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Getting a job starts with getting past applicant tracking systems that recruiters, organizations, employers, and hiring managers increasingly use. If you’ve applied to a job in the last several years, then you probably already know a little bit about applicant tracking systems.

But are you aware of the fact that they’re increasingly used to sort, filter, and rank candidates automatically for organizations? There is so much that applicant tracking systems can do, and job seekers need to know how to leverage them to increase their likelihood of getting an interview for the jobs they’re interested in.

We’re going to cover some information about how applicant tracking systems help human resource departments, and how you can gain a leg up on your competition and stand out amongst other candidates for the jobs you’re applying to.

What Are Applicant Tracking Systems

Applicant tracking systems are automated software packages or suites that help human resource departments clean up some of the confusion and chaos that long plagued the hiring process for decades and generations earlier. In the old days, everything had to be done manually.

Resumes had to be stored and reviewed manually, candidates had to be contacted via phone or mail, and there were a significant number of cases where talented job seekers and professionals would get lost in the chaos.

To combat this confusion and chaos, applicant tracking systems were built to initially provide some order and have grown into full recruitment software that does most of the work for HR departments.

In essence, applicant tracking systems can now receive applications, cover letters, and resumes and then scrape the information from those important documents. From there, applicant tracking systems can then pull out key metrics, keywords, rank, and filter candidates automatically. 

Some applicant tracking systems can even take it a step further and do passive job posting outreach by automatically submitting job postings to some of the top job boards and job sites, in addition to reaching out to candidates who applied to older job postings.

Applicant tracking systems can then alert administrators or human resource professionals when a certain number of applications for an open job posting have been met, recommend the top candidates based on preset filtering and ranking metrics, and recommend the next steps to be taken. 

The key thing to take note of regarding applicant tracking systems is the fact that they can automatically filter and rank candidates. This means that before a human resource professional has the chance to read through all the applications and resumes that were submitted or an open job posting, there is a high probability that your resume might have already been scanned and filtered by the automatic system.

In essence, if you’re not taking the time to optimize your resume, application, and cover letter, you’re significantly decreasing the chances that you’ll receive an interview for the job that you’re applying to. 

Nearly every single company or organization are using some kind of an applicant tracking system today, so it’s important to make sure that you’re fully aware of what applicant tracking systems can do, how they’re beneficial to human resource departments and knowledgeable about the steps that you can take to increase your chances of securing an interview.

10 Tips To Stand Out In Applicant Tracking Systems

We’ve outlined ten different steps you can take to make sure that you’re optimizing your application, resume, and cover letter to ensure that you’re doing all that you can to get a leg up on your competition and increase your chances of landing that job interview you’ve been seeking. 

1. Thoroughly Read The Job Description

This one might seem like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised at the number of candidates who don’t even bother to read every little bit of detail in the job description. Increasingly, job boards and job sites are giving applicants the ability to do quick-apply or one-click apply options.

This means that most candidates can speed up their application process by using automated profile submissions, but the problem with this is that it means so many candidates aren’t even bothering to actually read the job description.

Instead, what most candidates are doing nowadays is simply reading the title of the job posting, and the short 50 to 60 character description. This means that many candidates are missing out on key details that they can use to significantly increase their chances of securing an interview.

Many employers, recruiters, hiring managers, and organizations are taking additional steps with each new job posting to narrow down their candidate pool even further. One of the ways they’re doing this is by including key details in the job description for each new candidate. One example is requesting that candidates include something in their application, resume, or cover letter to ensure they’ve actually read the entire job description.

Even simple phrases along the lines of, “I’ve read the job description.” in their resume or cover letter, to clearly indicate they’ve done what the organization wants in the job description and job posting can have a massive impact on whether or not you’re even considered for the position.

Another important reason to make sure that you’ve read the entire job description is that you can pull information from the job posting and include it in your resume, application, and cover letter to increase the odds that you’ll avoid being filtered out by the applicant tracking system, and you’ll be ranked higher than other candidates with similar experience and credentials as yourself. 

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2. Only Apply To Relevant Jobs

It’s important to remember that when you’re applying to open job postings, you should truly strive to only apply for jobs that you’re qualified for. In today’s modern job search process, it can be easy to apply to a dozen or more jobs each day using the techniques we’ve highlighted earlier.

Unfortunately, this not only means that you’re submitting your resume and cover letter to jobs that you’re not qualified for, but that you’re also wasting both the time of the HR departments who review your application materials and your own if you find out that it’s not a right fit for you.

Unfortunately, going through the interview process for organizations is a lengthy process. This means that time and money is spent trying to find the best candidates for the job, and you don’t want to waste your time or the time of the organization that you’re interviewing with when you realize that you’re not interested or qualified for the position several interviews in. 

