The Digital Gatekeepers: How Applicant Tracking Systems Are Holding Job Seekers Hostage

Cory Mazure | Nov, 2023

The job market is more competitive than ever before. As a job seeker, you are not only just competing against other qualified candidates. You now have a new obstacle to overcome, the applicant tracking system (ATS). Consider the ATS as a digital gatekeeper, intentionally designed to help employers throughout the recruitment process. As a consequence of this system, your life as a job seeker is abundantly more difficult.

Today we are going to break down what an ATS is, why it stands between you and interviews, and how you can leverage a revolutionary tool to outsmart this relentless gatekeeper.

What is an ATS?

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are used by employers in the recruitment process to manage the influx of candidates they receive every day. It helps screen the job applications, filtering them down to the most qualified candidates. This is great for the recruiter, but bad for the applicant. 

Why ATS Makes It Hard to Get a Job

1. Keyword-Centric Screening

The ATS uses advanced algorithms to identify specific keywords and phrases present inside of the resumes you upload. If your resume does not contain the right keywords from the job description, it is possible your application will never reach the eyes of the hiring manager.

2. Sub-Optimal Judge of Quality

The ATS is great at helping employers reduce large volumes of applicants to only the most qualified. The issue is that you might be a very qualified candidate, but are not including the keywords the company's specific ATS is optimized to detect.

3. Over-Reliance on Automation

The algorithms that fuel the ATS are not perfect. They often have hard times reading resumes with unique formatting. A well qualified candidate could be discounted solely due to a few minor formatting issues that makes their resume difficult to parse.

4. Disregarding Creative Expression

These hiring algorithms train hiring managers to put the resume score above all else. It fails to account for personal touches that display a candidate's unique experiences and creative expression. 

Outsmarting the ATS

With a base understanding of how these algorithms work, we can abuse the system to increase your odds of landing an interview.

1. Customize Your Resume: 

The most effective strategy to beat the ATS is to customize your resume for every application. The employer leaves clues inside of the job description that you can learn from to optimize your resume. You will have to carefully incorporate these keywords into your resume to rank higher in the ATS. 

2. Use a Standard Format

Due to the fact the ATS struggles to read unique formats, your resume is not a place to practice your arts and crafts skills. Stick to a standard resume template that is built in Microsoft Word or Google Docs.

3. Proofread and Format Consistently: 

The ATS may struggle to understand the meaning of a phrase if it contains typos. Carefully proofread your resume before submitting to ensure it follows standard english writing conventions.

4. Include Relevant Keywords: 

Adding fluff to your resume is not good for the ATS. It is only looking for a handful of keywords. Spend your time including only the most relevant keywords from the job description, or known skills relevant for your specific degree.

For a more holistic understanding of the application process, I recommend you check out this recent article that reverse engineers the application process and helps you design a resume that will excel in the modern job market. 


These Applicant Tracking Systems have certainly made job hunting more challenging. It is your responsibility now to tailor your resume to bypass the ATS and impress the hiring manager. The issue is, this is a time consuming and mentally taxing process. It is far more difficult than copying and pasting the same resume for every job you apply to, but is far more effective. If you are looking for an opportunity to optimize your job search, try ResumeAI. A free to use software that finds keywords from the job description and automatically includes them where it makes sense throughout your resume. The average user of ResumeAI gets 10 keywords from the job description added to their resume, which greatly increases their odds of getting past the ATS. Try for free today and see just how many ATS optimizations ResumeAI can find for you!

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