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What is an applicant tracking system (ATS), keywords, and how does it affect me?

Updated: May 15, 2023

An Applicant Tracking System is human resource software technology serving as a database and screening tool. ATS is either included in HR software or it's a standalone system that helps an organization keep track of job candidates and applicants for a company’s jobs. It collects readable information--keywords--based on an applicant’s experience and skills as described in a person’s resume. From there, an ATS filters applicants and candidates by searching for matching keywords between the job ad and the resume. All this takes place before a human reads an applicant’s resume. These systems are sophisticated (using natural language search and AI) in how they’re able to cull through hundreds and thousands of applicants resumes seeking matching keywords.

The benefit is that technology is a time-saver, since it can parse or analyze the information more quickly than people can. ATS can keep track of all applicant/candidate activity, communications, status, and reduce the time-to-hire from resume submission to quickly getting to an offer/acceptance of a job offer.

The downside: if your resume doesn't contain any keywords or enough keywords to match the job ad, the ATS will never forward your resume to a person.

How does an ATS work?

The main thing to remember about ATS is that it screens and ranks the most qualified resumes. Keep this in mind when you’re developing your resume. ATS uses AI technology to seek out key information from what is usually a high response to open roles within an organization. The automation within ATS to deliver the most qualified candidates to consider via computer or mobile devices makes culling, ranking, reviewing, commenting on, collaborating about, and getting in touch by humans much more interactive in a shorter period of time. We’re no longer relegated to the office desktop computer to evaluate and contact qualified candidates.

Why should I care about ATS?

According to an article in Start it up, “90% of Fortune 500 Companies Use an Applicant Tracking System…”. That was in 2018. According to an article in Job Scan in 2019, “ninety-nine percent of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS as part of their recruiting strategy”.

HR systems with ATS and social media hiring sites designed and integrated with ATS (e.g., Indeed, Zip Recruiter) are more savvy and more affordable for most businesses. Given that so many people are also now able to work remotely, the competitive pool of applicants and qualified candidates just got exponentially larger for a lot of vacant positions. If your resume can’t pass through an analysis by ATS of your information without a hiccup, you just gave away your opportunity to someone else.

To be on the safe side if you really want that job, assume your resume upload is being analyzed in an ATS. Our next blog is what does a resume contain, and how is it formatted to make sure it can be analyzed and associated back to you and your contact information by ATS.

If you'd like a quick review of your resume with a brief, written summary of how to improve or correct it (nominal cost of $25 USD), contact us at

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1 Comment

Linda Cameron
Linda Cameron
Mar 22, 2022

Great link to an external article about this subject:

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