Posted by on June 25, 2013 at 9:16 am

Bigger in the US than the UK, Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are designed to take away the pain of reading endless numbers of CVs and covering letters. Rather than companies having to trawl through these themselves they delegate the task to  computer software. In America one estimate has calculated that three quarters of all submitted CVs are discarded by ATS programs for ‘using the wrong words’.

Several systems will examine what you’ve physically typed and others will require paper based forms to be ‘scanned in’.

You won’t always know if one of your applications has been scrutinised through ATS but here are some clues:

  1. You’ve been asked to input your details online.
  2. You register interest in a job by completing an online proforma.
  3. You apply for a vacancy that appears to have several stages e.g. you need to send basic information before having access to the main application form.
  4. The response you received as a result sounds like it was an auto reply (it probably was).

Large graduate recruiters might argue that to follow up every potential applicant would be almost impossible; PWC for example received over 22,000 applications for their graduate scheme in 2011.

Can you beat the system and make it work for you? Well not quite. There is such a wide variety of software that making the perfect application is never going to be easy.


There’s a difference between a system that searches with Boolean terms – or simply highlights keywords, maybe within a CV database on an internet jobsite – and one that is a major part of a company’s recruitment process.

Increasing your chances of making it through the initial stages can be easier if you follow just four simple steps:

  1. Firstly, make sure you have a strong CV tailored for each application. You almost certainly know that we can help you with this (after all you’ve found the blog) but did you know that we’ll also check your CV via email and we’re open all Summer? A good CV won’t necessarily ‘beat the system’ but having confidence in your own application is worth its weight in gold.
  2. ATS likes to draw on your social network profiles, so do have accounts that you can share, especially LinkedIn. Secondly ensure that you are able to share ALL the content of any other accounts such as Facebook and Twitter. Don’t get rejected through inappropriate postings.
  3. Discover what skills and qualities company is looking for: and use these key words in your application. Approach your form logically e.g. if a vacancy asks for a language skill then have a ‘skills’ heading where you write ‘language skills; French and German”. The more research you do, the greater your understanding of what the job demands – and if you reflect that insight within your application you could have an advantage.
  4. One way to avoid falling prey to ATS is by knowing the people behind the company. Look at LinkedIn, do your research and make contact with the recruiters. Having a named person to whom you can send your CV will always beat a speculative form sent to ‘Personnel’ or ‘HR’. Think about any work experience or placements that you’ve had, your own network of contacts could be priceless.

Finally always remember that feedback is worthwhile; if you feel that you’ve submitted a strong application form that has been overlooked then do, politely, contact the employer and ask for advice.

The worst the computer can do is say ‘no’ and just maybe there is a reason for your lack of success that you’ve overlooked?

You can find an explanation of this great graphic showing an ATS here, at Career Geek’s blog.



Posted by Chris Harris, Careers Information Officer.

Posted in Applications and CVs Author - Chris Harris Tagged in:


  1. James Dustin says:

    Great article, quite informative. I also found another really great website called that will help you get your resume noticed and get you past the ATS plus it only takes a few seconds. Worked for me and I got many more interviews because of jobscan. I definitely recommend the website to anyone who is looking for a job or preparing their resume. Good luck on the job hunt and the resume!

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