In today’s job market, it’s inevitable that you’ll come across dreaded Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) which companies employ to help screen out the “less desirable candidates” (i.e., those candidates who aren’t a match on paper/don’t possess every keyword).   Have I found a way to beat ATS? Yes and no.

Applicant Tracking Systems, or ATS for short, are candidate pipeline management systems. These systems process resumes submitted by applicants by storing the résumé and actively searching it for keywords the employer wants. Based on the number of keyword hits, the higher you are likely to rank in the applicant search results.  

Employers also use ATS to track comments/feedback throughout the interview/hiring process.I understand that recruiters and hiring managers are busy and that using this software can save time by quickly identifying the “best” candidates on paper. However, as in life, not every candidate, and often great candidates, won’t neatly fit into a checklist of keywords.   It’s why I won’t let an ATS define whether I’m the best candidate for the job or not and neither should you.

Applying for the job

There are two things I think every candidate should keep in mind when applying for any job:

  1. Do you like the company and/or already use the company’s products/services?
  2. Can you do the job?

Meaning, do you already have the skills or experience that meet the job requirements of the role? For me, I need to hit at least 7 out of 10 of the job’s responsibilities or have strong transferable skills, as  I find that many job postings are what I call “everything but the kitchen sink” listings. Everything that a manager could possibly want or need is listed, but it’s unlikely that one candidate can realistically meet every requirement. Candidly, I’ve often thought that that the most successful candidates haven’t been those that meet every single requirement. Instead, those who seem to fall a little short could bring a fresh perspective and missing skills allows for growth in the role.

Tailor the résumé to the job In every case, I will modify my résumé so that the experience that best matches the job is showcased, and I’ll incorporate keywords that are applicable to my background and which are listed in the job description.  While I’m not a fan of ATS, it doesn’t mean that I won’t make tweaks to help my application rise to the top.   However, sometimes the keywords employers list just aren’t applicable, and that’s OK. First and foremost, be authentic. You want to market yourself and be honest about your experience. If you lie, I promise, you will be found out.

ResumeTip:  A networking contact let me in on this website gem: (no letter ‘m’). This site allows you to compare your résumé against the job description. Simply submit the text for both and it acts like an ATS. You’ll receive a percentage of how closely your résumé matches the job description. You can then edit accordingly or take your chances.
Unfortunately these steps may not be enough to get past an applicant tracking system.

Top 3 Tips to Get Noticed: What’s The Secret?

I don’t let ATS nor the fact that most recruiters may only give my résumé a 5-10 second review, deter me.  Like any good marketer, I know that the key to getting the conversation started (in this case getting an interview) requires multiple touch points and point outing what’s in it for them.

Here are my top three tips:

1. Write a cover letter: Much has been said regarding the use of cover letters.  Many companies don’t require them any longer and Carrie Walecka, Director of Talent Acquisition at Brightcove, Inc. notes that, “90% of cover letters don’t get read.”  Add that to the fact that cover letters are not scanned by ATS, you may want to skip writing one. However, I’ve heard that if you don’t submit one it can count against you – even if it’s never read.  My advice… send one.  A cover letter is a great marketing tool to fill the gaps for experience that’s transferable and not listed on your résumé.  It can also call out your interest in the company’s products/services, clarify any relocation intentions, and my rationale, set you apart from the competition.

2. Identify the hiring manager and follow-up: In addition to submitting my application through the requested portal, I always address and send a hard copy of my cover letter and résumé to the person I believe to be the hiring manager.  This extra step of mailing a copy has worked well for me. I found my letter stands out from candidates in the job portal and won’t get lost in the dozens of emails a hiring manager may receive each day. Plus because it is a piece of mail, the hiring manager will likely open it and take a look at my credentials, and who doesn’t want extra undivided attention from a prospective boss?

Tip:  How do I identify the hiring manager?  Job descriptions often list who the role reports to, e.g., “…reports to the Marketing Director.”  Some savvy investigative skills via LinkedIn can often identify someone at the firm with that title.


A few days after sending the letter to the hiring manager I follow-up with a phone call to ask if she/he received my letter and to share three additional quick points on why I’d be a great fit. (These are different than those in my cover letter.)   The reason this last tip is so important?  If the ATS system disqualifies you, your personal follow-up will make a great impression and could earn you an interview.  I’ve had this happen.

A Fortune 500 company posted a job to which I thought I’d be a great match.  I submitted my résumé though the company website and sent a copy to the person I thought was the hiring manager.   Within 24 hours I received a “sorry you’re not a match” email. However I still believed I was a good fit.  I still followed-up directly with the hiring manager a few days later via a call.  Two days later I had a new email from Human Resources asking me for an interview.

If you don’t hear back after your first follow-up call, try again (perhaps this time via email.)  Believe it or not, hiring managers have told me that potential employers/managers want to hear from you.    Showing initiative and follow through by taking the extra time to follow-up shows vs. simply tells them that you are the type of person who would go above-and-beyond on the job.

3. Use your network: In today’s highly competitive job market, your personal and professional network is still the best way to stand out and be seen by the hiring manager/company.   Take a few minutes to see who you might be connected with at the company via LinkedIn, even if she/he is not in the same group as the role you’re applying to. Talk to your friends and those you meet at networking and social events that you’re looking for a job, what you’re looking for, and about your target companies.   You never know when you’ll meet someone who can connect you to that dream job, so you always need to market yourself.

NetworkingApplicant Tracking Systems are time-savers that help recruiters and hiring managers find ways to narrow down the number of applicants into a more manageable list of candidates. They are not likely going away anytime soon. However, in the process they often weed out candidate gems who could bring dynamic new skills, a fresh perspective, and/or the person who is ideally the best person for the role.  In today’s job market it’s up to you as a job seekers to find ways to stand out and get noticed when an ATS is being used, especially if you are more “out-the-box” than the perceived “ideal” candidate.  The tips above can help you stand out and get noticed.  They’ve worked for me and they could work for you too.