I’ve talked before on the common struggles faced by new graduates in their quest for that first job after education. It’s a topic that provokes much debate and sometimes scrutiny, but this time I’d like to talk about one of the biggest fears in the application process. The fear that your CV may be rejected by the ‘robotic overlords’ and plunge into the abyss of the internet, never to be seen by the eyes of a human being…

These ‘robotic overlords’, if you haven’t heard of them before, are otherwise known as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS), and it just so happens that Hireserve makes one of these (sometimes misunderstood) technologies.

George here, offering some insight and opinion on one of the most discussed “hurdles” of modern day recruitment and why a coalition of technology and human touch could be the difference in getting you that dream job.

You may have seen articles with titles such as, “How to get your CV into the hands of a human being” or “Beat the machines that are eating your CV”. They often claim to expose the problems you will encounter when applying for your dream job and highlight ways of writing your CV for the robot overlords.

And for the most part… they make good points!

I’m going to try and dispel some of the misconceptions surrounding ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems) and give you a better understanding of what they do.

Firstly – What on Earth is an ATS?

If you haven’t heard of an Applicant Tracking System before, here’s my top five key points you need to know.

  1. Born out of necessity – An ATS can allow the recruiter of a job to manage their candidate applications in a more organised and simpler manner. Before this, recruiters would have to put all the candidate details into a spreadsheet and sort through them manually. It was time consuming, over reliant on the recruiter and unsustainable for big organisations such as companies who have high volumes of applications. This also means that an ATS can be highly configurable and one size certainly does not fit all.

  2. The recruiter is in control of the “machine” – Recruiters have many features available to them within their ATS. One of the more publicised features is a CV ranking tool. When posting a job, the recruiter can set criteria for the ATS to look for in the CV/applications and rank them based on the relevancy. This can range from a multitude of criteria such as keywords relevant to the role, number of years’ experience required, location preferences etc. However, this is not an as widely used feature as you may think and can always be countered with a bit of a human ingenuity, more on that later.

  3. Unlocking potential – The recruiter can save your application details and add them to what is known as a “talent pool”. So if you don’t get the job but the recruiter see’s potential in your application, you could get a phone call or email later down the line to say they’ve found a job suitable for you.

  4. Accessibility is key – An ATS has the power to convert your CV into a transcript for it to understand your details better. It can also convert it into a format better suited for the recruiter to read if necessary.

  5. Up to date and up to scratch – Some ATS providers can allow the recruiter to keep in touch with their candidates from within the system with links to social media platforms and SMS capabilities. Meaning there can be an ongoing conversation with the person who ultimately decides whether you’re suited for the job.

If you want to read more about Applicant Tracking System capabilities Click Here

I hope that demonstrates some of the powerful tools the ATS possesses, but the key point I want to make out is that those tools are under the complete control and discretion of the recruiter. A human being is the commander in chief of your application with them, and there is always a chance of your CV being seen by the recruiter when you click that apply button. In fact, an ATS can actually increase your chances of being seen as the recruiter has more time and simpler methods to process the hundreds or thousands of applications they receive.

Secondly – It’s not as bad as they say it is

The biggest issue faced by some candidates when their application passes an ATS, is that their CV isn’t represented in the way they intended. This can happen when the ATS attempts to convert the CV into a more readable format for it to analyse. The results can sometimes mean that key details are missed out or even rejected due to unreadable tables and images. Therefore, it is advised by some that you repurpose your CV to a plain text/word format to improve the readability for the computer rather than the human. And to a point, I agree with them.

The issue is by doing so, you may strip your CV of everything that makes you stand out. The personality, tone of voice and intricate details are removed and replaced with data suited to a computer rather than a human being. Yes, there are ways of telling if the company your applying for is using an ATS, and yes using keywords and plain text could help your chances of being highly ranked by the ATS. But there’s no way to determine what parameters and criteria the recruiter has setup for that job in the first place. Leaving your CV looking like answer sheet to a multiple-choice question rather than a reflection of your personality and experience.

So how do you approach this? In my opinion, you should consider that your CV may be passed through an applicant tracking system but never write it for the ATS. Bear in mind it will need to be machine-readable, clearly structured and use relevant keywords in your headings from the job descriptions. But you don’t have to remove all sense of personality from your application, as that’s what many recruiters will be looking for.

Once you’ve hit that apply button and sent your ‘ATS ready’ CV on its way, there’s a bit more you can do to increase your chances of being represented the way you intended before you diced and spliced your all singing, all dancing application.

Be pro-active!

With advanced websites and social platforms such as LinkedIn, you can see who the recruiters are at the organisations you’re applying for. This is where you can inject a bit of much needed personality again, send them a message or better yet send them your CV.

This proactive nature could be the difference in getting your application seen or not. If they don’t have the time to look at your email straight away, they’ll still be able to go into their ATS and find your application instantaneously. Is the recruiter not answering their emails? Pick up the phone and call them! These simple steps not only better your chances of being seen, but also show the recruiter your determination and commitment to their job posting.

I hope this article has lifted the lid slightly on elements of the hiring process that you may not be familiar with, and better equipped you for your next quest in the job-hunt.

If you’d like to take a further look at what kind of tools recruiters have in the ATS arsenal, you can read our more detailed descriptions here.

Read more:

What do you do? – A personal journey

Google for jobs: What does it mean for you?

About the author

Tristan Potter

Tristan has a decade's worth of experience writing content and copy for organisations across Bristol and the Southwest of England. He has written on a diverse range of topics, including technology, philosophy, politics, and recruitment. His writing has appeared in The Drum, HR Grapevine, and The Guardian, among other publications. He joined Hireserve in March 2022.