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De-mystifying the Applicant Tracking System

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at UCSC chapter.

With the world’s growing workforce and a larger emphasis upon technology, companies are looking to computers for aid in the hiring process. Applicant Tracking Systems, commonly referred to as ATS’s, are new software programs being used to scan and sift through resumes, looking for keywords and qualification matches. As Gen Z begins entering the professional world, it’s important to follow these steps and create resumes that are ATS-friendly, increasing the chance of landing that interview with ease!

Tailor, Tailor, Tailor!

The modern hiring process requires specificity, making it nearly impossible for general resumes to progress past the first round. When applying to jobs, it’s crucial that each resume you submit is tailored to that specific position. The job description is your best friend, outlining exactly what the employer is seeking, so don’t be afraid to pull directly from it. 

ATS’s are looking for specific words and phrases that are highlighted in the job description, so the more that you identify with and add to your descriptions, the better. Don’t forget to include variations of acronyms (such as “Bachelor of Science” and “B.S”) to make sure that your qualification is recognized, no matter the written format. Identifying your skills is a great place to start when including keywords, focusing on the tangible hard skills that the position requires. If you are qualified for the job and know that you would be a successful hire, then use their language to identify yourself as such!  

Create your own format, without these mistakes.

Though starting a resume from scratch can be daunting, avoid the urge to use a template and stay ATS-friendly by creating your own layout. The following common formatting mistakes could keep an employer from seeing all of your amazing achievements, so steer clear. 

One common oversight is the tendency to use tables and columns when organizing the resume sections. Though they may look pleasing to the human eye, tables and columns can cause difficulty for software programs. Avoid these errors all together by spreading your information horizontally across the page, using the space more effectively and maximizing readability for the ATS. 

Another ATS no-no is the insertion of headers and footers. Because the header section, including your name and contact information, is required on a resume, there can sometimes be confusion when relating to its formatting. It’s difficult for an ATS to process headers and footers, so a better way to include this section is to put it at the top of the main page area, without inserting a header or footer. 

Other small blunders include using quirky resume section headings, colored ink, unique bullet points, and eccentric fonts, all of which can confuse an ATS and send your application to the bottom of the list.

De-stress about the ATS by using your Resources!

Information is key when deciding how best to present yourself on paper, and there are endless places to find this guidance. A quick google search will give you some more in depth knowledge of ATS procedures, and extra ways to avoid getting overlooked by them. For students, I highly suggest visiting your Career Center where you will receive individualized guidance through the resume building process. Don’t be scared to ask questions or make adjustments; they’re there to help! 

There are also online resources, such as JobScan.co (Banana Slugs get free student access!), that grant the applicant access to the same ATS programs used by many companies. This application in particular allows people to run their own resume against a job description, after which they receive a “score” with pointers about what to adjust in order to minimize ATS confusion. These resources are readily available, so I encourage you to explore them. 

As Gen-Z moves forward in their professional careers, it is necessary to remain up to date on new hiring trends and practices. Being mindful of Applicant Tracking Systems and their growing popularity across industries is a great place to start. So go make those adjustments and submit those applications; there’s a world of opportunity waiting for you! 

Serena is a student at UCSC pursuing a Bachelor of Arts in Literature with a love for creativity, storytelling, and learning.