An efficiency game-changer

Applicant tracking systems bring big data to the job search process

If you have lately been involved in applying for a new job or submitted your resume in hopes of securing an interview, you may have heard about a new hurdle that needs to be confronted — the applicant tracking system, or ATS. The word is out that this software application is an efficiency game-changer for hiring managers and HR departments as they try to parse and prioritize the hundreds of resume submissions and applications they receive for open employment positions.

So is getting a new job forever changed due to this innovation? Before answering that question let’s examine what ATS really is.

ATS is a tool designed to streamline the recruitment and hiring process. At its basic, it is a keyword matching process between one’s resume (and increasingly social media profiles such as LinkedIn) and a set of high-impact keywords the hiring team has computed the ATS to accept.

The keywords being searched and matched represent the qualifications and required deliverables of a job to be filled. Sounds like keyword searching we all do with search engines these days, doesn’t it? In many ways it is, but ATS is more targeted to the needs of recruiters.

You can see that time and energy is saved by those tasked with hiring. Going away or gone are the days of voluminous paper files and slow file management practices that were personnel-intensive, cumbersome and costly. First used in corporate settings where huge numbers of resumes and applications needed processing, it’s no longer unusual to see medium to small business and organizations using ATS.

Just like CRM (customer relationship management) programs used in sales and account management, it is more efficient to collate and review large amounts of information using this type of software.

ATS technology is evolving too. Originally, these scanning programs simply performed a one-to-one keyword match – a process known as a semantic search. This encouraged candidates to add laundry lists of keywords to their resumes, which fell short of telling a story of how proficient someone was regarding the terms.

The newer ATS generation applies technology known as contextualization, which tells the type and level of engagement the candidate has with the keywords. Contextualization encourages use of descriptive statements in a resume, making for a richer document. That’s a good thing.

To the extent job search candidates can tailor their resume to match past accomplishments and current competencies with the responsibility and adequacy level described in a job description, the greater the chance of the resume or application responses scoring an interview, where the real selling effort by the candidate takes place.

I know what many of you are asking yourselves: Can the job hiring process really be totally automated? My answer is no, it can’t.

Although it would be reckless to exclude any consideration of ATS in preparing oneself for a job hunt, there is still plenty of anecdotal evidence that personal relationships play a more dominant role in hiring. In short, ATS has not trumped networking. The quality of professional contacts you establish, maintain and ripen is as important in this age of big data as it has ever been.

I’d rather take my chances of getting hired and advancing my career on the quantity and potential impact of strong referrals more than I would on whether a machine found a statistical threshold number of matches, whether they be semantic or contextual. That said, the best strategy would be to pursue both tracks. It is wise to keep abreast of tried and true tactics of networking, such as being the type of person others will want to know, showing interest in the careers and issues of others, joining networking groups, and using the power of LinkedIn. But it is also smart to know the ways in which you can make your resumes, online profiles and job application responses ATS-friendly.

Getting a job is not as easy as it used to be, but it isn’t particle physics either. You can do this!

Bill Ryan, founder of Ryan Career Services LLC, Concord, can be reached at 603-724-2289 or

Categories: Business Advice