Everything you need to know about applicant tracking systems, and how to beat the bots!

Success in understanding Applicant Tracking Systems and how to beat the bot

The job-searching process can be a tedious and confusing time for anyone looking to secure employment. With a range of CV styles and best practices available online, you’d think that all you need to do is apply what you’ve learned about CVs, and boom, you land your 1st interview! However, the development and use of applicant tracking software (or CV bots) have made the job search even more complex. 

 The demand for employment has increased application rates exponentially, making it difficult for hiring managers to sift through CVs. Imagine receiving over 500 applications for a specific position and having to look at each document line-by-line, just to find candidates with skills and qualifications that meet your job specification. Not only does this sound like a major headache, but it’s almost impossible to complete this mammoth task manually.  

 To increase efficiency, at least 75% of HR personnel use applicant tracking systems (ATS) or ‘CV bots’ to screen applications and to assist with creating shortlists of the most qualified candidates. You’ll need to consider that you are not only creating your CV for human eyes since most CVs are screened by an ATS before it is seen by a hiring manager. 

Although CV bots might be a big win for the HR and recruitment industry, for candidates it can be frustrating receiving rejection emails or not hearing back from potential employers, especially when they know that they have the skills required for the job.  

Do you have similar frustrations? We’re here to help you beat the bot! At the end of this article, you should understand what applicant tracking systems are, how they work, the criteria they use, and how you can get closer to getting your CV in the right hands. 

How do applicant tracking systems work? 

Applicant tracking systems refer to software used to automate the initial phase of the hiring process. They are responsible for making the candidate assessment process simpler and more efficient for hiring managers. CV bots are programmed to search for specific keywords or phrases used by employers to identify the requirements of a position. These requirements could be anything from preferred languages, industry, skills, educational background, and work experience. 

The overarching goal of CV bots is to create tailored applicant pools for hiring managers to review based on pre-set requirements. Shortlists of the candidates who have matched these criteria have their data uploaded to a database accessible to hiring staff involved in the process. Applicant tracking systems can also be programmed to implement automated emails to unsuccessful candidates and can be used to facilitate short interview quizzes to perform skills assessments.   

With all the information organised, the applicant tracking system now sorts and filters applicants by ranks. This ranking system is based on the relevance of your CV when compared to the job description. The sorting process highlights the best candidates while retaining CV data on candidates who might qualify for other positions.  

The pros and cons of applicant tracking systems   

Pro: Helps businesses save time and money by streamlining the process  

As you can imagine, the hiring process has many steps. From sourcing, screening, interviewing and selecting the best of the best. Minor tasks like sending check-in or rejection emails can take up a lot of time when hiring managers have a high volume of candidates. 

Other tasks like posting jobs on multiple job boards are simply a click away when using an applicant tracking system instead of manually posting each job to different websites. More functions like automatically setting up interviews, interview reminders, reference submittals, and quizzes can save your company time and money as CV bots perform all the administrative tasks on behalf of hiring managers. 

Con: Miss qualified candidates  

Simply using the wrong keywords can be the difference between you landing your first interview or not. Owing to its automated nature, CV bots search for specific predefined keywords within a candidate’s application to categorise CVs from most to least qualified. 

Let’s say you’re applying for a DevOps role, and your job title reads Product Engineer on your CV; the system might bypass your application as it might read it as irrelevant if ‘Product Engineer’ is not one of the predefined search terms used to analyse job titles. 

Additionally, using the wrong font in some cases can also lead to your CV being rejected by an applicant tracking system since some systems cannot read fonts such as Times New Roman, Cambria, or Sans Serif. Because of these technical issues, applicant tracking systems present the risk of rejecting highly qualified candidates because of minuscule errors, like formatting, that have nothing to do with the actual job.   

Of course, not all systems are this inflexible, but the problem is older applicant tracking systems are still in use, so you’d rather be safe than sorry. 