Take the time to review your experience level, skill set, and passions before submitting your resume and application to open job postings. It’s important to make sure that you’re truly passionate about the job posting that you’re applying to because each job posting you submit will require additional work on your end to truly increase your chances of getting through automatic filters in the applicant tracking system.

Applying to jobs that aren’t relevant or that you’re not interested in will waste your time and cause you to lose ground on other positions that are a much better fit.

3. Include Relevant Keywords and Phrases

Another way that you can drastically increase your chances of standing out in applicant tracking systems is by using relevant keywords and phrases throughout your application, resume, and cover letter. We briefly touched upon this in the first tip to stand out, but it’s one of the easiest and most important things you can do truly get a leg up on your competition. 

Applicant tracking systems automatically parse, scan, and review the information you provide on critical job documents like the application, resume, and cover letter. Essentially, these applicant tracking systems review the information you’ve provided and constantly compare it to the job posting and job description.

In addition, applicant tracking systems will also compare all of the information to other notes or comments that the administrators or human resource professionals have put on the backend of the applicant tracking system, which the job seeker and applicant can’t see. Some of these things might include experience requirements, skills to look for, and more.

Applicant tracking systems essentially reward one point each time you mention or include a relevant keyword or phases that would be correlated with the job description, job responsibilities, and skill set required to do the job well.

Those candidates who include relevant keywords and phrases from the job description and job posting throughout their job submission materials will significantly increase the chances of receiving an interview at the end of the day.

4. Optimize Your Resume

The next thing you can dot o make sure that you stand out in applicant tracking systems is to optimize your resume. While applicant tracking systems are catching up when it comes to technology, there are a significant number of them that still cannot properly read and parse resumes that use a PDF file format.

Instead, nearly all of the modern applicant tracking systems today can properly parse and read DOCX file formatted resumes. This means that you should try to build and optimize your resume and save it with a DOCX file type. This way, you can ensure that you’re not submitting your resume and it is automatically being filtered out because it is the wrong file type. 

There are so many things that could potentially stress you out and reduce your productivity while you’re trying to find a new job, so you should focus on optimizing your resume with a free resume builder that will help you ensure that your resume is optimized and helps you get it right the first time with a DOCX formatted resume file.

Optimizing your resume with the correct file type is important to make sure that the applicant tracking systems can actually read the file and ensure that your resume won’t automatically be eliminated.

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5. Avoid Overly Fancy Formatting

It’s important to make sure that you avoid overly fancy formatting when you’re constructing your resume. The reason for this is that most applicant tracking systems cannot even read these kinds of resumes that use crazy or super creative formatting techniques.

As we’ve mentioned above, this might lead to your resume getting automatically eliminated and you’ll be wondering why you’re not receiving any phone interview requests. Some common things to avoid watching out for when you’re trying to select which resume format or theme to use is the use of graphics, images, multiple columns, or weird characters and text styles. 

All of these things might lead to your resume getting automatically eliminated because it cannot properly parse and highlight keywords and phrases that would help establish whether or not you’d make a good candidate for the position.

6. Tailor The Resume to the Job Description

Another thing that many professionals and job seekers overlook when they’re trying to get their resume ready for the job posting is that they always use one resume for every single application they’re applying to. Instead, you should focus on crafting unique resumes for each job posting or each job category that you’re applying to. 

In doing so, you’ll be able to optimize your time and effort when submitting your resume to open positions, and more importantly, you won’t have to worry about whether or not the resume is optimized to get past the automatic parsing of the applicant tracking system.

Building a resume that is perfect for a certain type of job category is a great way to ensure that you’re no longer using generic resumes.

When you use generic resumes, you’re increasing the chances that both the applicant tracking system and the human resource professional who is reading your resume will begin to think that you’re not qualified for the position because you chose not to tailor it or highlight unique matches between you and the job posting. 

Instead, avoid this common pitfall and ensure that you tailor each resume you submit to the job posting or job category to ensure maximum success in your job search.


Applicant tracking systems increasingly make it easier for HR professionals to source, identify, filter, rank, and hire candidates in the modern job search world. Job seekers and professionals who optimize their resume, cover letter, and application using the tips we’ve outlined above will significantly increase the chances that you’ll receive an interview request in the modern job search landscape, and the best part is that it only takes a few minutes to incorporate these tricks and tips.

Written By
Ryan Bucci is the Founder and Full Stack Web Developer of ResumeCompass, the most comprehensive resume platform designed to help professionals build and perfect their resume in minutes with a free resume builder.

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