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RÉSUMÉ parsing vs. ats: understanding the distinction

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

The hiring ecosystem has been enriched with many technologies to simplify both the candidate experience and the recruiter's workflow. Two of these technologies--resume parsing and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)--often cause confusion for applicants thinking they are one and the same. Let's examine these terms and technologies to understand how they differ and their intended purposes.

What is Resume Parsing?

Purpose: At its core, resume parsing is designed to benefit the job seeker. It's a technology that reads resumes and extracts specific data (e.g., contact details, work history, qualifications, etc.).

The Primary Goal: To streamline the online job application process.

Functionality: The moment an applicant uploads their resume to a job portal that has a resume parser option (e.g., job seeker websites that offer to 'read' your uploaded resume and create that resume in your profile on their website), the resume parser leaps into action. It identifies specific pieces of information, then auto-populates the corresponding fields in the application form. (Our experience with this, testing different job websites, is that resume parsers are NOT exact. Make sure you review the information it pulls from your document onto the website to make sure it's correct.)

Stand-alone Nature: The sole job of a resume parser is to transfer data from a resume to an online form. It DOES NOT analyze or rank the data. It works in isolation to simply get data from one place and enter it into another.

What is an ATS (Applicant Tracking System)?

Purpose: An ATS is built for employers, used by their hiring managers and recruiters.

Primary Goal: It's a comprehensive software solution to manage and organize the volumes of applications companies receive for their job listings.

Functionality: ATS is far more complex than resume parsing, in that an ATS can:

  • Post job vacancies across various platforms

  • Store and organize resumes

  • Screen and filter candidates based on specific keywords or criteria

  • Track an applicant's journey through the hiring process

  • Facilitate interview scheduling, feedback, and other communications

The Connection: Is There One?

While it's common to see an ATS platform that incorporates resume parsing as one of its features, it's important to differentiate between the two.

Distinct Functions:

  • Resume parsing is all about the auto-filling (or the attempt to) of forms. In contrast, an ATS focuses on the holistic management of the recruitment workflow. So if you have a resume with relevant keywords in it that you need to make sure it's picked up by ATS, don't think because a resume parser doesn't pick up and correctly populate all information from your resume into the online form that there is something wrong with your resume keywords or that they will not be picked up by the ATS. Resume parsers have a long way to go to be that exact.

  • ATS technology focuses on the holistic management of the recruitment workflow, data analysis, screening and filtering, prioritizing applicants.

  • ATS and Resume Parsers are NOT ALWAYS TOGETHER: A website might offer the convenience of resume parsing without any connection to an ATS. A simple analogy to understand this distinction is to consider a smartphone. While a calculator is a useful tool within a smartphone, it's not the phone's main function. Similarly, resume parsing can exist within an ATS, but it's not it's primary purpose.

Recruitment technology is great when your understanding of the function of what's out there to be used is clear. The expectation of different tools is important. Don't waste your time fretting about keywords on your resume with a resume parsing system. Don't trust that a resume parsing system will even pull the right information from your resume and place it in the correct place on a website form (we haven't found one yet that gets it right, so check the form before saving and posting your profile).

We have tested and do trust ATS technology pulling keywords and criteria and analyzing the data it gets along with the other workflow management of candidates in the system.

Recommendation: if you're going to use a resume parser that may sit alongside an ATS, type the information from your resume into the website form to make sure it's all there in the right place. The best bet though is to attach your resume to your profile instead. Where an ATS is present beside a resume parser, the ATS will read your attached resume if it's there.

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