ATS tracking is the saving grace for anyone involved in recruiting. Imagine being an employer and publishing one or many job openings. There is no shortage of folks looking for work in the market. And it shows as soon as you list your available positions. You soon become inundated by a pile of resumes, cover letters, and miscellaneous documents.

It’s a lot to read, and you already know you’re not going through all of them. How on earth do you even know where to start?

This, in essence, is what ATS tracking, or “applicant tracking software” helps manage.

ATS tracking assists in qualifying job candidates before they reach the employer’s desk.

Yes, you read that right. Automated software decides if the hiring manager should even know who you are.

Why use ATS tracking?

As you can imagine, it’s impossible for employers to track the hundreds of resumes they receive. They need some sort of tool to make it bearable. ATS tracking alleviates this burden in a number of ways.

But there is also more at stake. There are laws in place that employers must ensure they abide by, such as the Equal Employment Opportunity Act. In effort to remain compliant, employers use ATS tracking to avoid anything that could be perceived as a violation.

Unfortunately, the function of ATS tracking tends to weed out candidates more than identify good ones. Because of this, some top candidates actually don’t make the cut.

ATS tracking is more common than you think

The larger the company is, the better you can assume they use ATS tracking. Recent research for 2019 and 2020 shows that 99% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS tracking. But even so, ATS tracking is growing in popularity and more companies are adopting them.

If you’re an eager job candidate for one of these companies, you must realize what is happening. Between the litany of applications you’re competing with and the ATS tracking that is comparing you to them, the odds are stacked against you.

If you still don’t believe me, check this out. I did a search for ATS tracking systems on the market. Wouldn’t ya know it – lists every single ATS they integrate with. The count of available ATS systems just in the United States alone is 116!

What this tells you is that employers don’t only use ATS tracking when posting jobs on their own websites. They also use it on virtually every online job board that exists.

if you reject ats tracking, you're gonna have a hard time

What do ATS tracking tools do?

So far I’ve briefly skimmed over the basics of what ATS tracking can do. Let’s dive further and look at everything it actually offers.

Displaying applications

If recruiters still want to manually review applications, then ATS provides that option. ATS allows the recruiter to collect and view submissions to identify potential in the candidate. For recruiters, this is done at a quick glance. Mere seconds are spent to see if the job requirements are reflected within a candidate.

Keyword Identifiers

ATS tracking also seeks out specific key words to confirm a good match in a candidate. In my opinion, this is the most critical element of the software. It literally “reads” your application and recommends you based on the presence of enough key words.

Some careerists who are savvy to this fact may be tempted to stuff their resumes with the right keywords. All I can say is beware. This may help get an application in front of a recruiter. But if the recruiter finds those key words out of context, your application will end up in the trash. Or even worse, you’ll be blacklisted from applying ever again. Blacklisting is another feature of most ATS tracking tools.

Rating Candidates

Many applicant tracking systems have a quality check. It rates candidates against the requirements for the role they apply to. The more indicators an application has that match the job listing, the higher the score. Indicators are often in the form of skills, education, and experience being represented in your resume. But there are others, depending on the recruiter. This rating system also takes keywords into account.

As you can see in the screenshot below from BambooHR, a popular human resources and recruiting software, there are are a number of elements that help employers track their job candidates. In particular, BambooHR uses stars as a rating system to indicate how appropriate a candidate is for a role.

ats-tracking software bamboohr


How do I know if I have a bad application?

It’s already tough enough to figure out the right thing to say to get a potential employer to pay attention to you. But there is one single element of a resume/cover letter that determines how well it fares with ATS software.


If poor formatting was the cause for half of job hunters not getting an interview, it would not surprise me. Many of them are likely perfectly qualified. But the way their applications are scrutinized is not the way they think it is.

What do I mean by poor formatting? I mean don’t put a bunch of unnecessary stuff on your resume. Things like graphs, images, fancy fonts, multiple colors, and so on. These elements wind up working against you because it limits the ability of the ATS software to read your application.

Have you ever seen debug information from a program or a website? It looks like gibberish, right? This is kind what ATS tracking software sees when you submit a super fancy resume. All that jazz either masks the pertinent information or makes the information VERY hard to find. A PDF or Word doc with simple plain text, bolded headings, and some bullet points will go a much longer way.

For marketing job hunters, most of this knowledge about ATS tracking is completely new. But if you take these best practices to heart, you can expect to beat ATS at its own game.

Want a free ATS-friendly resume template?…

Click here