What ATS Means for Your Career

If you have been deeply entrenched in the job search, or a member of a team responsible for talent acquisition, you may have heard the acronym ATS. Those three little letters can open (or close) opportunities for any job seeker. 

So what is it anyway? 

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking Software and it does exactly that (well, kind of). The main reason companies implement an ATS system is to help sift through thousands of applications and resumes quickly and efficiently. The system takes key skills, experience, and qualifications needed for the job and scans each submission to see if they match the criteria. 

While this sounds like a great solution for a company to finally actually get through all of the resumes they receive, it can have some benefits and consequences for both parties. There is a multitude of websites to tell you how to overcome these ATS systems, but keep in mind that they are only getting smarter.


One thing you will hear over and over (and over!) again at Elarie Consulting is to build targeted letters and resumes. While the ATS does look at more than keywords, it will generally place applicants with keywords within their resume near the top. But just because you’re at the top doesn’t mean you’ll stay there. Many recruiters or talent acquisition teams will still read through resumes before reaching out to the candidate, so blindly slapping keywords on your resume may only get you so far.


Much like the many HR systems, there are many different types of ATS on the market. One feature that many of them have is the ability to calculate your length of time with certain relevant experiences. This is where formatting is important! If the date is formatted in an unusual or unrecognizable way, the ATS may scale down or confuse your length of time in a particular role. Likewise, if you only include years, it may default to certain months, which would then translate to gaps within your employment history.


If you have been submitting for jobs within application portals or using career sites such as LinkedIn and Handshake, you may have seen fields to upload your resume, cover letter or other relevant documents. In many cases, we suggest using a PDF version of your nicely designed resume so that the design and formatting remain uncompromised.

Some application portals request that you copy and paste or type into their text boxes to complete your submission. This could be an indicator of some utilization of an applicant tracking system, so make sure that you have tailored your experience for the job you want.

Still in the Race

One benefit for both the employer and the applicant is the opportunities that may come down the road. Based on an employer’s process for resume and application retention, the ATS may recognize you as an ideal candidate down the road. So if you didn’t get the position you were hoping for, there could be a more suitable (and better!) opportunity waiting for you.