resume. This is an easy way to separate seemingly qualified candidates from unqualified candidates.

There Isn't Just One Applicant Tracking System

People often ask me if I am “familiar with ATS” as if “ATS” is a program like Microsoft Office. An applicant tracking system is a type of program, and there are hundreds of different applicant tracking systems out there. There is no way to know exactly how each applicant tracking system will work and what it will and will not catch in your resume. 

What You Can Do to Increase Your Chances

The best way to ensure that you come upon keyword searches and make it past an applicant tracking system is to go through the job descriptions that you’re interested in applying to and integrate those keywords and phrases throughout your document. Put in the work and customize your resume to each job you apply to.

Do your desired job descriptions utilize keywords or phrases which you can use in your resume? Does a job description have a more eloquent way of wording one of your job duties? If you’re not using current job postings to help you write your resume, you’re doing yourself a disservice. See how industry professionals talk about jobs and utilize that in your document. Using industry jargon will also help you appear more professional and knowledgeable about what you do.

Additionally, the ultimate way to get your resume into the right hands is to use your industry connections. If you have a contact who can direct your resume to the right person, use it. “Job search is about going beyond the resume to get noticed. Real relationships with colleagues and friends matter in getting a foot in the door,” says career coach Alyson Garrido.

The Reality

There is no way to create one resume that will work for every job you apply to and “beat” every applicant tracking system. There is no way to know what system a company will use and what it will pick up within a resume. All you can do is cater your resume to the job you’re applying to, integrate keywords and phrases, and provide concrete examples of your accomplishments and achievements.

Alyson Garrido went on to say, “Relationships and follow up are key components of job search. If someone recommends you for a role, you're far more likely to get an interview and bypass the applicant tracking system. Also, if you're among 20 candidates who get past the ATS, but you follow up, it's highly likely your resume will be reviewed.”

There are plenty of online sources that will tell you they have the secret algorithm to beating applicant tracking systems, but the reality is that there is no way to create one perfect resume to meet all of your needs for every job you apply to. If someone tells you that they can create this for you, they are lying. It’s impossible.

The best way to make progress on your job search is to leverage your industry connections, put in the legwork, craft a resume that articulates all that you’ve achieved, and customize it for each job you apply to with keywords from the job description.


A native San Franciscan, Michele Lando is a Certified Professional Résumé Writer and founder of writestylesonline.com. She has a passion for helping others present the best version of themselves, both on paper and in person, and works to polish individuals' application package and personal style. Aiming to help create a perfect personal branding package, Write Styles presents tips to enhance your résumé, style, and boost your confidence.

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