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How to cheat the ATS ethically….


You may have heard the term Applicant Tracking System or its acronym ATS.  Or, you have no idea what an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is and now wondering why you need to know!  So, what is an applicant tracking system?  It’s an electronic database that can track vacancies and candidates through the recruitment journey.

Technology today has advanced from the old-style Access Database.  Applicant tracking systems are sophisticated software with coding and programming that automates a number of recruitment processes.  It can manage high volumes of applicants and candidates in a fraction of the time it would have taken a human. Including screening CVs against job criteria.

Larger companies will configure their system to manage the vacancy approval process internally. The system will then manage a range of sourcing and selection activities throughout the various recruitment stages. An Applicant Tracking System will also be set up to manage a range of candidate management throughout the various recruitment stages:

Applicant Tracking System configuration

Candidate journey:

  • Cover letters and CV’s sent online to an ATS (database)
  • Acknowledgement letters / emails sent automatically
  • Screening process to narrow the selection to the criteria
  • Invite to interview or rejection
  • Invitation to second or third interview or rejection after 1st, 2nd or 3rd stage
  • Offer letter and contract sent

Vacancy Management:

  • Approval and authorisation for the vacancy
  • Advertise Internally
  • External advert (Companies may subscribe to a variety of job boards and most can be linked to internal databases)
  • Candidate management activities that can easily be automated (Acknowledgement emails, invites to interview, rejection emails, offer letters and contracts etc.)

Why do you need to know?

ATS are programmed to screen CVs against the job criteria. So, keywords are not just relevant for your LinkedIn account or social media platforms. Keywords are important to include in your CV.  Of course, you need to be able to backup these keywords with experience or knowledge.  And, that’s why we are cheating ethically! 

So, don’t be tempted to throw in some keywords that you cannot explain in an interview. It’s highly likely that at some point in the recruitment process, your CV will be read by a human. However, unless your CV gets through the ATS you will probably receive the automated rejection letter or email.

Here’s an example:

  • Able to use LinkedIn proficiently  = Boolean Search Techniques
  • Conducted thousands of interviews = Behavioural Competency Interviews
  • Advanced on in-house systems = Applicant Tracking Systems ATS
  • HR Software = SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft
  • IT Literate = Advanced on MS PowerPoint, Word and Excel
  • Building relationships = Stakeholder Management

So, if I stick to my current CV terminology and submit through an applicant tracking system it’s likely it won’t get through the screening process.  Even though I tick all of the requirements. 

That’s why it’s so important to take the time to tailor the entire CV. They may also search for specific sectors and industries or even competitors.  If you haven’t included this on your CV it won’t make the first sift.

When I worked in Corporate Banking in the City a good fit with their model of banking were Lloyds TSB, RBS, Barclays and UBS – they were clearing banks and anyone with previous experience within these banks would have fit in well. We didn’t include this on any job advert or description.


Here’s how to ethically cheat the Applicant Tracking System with Keywords

There is no getting away from keywords. Recruiters are using job related keywords every single day. In other words, they use keywords on LinkedIn to find candidates for specific vacancies. And, they will be tapping in keywords to the ATS (candidate databases) to find CVs.  Recruiters call this searching process ‘mining’.

That’s is why it’s so important to tailor your CV, Cover Letter and application forms to the vacancy.  This is essentially how to “cheat” the ATS by conducting a thorough job analysis and spending quality time tailoring each application to each vacancy.  By spending time ensuring your CV includes the keywords will increase your chances of getting through the ATS screening process and ultimately get invited to interview.

Just an additional note:  I’m a big advocate for the importance of behavioural competencies and you’ll need to bring some specific examples to the interview most definitely.  However, keywords need to be technical or job related skills, knowledge, qualification or experience. 

Keywords are to essentially find people with a good match to the job requirements and to filter out.  Using behavioural competencies like communication skills or problem solving skills just won’t be effective when searching on databases or social media.

Let’s give you a couple of other keyword examples:

Health and safety Advisor

  • NEBOSH
  • IOSH
  • PPE
  • COSHH
  • Risk Management and risk assessment
  • Health and safety at work
  • Risk control
  • Legislation and regulation
  • Fire Safety
  • Audits
  • Hazard assessment
  • Accident and incident reporting and investigation
  • RIDDOR
  • HSE etc.

Accountant

  • Accounts payable and receivable
  • Profit and loss (Gross, net or margin)
  • Balance sheet
  • Cashflow
  • Audit
  • Assets
  • Capital
  • Corporation Tax
  • Debtors and creditors
  • Liabilities
  • Shareholders
  • Accrual’s
  • Turnover

Lawyer

Depending on what type of Lawyer you are there are literally hundreds of keywords associated with each discipline.  Therefore, do conduct your own research by reviewing some job vacancies on job boards.  You’ll see the common themes threaded through and then make the decision to add these words to your CV (as long as you have the skills and knowledge).

  • Criminal law
  • Employment law
  • Civil law
  • Legislation
  • Legal and legal aid
  • Documentation
  • Litigation
  • Family law
  • Commercial law
  • Contracts
  • Arbitration
  • Compensation
  • Compromise agreements
  • Clause

In conclusion, the way to cheat the applicant tracking systems (ethically) is to spend the time ensuring the keywords are threaded through your Cover Letters, CVs and Application Forms. 

Therefore, you’ll most definitely increase your chances of getting invited to interview.  At the moment ATS don’t have any common sense (well not yet!), they can only screen CVs in or out with the information the recruiter inputs into the database.  So, for that reason you do need to know what an applicant tracking system is and how it’s used.

About Dawn Moss

Dawn has worked in a corporate environment for over ten years providing Recruitment & Selection Services, and has been involved in Coaching & Educating Business Leaders, Managers and Employees in all aspects of the recruitment process.

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