Master the applicant tracking system

Do's and don'ts for getting your resume noticed

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The job hunting process has changed drastically over the last decade for both applicants and hiring managers. The job application has moved into online territory thanks to applicant tracking system technology or ATS. This new tool has made the hiring process more efficient than a Swiss train schedule and, while that’s great for helping employers vet and sort through candidates with the credentials they want, it can seem like a black hole to candidates.

While the do’s and don’ts for job seekers have changed as a result of this technology, many applicants continue to follow outdated advice that ends up hurting their chances of getting hired. The key is to stand out without bringing negative attention to yourself. Here are a few tips for otherwise qualified candidates to communicate with hiring managers in the age of the ATS.

Do this to leverage the ATS

Meet the position qualifications and requirements

Applicant tracking systems were designed to weed out unqualified candidates and empower recruiters to focus on the best matches, so review the qualifications of the position first and be honest with yourself about whether or not you are truly a fit for the role. Applying to positions for which you lack relevant experience or skills is not advised and, if your experience doesn’t match the requirements, pushing the hiring manager to review it demonstrates a lack of self-awareness. This not only may take you out of consideration for the position, but also for other roles that you might be more suitable.

Give the recruiter or hiring manager time

Keep in mind that your resume is one of many under consideration for a position. Allow hiring managers enough time to review it and reach out to you. If you do reach out first, send a brief email rather than calling, which will allow you to stand out and start a dialogue with the hiring manager without disrupting his or her day. In your message, express your interest in the company as a whole. However, do not barrage their inbox with multiple emails. If met with rejection, you want to leave the line of communication open for future opportunities that are a better fit for you.

Email recruiter

Focus on hard skills and matching specific requirements

Think of the ATS as a kind of search engine. Just as Google matches queries based on keywords, the ATS parses all the resumes, looking for keywords and key phrases that match the position. It means, essentially, that every application requires a customized version of your resume, tailored so that your skills are identical to the requirements. Use the same abbreviations (or include both the abbreviation and the full term, like applicant tracking system (ATS). Also, make sure you focus on the hard, quantifiable skills in the online application process and save the discussion of soft skills for the interview.

Don’t do this during the application process

Keyword stuffing or misrepresentation

While it’s critical that your resume is tailored for each online application to match keywords and key phrases to the job requirements, it’s equally important that you don’t overuse them in an effort to beat the algorithm. ATS technology is getting more sophisticated at spotting this misuse. Also, don’t lie or misrepresent your qualifications, thinking you can work your way around it in the interview. This will hurt you for the current position and may keep you from being considered for future opportunities as well.

Improper follow-up via phone or personal visits

A popular belief that has stood the test of time is that interested candidates should call to follow up on their application. It’s true that sometimes a follow-up phone call can get your resume a second look. However, multiple calls show a lack of respect for the hiring manager’s time and can come off as desperate and bothersome.

Another outdated tactic is following up in-person. Showing up to a business to meet the hiring manager used to be seen as a great way to stand out from other applicants. It will still get you noticed, but not in a good way. Showing up at a business unannounced comes off as aggressive and is disruptive to day-to-day business operations. If a hiring manager wants to meet you, they’ll invite you, and that step usually comes after a phone call to learn more about your candidacy.


The purpose of the applicant tracking system is to keep the process organized and efficient. If you apply for a position, your resume will end up correctly filed there for the hiring manager to review. Make sure your resume is well-formatted and your most recent job title is relevant to the role to ensure it captures the recruiter’s attention. Your application is more likely to be lost on the hiring manager due to its content than it is to fall into an ATS black hole.

Applicant tracking systems are not going away, and employers and recruiters may rely on these systems even more with the advent of artificial intelligence and other emerging technology. That’s why it’s important to make your application count, starting with a killer resume.

Katy Davis

Katy Davis

Katy is responsible for supporting LibGig's recruiting department and recruiting for library and information management positions in the legal, federal, media, corporate, and academic sectors.
Katy Davis
Katy Davis

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