Applicant Tracking System

What Does Applicant Tracking System Mean?

An applicant tracking system is a commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) software application designed to help human resource managers and talent acquisition teams manage their hiring processes.


What Does an Applicant Tracking System Do?

ATS software allows applicants for multiple job openings to be viewed through a centralized executive dashboard.

Instead of using complex Excel spreadsheets with pivot tables to track applicants as they move through the hiring funnel, managers can use an ATS with machine learning (ML) capabilities to aggregate, store, filter, query, and share applications through a centralized dashboard.

In addition to reviewing and sorting applications, most ATS systems include messaging and calendar components that can be used to automate email notifications, schedule interviews, and confirm interview times.

In the enterprise, ATS capabilities may be part of a larger software suite that includes modules for onboarding/offboarding, payroll, and employee performance management.

The Best ATS Solutions

Simplify your hiring process and onboard quality talent fast with the help of one of the market’s top applicant tracker systems:


Who Uses Applicant Tracking Systems?

According to Jobscan, 99% of the Fortune 500, 70% of large companies, and 20% of SMBs use some kind of applicant tracking software.

ATSes are used by two different groups within the same organization: job seekers and hiring managers.

  • Job seekers use the customer-facing side of an ATS to review an organization’s employment opportunities and apply online for a specific opening.
  • HR managers and talent acquisition teams use the business-facing side of an ATS to post openings, review resumes programmatically, filter out unqualified applicants, automate email and/or text message communication, and monitor potential hires as they move through the HR funnel.

How Does an ATS Work?

The core component of every applicant tracking software is a database management system that allows resumes to be queried by keyword and sorted according to pre-defined criteria.

A parser pulls out keywords from each resume, and machine learning (ML) algorithms rank the job candidates according to who best matches the job description. This automated process saves hiring managers from spending endless time scanning through resumes by hand to find those that might be a good fit.

Typically, an ATS allows only those applications that meet eligibility parameters to be made sharable by default. Those applications that do not meet minimum criteria are immediately archived in compliance with local rules and regulations.

Techopedia Explains Applicant Tracking System

The purpose of an applicant tracking system is to automate repetitive, time-consuming human resource (HR) administrative tasks.

Although it may not feel like it to applicants who click “submit” only to receive an automated rejection letter minutes later, an ATS is not meant to remove humans from the screening equation.

How to Beat an Applicant Tracking System

To prevent a “good” candidate’s application from being filtered out by an ATS, it’s recommended that job applicants customize their resume for each job they want to apply for and use the same keywords mentioned in the job posting.

Additional best practices for moving past an initial screening conducted by an ATS include the following:

  • Keep language simple.
  • Review the directions for submitting an application to ensure attachments have the right file format.
  • Add a skills section that ties keywords to previous work experience in a concrete, data-driven manner.
  • Spell out acronyms and dates.
  • Answer “knockout questions” in the application process honestly — or not at all.

What is a Knockout Question?

Knockout (KO) questions are elimination questions that are typically asked when an applicant first submits their resume online. The purpose of a knockout question is to eliminate those applicants who are either unable or unwilling to perform key job functions.

This type of question is often presented in a checkbox format to ensure the applicant’s answers are machine-readable. Examples of knockout questions include:

  • Are you legally eligible to work in this country?
  • Which of the following software applications have you worked with on a daily basis?
  • What is the highest level of education you have completed?
  • Which of the following answer choices matches your salary expectations?
  • How many years of experience do you have working with XYZ?
  • Which of the following employment perks are most important to you?
  • On a scale of 1-5, how willing are you to travel on a monthly basis?
  • Which of the following IT certifications do you hold?
  • Are you opposed to taking a drug test?
  • Do you have a problem with our running a criminal background check?

Knockout questions asked through an ATS serve the same purpose as screening questions asked over the phone. If an applicant is afraid to answer a knockout question truthfully, it’s recommended they stop the application process and look for another job opening.

Examples of Popular ATS Software

According to a report by Grand View Research, Inc., the global applicant tracking system market size is expected to reach USD 3.71 billion by 2030.

Besides the top 3 shown above, Oracle Taleo and SAP SuccessFactors are popular enterprise-level applications that include ATS components. Key players in the small to medium-sized business (SMB) market space for ATS also include:

  • ApplicantStack – Known for its texting capabilities and being intuitive to use.
  • Greenhouse Software – known for being easy to integrate with other work and social applications.
  • iCIMS – known for its scalability and customer support.
  • ClearCompany – known for its ease of use and reporting features.
  • Lever – known for its user-friendly interface and tagging capabilities.

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Margaret Rouse
Technology Expert

Margaret is an award-winning technical writer and teacher known for her ability to explain complex technical subjects to a non-technical business audience. Over the past twenty years, her IT definitions have been published by Que in an encyclopedia of technology terms and cited in articles by the New York Times, Time Magazine, USA Today, ZDNet, PC Magazine, and Discovery Magazine. She joined Techopedia in 2011. Margaret's idea of a fun day is helping IT and business professionals learn to speak each other’s highly specialized languages.