ATS is an abbreviation for Applicant Tracking System. Most Fortune 500 companies and many other medium sized organizations use one as well as recruitment consultancies. There is a lot of talk about how the ‘beating’ the ATS is the key to securing a job, but there is a lot of misinformation going around and many people are not sure exactly what they should be doing.

What is an Applicant Tracking System?

An ATS is a type of software that is used by recruiting and hiring companies. They perform several functions, but the main one is to collect, sort and store CV from applicants. When you apply online for a job, your application is sent direct to a company’s ATS.

Why do companies us an ATS?

Big companies and large recruitment consultancies are recruiting for several open positions at the same time and receive hundreds of CVs. Applying online makes the application process very easy, so companies are receiving a lot of CVs for every opening, many of them unqualified, often people who though’ ‘why not?’

An ATS stores all these CVs and in this way, it operates like a database. The recruiters and hiring managers know that all the applications are coming into one place, and it helps them stay organized. Recruiters may ask filtering questions on the online application form, designed to ‘weed’ out those applicants who do not meet the most basic criteria for the role. Questions may relate to certain qualifications or certifications, location, or eligibility to work in that country. Companies receive a lot of unqualified applications, so this filtering system helps save a lot of time.

In addition, some systems will allow the recruiters to set the most important criteria in the job and then the systems can do a basic evaluation of the CVs, producing a list of the applicants ranked in order.

Different Makes of ATS

With around 98% of Fortune 500 companies and many large and medium sized organizations using some form of ATS, there is a lot of competition in this market.

Here are main Applicant Tracking Systems:













If you are applying to a large organization, it is highly likely that they will be using an ATS. When you apply for a job through Indeed and LinkedIn you will be going through an ATS.

How do they work?

An ATS collects and stores CVs in a database for the hiring people to access. Some CVs will be stored for a while after the original job that you applied for has been filled. The recruiters can then search and sort through the CVs in several ways, depending on the system they are using.

In almost all cases, a recruiter will want to actually view every application to make sure no-one with the right background is being missed. This will be a quick check (how quick depends on how many applications they have received), but experienced recruiters know what they are looking for and can decide as to whether that applicant is worth looking at in more detail

It is then important the important information on your CV (as determined by the job advert) is clear and identifiable and is not hidden at the bottom of page 3.

As mentioned, some systems will rank applications against the criteria set out in the job description. In these cases, the recruiter is going to spend a little more time assessing the CVs in the top half of the ranking than they will the ones towards the bottom.


The recruiters can filter the CVs in the ATS database by searching for key skills and titles. The most common search term will be the job title. However, searches can contain multiple terms. For example, bookkeeper AND payroll AND Pastel.

Before you apply for a job, analyze the job description, and try and work out which are the top kills and keywords.

CV Formatting

Some of the systems will parse the CVs into a digital profile in order that they are all uniform and searchable. This can be a problem for some CV formats as not all the relevant information may be saved correctly. Images like graphs, for example, don’t work well if this happens . Not all systems do this, but to be safe keep the headings on your CVs simple, use consistent formatting for your work history and dates and avoid tables. Most of the more modern systems don’t do this, but you have no way of knowing which system the company uses when you apply so rather be careful.

Advice on Making your CV ATS ‘Friendly’

There are an increasing number of people advertising that they can produce CVs that will ‘beat the ATS’. This is absolute nonsense.

As mentioned, the vast majority of recruiters will review all the CVs they receive for a job. However, to ensure that you give yourself he best chance of being shortlisted, you should be following this simple advice:

  • Carefully tailor your CV to the job description every single time you apply.
  • Match the keywords in your CV to the job description.
  • Use both long-form and acronym version of keywords e.g., ‘Master of Business Administration’ and ‘MBA’.
  • Use a chronological CV format, not functional.
  • Don’t use tables or columns.
  • Use a traditional CV font.
  • Avoid headers or footers as information can be lost or cause a parsing error.
  • Use standard CV headings like ‘Work History’.
  • Save your file as a .docx

Don’t ‘Cheat’ or Over-Optimize

Some experts will advise you to try and ‘trick’ the ATS by stuffing your CV with keywords. They will tell you to do this by using ‘invisible’ white text or by unnaturally overusing keywords.

This might work initially, but any competent recruiter will soon see through this, and you will just make yourself look desperate in their eyes. Focus on crafting the best CV you can, based on your actual skill set.

ATS – here to stay

The AT was designed to make the life of a recruiter easier an make the recruitment process more efficient. The newest systems are utilizing AI to make their processes more efficient and help eliminate issues such as bias.

However, despite all the fake news about ‘beating the ATS, the fact remains that a recruiter will almost always review your CV. If you have applied for a job that you are sure that you are qualified for, your best chance of being shortlisted is to have a CV that highlights all your relevant skills, is well formatted and carefully crafted for each application.