Pro: Improved Candidate Experience 

Like any other service, candidate experience is very important to ensure that candidates remain engaged. Applicant tracking systems provide hiring managers with insights regarding the status of job openings, how many candidates have applied and what stage they’re in during the hiring process.  

This functionality allows hiring managers to easily and successfully identify stages that are delayed and can respond accordingly. Since CV bots save all past data, it can also search for past candidates who might not have qualified for a role previously, but might be better suited for another opening. They therefore help to deliver the best customer service as they can send personalised emails or messages to candidates who might not have been successful, keeping them abreast of the hiring process, whilst maintaining a positive company brand image.  

Con: Applicant tracking systems can be manipulated  

To some, this might be a pro, but applicant tracking systems can be manipulated just like any other digital tool. Candidates who have experience with CV bots and their filtering technology can take advantage of its algorithmic nature. By including the right set of keywords on their CV, candidates can get selected irrespective of whether they are qualified or not.  

This action will propel this candidate into the interviewing round in the very least. The manipulation of CV bots poses detrimental risks as businesses will miss out on qualified and more deserving candidates. 

Top tips on how to beat CV bots  

Only apply to roles you’re qualified for 

Applying for jobs that you are not qualified for, just won’t work. When applying for a job, don’t be tempted to pad your CV with the “right” keywords which don’t relate to your skills or experience. Tailor your CV based on your personal experience, skills, interests and link them back to how they relate to the job you are applying for.  

A focussed and tailored CV is better than a false one. Most positions will come with a job spec which details the desired skills and experience needed for the role. Check the job description and make sure that you are qualified for the role before applying.  

Tailor your CV to the job description 

The job description is full of keywords that you should be paying attention to and using. Take a look through the job description and list out the skills that are mentioned and then make sure they’re in your CV. Ensure that your CV is tailored based on the job spec and recognises the skills and responsibilities stated as this is what applicant tracking systems are scanning for.  

For example, if a job description says, “Required experience; ASP.NET Core, ASP.NET Framework, Microservices, Docker and SQL” for a .Net Developer role, make sure your CV highlights these as they are a top priority. Create an easy-to-read sentence about where you acquired and developed your skills and qualifications. Avoid adding unnecessary information that is not mentioned in the job description or doesn’t add any value to your CV. 

Use the right keywords in the right context. 

Most hiring managers will search for candidates who have held a particular role before, so be sure to list all your job titles clearly under the work experience section on your CV. If you don’t have experience in that particular role, list it under your name in the summary section of your CV, and be sure to list previous job titles which are in line with the position the company is sourcing for.  

Include your hard skills on your CV as well. These are usually technical skills like project management, software knowledge or Google Ads certifications. Try to ensure that the hard skills listed match the desired skills in the job description or are transferable.  

Finally, list your past and current positions in a bullet point format, and be sure to list all your achievements for each role held. Make sure you use numbers and metrics instead of stating that you have a skill. 

Download The Ultimate CV Checklist That’ll Help You Beat The Bot. 

The future of CV bots  

According to reports and data, the applicant tracking system market is expected to grow by $2.34 billion by 2026, as they have opened up opportunities for innovation within hiring, whilst saving time and money for many businesses. 

The best applicant tracking systems help increase hiring efficiency and streamline the selection process by qualifying the best of the best talent for hiring managers to review. However, CV bots aren’t completely flawless, hence they are bound to have some drawbacks. Make sure you optimise your CV for CV bots by following our tips above to help you land an interview!  

Salt is a leading digital recruitment agency with offices in Johannesburg, Amsterdam, Auckland, Austin, Brussels, Cape Town, Dubai, Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, London, Melbourne, New York, Singapore, and Sydney.

We specialise in placing candidates in Consulting, Creative, HR, Marketing, Sales, and Technology roles across the digital industry. Salt can help you find the right person for the job. If you’re interested in hearing about how select your location below:

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Success in understanding Applicant Tracking Systems and how to beat the bot

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