Does this sound familiar?  You check your usual job board and find the ideal opportunity.  You review the position description and believe it fits perfectly with your background, experience and qualifications.  You revise your resume and covering letter, and then submit it online.  A day or two later you receive an e-mail acknowledgement thanking you for your application, but advising that the organization has decided to move forward with other more appropriately qualified candidates.

What went wrong?  Could it have been that the position was already filled internally?  Possibly.  Did your resume fail to impress the recruiter or hiring manager?  Perhaps. Were you lacking an essential qualification?  Maybe.

More likely though this is what happened.  First, you were likely one of hundreds of candidates who applied.  Second, the recruiter or hiring manager didn’t carefully review your application.  In fact, I would venture to suggest that your resume was never even read.  Finally, your application was reviewed and scored in less than a second by an Applicant Tracking System (“ATS”).


The Obvious Question

What is an ATS?  On first blush it sounds like some kind of assault weapon or a sophisticated safety device found on high priced vehicles.

Simply put, an Applicant Tracking System, or ATS, is a sophisticated software product that is commonly used by companies or organizations to screen job applications.  Applications are filtered on the basis of whether they contain certain key words, phrases, skills, schools, types of employers, etc.  This software product may be a stand-alone system that resides exclusively in the Human Resources Department, or it may be a component or module of a larger enterprise wide information system.

Applicant tracking systems have been one of the most significant changes impacting the recruitment function in the last twenty years.  Ask anyone over age 50 who was involved in recruitment twenty-five years ago and they will confirm that screening resumes was one of the most time-consuming, laborious and error prone activities.  Not only was it highly subjective but it was subject to bias, inconsistency and error.

How common are Applicant Tracking Systems?  I would submit that most medium to large-sized organizations today are using some type of ATS.  If they don’t use one in house then chances are they are using some derivative attached to a job board such as Indeed, Monster or Workopolis.

Circumventing the ATS

Recognizing this, what can you as an applicant do to ensure ultimate success in your job search?

There are four approaches you can adopt when trying to get past an ATS.

The first is to carefully go through the job posting and identify the key words, skills and requirements you believe the employer is seeking.  Then, go back to your resume and update it to include those elements that are missing.  This approach is fairly simple, but is subject to error and not completely scientific.

A second approach is to go into Linked In and seek out individuals occupying similar positions to the one being advertised.  Review their profiles, and identify the common skills or attributes they possess.  If you can honestly say you have those skills and talents then be sure to incorporate them into your resume.  Again, this approach is straightforward, but like the first approach it is still a guess.

The third approach is to identify three or four job postings across similar industries. Copy/paste the duties performed into one Word document, and copy/paste the attributes of the desired candidate into another.  Then, review, re-write and merge each posting by grouping similar duties or skills together under general sub-headings (e.g. accounting; customer service; account management; etc.).  Be careful to review so there are no contradictions.  Unfortunately, this is a very time consuming and laborious process that is subject to error.

The fourth approach, and the one I recommend, entails less labour and likely will result in a better product.  Register for .  This product has both a free and fee-for-service offering.  You copy/paste your existing resume into one panel, and then copy/paste the position you are applying to into the other panel.  You hit the scan button and the software calculates the percentage match between the key words of the job posting and what is in your resume. You can then make amendments to your resume incorporating the missing words, skills or phrases.

A few of words of caution are in order.  First, unless you can honestly lay claim to a particular skill or type of work it is best not to misrepresent your skills.  In other words, don’t lie!  Second, while the technology is sharp it is not perfect.   Job Scan can’t tell the difference between singular and plural, or between passive and active verbs.  Finally, nomenclature differs between countries and work environments.  If the technology is searching for “Labour Relations Manager”, a common job description in the private sector, it won’t find a match if your resume has an equivalent position that is labeled “Staff Relations Manager”, a similar job title in the public sector.


A Final Thought…

The obvious question you are probably asking is:  does this technology work?  Short answer is:  yes.  Let me share a personal experience.

I had a client come to me last year who was applying for a position as CEO with a major organization.  He had a great resume that was concise, well-written and very professional.  I took his resume, ran it through Job Scan, and compared it against the job posting to which he was applying.  It came back as a 53% match.  I then went in, added several words and phrases that were missing from his original document, and ran it through two more times.  The final match was 83%.  The candidate applied, received first and second interviews, and made it through to the final interview stage.

Would my client have experienced the same degree of success had we not used Job Scan?  I don’t know.  What I do know is that in a competitive job market made even more challenging by the COVID-19 pandemic, and with many more applicants vying for positions, not using every tool or technique at your disposal can be both limiting and costly.