Candidate Resources


What is an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) and what do they do?

What is an ATS (Applicant Tracking System) and what do they do?

“75% of all Applications are Discarded by ATS Software”

“Most companies have thousands of resumes sitting in a database that they’ve never looked at. In fact, 75 percent are never seen by a real person.”

“You can’t put hyperlinks in your CV or it will be rejected by the ATS”

“You have to BEAT THE BOTS!”

“Only upload your CV in word format”

These are just some of the bizarre claims you will face when doing ‘research’ on Applicant Tracking Systems…. or ATS for short.

Try googling Applicant Tracking Systems and you are met with an array of sensationalist headlines like “How to get your CV past the robots”. The same goes for unscrupulous ‘CV Writers’ and ‘Career Coaches’ who vow to write you an ATS compliant CV and get you past the bots.

It seems I can’t have a conversation with prospective clients nowadays without being asked ‘can you make my CV ATS compliant?’ or ‘Will my CV get past those systems that recruiters use?’

Why do I care so much? Because job seekers are being misled. There are so many more important things for job seekers to concern themselves with than ATS.

How do I know this? Having worked in recruitment for over 17 years, in both Agency and In-House capacity, having used upward of 14 ATS and being part 3 of ATS implementations, I felt myself pretty qualified to comment.

However, what I found is that I was one voice in a sea of misinformation.

I needed to do my own research. I wanted to speak to the people who use these systems day in day out, to understand how they use these systems and what their systems can or can’t do.

But first. Let’s not assume everyone knows what an ATS is.

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Quite simply, an Applicant Tracking System is just what it says on the tin. It helps recruiters track their applicants.

Think of it as a digital filing cabinet.

Candidates come into the system (eg. via job adverts), they get screened/assessed, then rejected or moved on to the next stage. All communications tend to come via the system and you are ultimately left with one candidate you are looking to offer the job to.

This example is simplistic, but not uncommon by any means. Some ATS do assess candidates based on keywords, some do help recruiters screen and prioritise the most (allegedly) suitable candidates.

So… now we’re all clear on what an ATS is, back to my research…

I knew from my own experience that the figures thrown about saying that ‘75% of CVs are rejected without a recruiter seeing them’ was false. I also knew from experience that I had not used a system that screened CVs for me, I always screened them myself. But, I wanted further proof and to put an end to these myths that are spread.

So, I reached out to a wide range of Recruiters, from all functions; some Agency, some In-House, some HR Managers from across the UK, US, Europe, Middle East and Asia to get accurate information to share with job seekers, and I received over 200 responses.

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So – let’s get started!

The survey was sent to a range of recruiters from different backgrounds and industries across the globe (mainly UK, US, Australia, Dubai).

See Below;

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Having worked in both agency and In-House recruitment and knowing the different ways of working, I felt it important to cover both at varying levels. Agencies are more likely to use bespoke systems (you would still class them as an ATS) and In-House teams tend to use ‘out of the box’ solutions.

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As you can see. There are loads of different ATS options that companies have to choose from! As much as they are all there to do the same thing, there are always going to be nuances to how they work, how they are used and what they are capable of.

So let’s get to the nitty gritty, and a straightforward one to start.

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A common belief is that you HAVE TO upload your CV in Word and that PDF is risky.

As you can see, this is not true with 98% allowing both, and 1% each only allowing Word and only allowing PDF!

My advice – go for a PDF where possible. They look slicker and keep their shape and structure so much better. Word documents can open differently on different devices – PDF won’t!

Next up….

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There is general advice to not overdo it with graphics and tables as it can mean your document gets rejected as it is unable to be read.

It has never happened to a system I have used, but 4% see this happen with their system.

The best thing to do? Edge on the side of caution and keep it a simple document.

NB – I regret not having a comments section for the survey takers on this question as it is not clear which of these is the potential banana skin! In my experience, graphs would be the one to stay away from. Font size and tables have always been fine.

Now to Auto-Rejection…

Remember the popular quote ‘75% of CVs are rejected without the recruiter seeing them’

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This was one of the key questions I wanted to ask to quash the myth that “75% of CVs don’t make it past the bots / get rejected without the recruiter seeing them”

This clearly proves this statement untrue. Emphatically so.

This is the part where you save the link to this survey so you can post it in the comments to anyone who starts to spew this ‘75%’ nonsense.


If you are getting rejected instantly, or without the recruiter seeing the CV, it is likely to be due to Killer Questions.

These are yes and no questions you will answer as part of the application process. Eg. Do you have the right to work in Country X, DO you have a drivers license (if the job requires driving of course)

I didn’t stop there of course. This notion that the CV has to be stuffed with keywords for the ATS bots always interested me.

Two related questions in a row here….

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Some ATS have the ability to ‘score’ your CV and give it a % match to the job advert/description/keywords added by the recruiter.

Only 2% of recruiters use this function. You do not need to go through a job advert and cram in as many keywords as possible to get past the ‘Bots’.

It is very unlikely your CV is getting rejected because of the lack of keywords (as much as people trying to profit from your insecurity might tell you it is).

Don’t get me wrong, Keywords are very important, but FOR THE HUMAN READING YOUR CV!! If the advert is talking about SEO, PPC and Digital Marketing in the job advert, then of course, they want to see these specialisms on your CV.

NB – some ATS can act as a database and hold your details on file, keywords can be searchable within this, so you could be found down the road for a position after your application.

Are Keywords important?

VERDICT – YES (just not for getting past the bots)

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So let’s recap….

“75% of all Applications are Discarded by ATS Software” False, I can’t tell you how untrue this is…..

“Most companies have thousands of resumes sitting in a database that they’ve never looked at. In fact, 75 percent are never seen by a real person.” False

“You can’t put hyperlinks in your CV or it will be rejected by the ATS” Perhaps some truth…. chances are slim this is why you are getting rejected.

“You have to BEAT THE BOTS!” No, worry about the humans…..

“Only upload your CV in word format” I’d go for PDF personally

So, there you have it. From the horse’s mouths if you like. Recruiters worldwide have put to bed some of the misinformation around ATS.