ATS 101: How Applicant Tracking Systems Work and Why It Matters for Job Seekers


An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is software employers use to manage their recruitment process, including screening resumes and applications.

Think of an ATS as a virtual filing cabinet that helps employers manage the large volume of job applications they receive. Just as you would organise your physical files by category and label them for easy retrieval, an ATS stores and sorts job applications by keywords, qualifications, and other criteria set by the employer. This helps employers quickly identify the most qualified candidates for a particular job opening, just as you would soon find the file you need in a well-organised filing cabinet.

People with selected folder icon

If you submit your application online, an ATS will likely screen it. In fact, according to Workforce Hub, 100% of recruitment agencies, 98% of Fortune 500 companies, and at least 66% of large companies use an ATS. While the adoption rate for small businesses is lower, it is still estimated at 35%.

This post will examine what an ATS is, how it works, and why it matters to job seekers.

What is an ATS?

An ATS is a software that automates the recruitment process by sorting through resumes and applications to identify the most qualified candidates for a job.

The system allows recruiters and hiring managers to manage the recruitment process, from posting job ads to screening resumes to scheduling interviews.

The primary purpose of an ATS is to help recruiters and hiring managers save time and effort by automating the screening process.

How does an ATS work?

An ATS works by analysing resumes and applications to identify keywords and phrases that match the job description.

Recruiters and hiring managers can customise the system to search for specific skills, experience, education, and other qualifications required for the job.

Then, when a candidate submits a resume or application, the system scans it and assigns a score based on how well it matches the job description.

The system also allows recruiters and hiring managers to filter resumes based on different criteria, such as location, years of experience, education level, and more.

The system then generates a list of qualified candidates, which the recruiter or hiring manager can review and contact for further screening.

Illustration of list

Why do employers use an ATS?

Employers use an ATS for several reasons, including:

  • Time and cost savings: An ATS can save recruiters and hiring managers time and effort by automating the screening process. This allows them to focus on more strategic tasks, such as interviewing candidates and assessing their fit for the job.
  • Consistency and fairness: An ATS ensures that all candidates are evaluated based on the same criteria, which helps to promote consistency and fairness in the hiring process.
  • Compliance: An ATS can help employers comply with legal requirements, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), by ensuring that all candidates are evaluated based on objective criteria.
  • Enhanced candidate experience: Utilising an ATS can improve the candidate experience by providing prompt updates and notifications regarding their application status.

Why does it matter to job seekers?

Understanding how an ATS works is important for job seekers because it can impact whether your resume is selected for further consideration.

To optimise your chances of being selected by an ATS, job seekers should consider the following tips:

  • Use keywords: You should review the job description carefully and include relevant keywords and phrases in your resume. You should use keywords naturally and in context. ATS technology is sophisticated; you can’t trick the software by including a mass of keywords.
Vector image of key icon

To see how the format of your resume can impact how the ATS interprets the information in your resume, see: Read This Before You Use a Canva Resume Template

  • Keep it simple: You should use a simple, easy-to-read format for your resume (minimal images and graphics). This will help the ATS to scan and analyse your resume accurately.
  • Proofread: You should carefully proofread your resume for spelling and grammar errors, as some recruiters will use the AST to automatically reject resumes with mistakes.
  • Use standard headings: You should use standard headings for your resume, such as “Education” or “Work Experience”. This will help the ATS to categorise your information accurately.
  • Spell out abbreviations The ATS may not recognise abbreviations, so it is best to spell out any abbreviations or acronyms.


An ATS is a powerful tool that can help recruiters and hiring managers save time and effort in the recruitment process. However, job seekers need to understand how an ATS works and how to optimise their resumes to ensure that they are selected for further consideration.

By following the tips outlined in this blog post, job seekers can increase their chances of being selected by an ATS.

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