Beat Applicant Tracking Systems

How does the current recruitment process work?

Nowadays, each position receives hundreds of applicants in less than a week. In the UK, the furlough scheme is now coming to an end, and recruitment has been considerably reduced or put on hold until next year, so competition is fierce.


Applicant tracking systems are the first barrier to overcome. They have automated scores and filters that match the keywords on the job description to your CV. It works like SEO or search engine optimisation for sites wanting to go up on Google's ranking system, or social media algorithms.


Recruiters use the applicant tracking system to search for key skills and titles, and their first step is probably to search for the title of the position they’re hiring for. The point is to isolate candidates who have done exactly the same job before.


Anyone who never had the exact job title scores a low matching percentage on ATS and goes to the bottom of the list, without having the opportunity of being seen by a recruiter. This leaves out candidates who may be going through a career change and apply for what they really want to do.


Who wishes to do the same job as before? Why applying to the same position in a different company? Surely, it would make more sense to apply for a career progression opportunity! So this system actually selects candidates who are unable to go up the career ladder.


In theory, these systems save time by automatically surfacing and highlighting top candidates. In reality, ATS do help hiring professionals narrow their applicant pool, but top candidates slip through the cracks.” Jon Shields, Jobscan blog

A way of beating ATS is to ensure the job title and the top skills listed on the job description are actually on your CV. This will increase your percentage score on ATS, enabling you to come up on top of the candidates list.




Even though you’re the same person and your career history and skills remain the same, you do need to edit your CV each time you apply to a new job, if you want to beat ATS and secure an invitation for the next stage of the recruitment process.

Start by highlighting all the main keywords on the job description. If you have never worked in the same role you’re applying for, make sure you add it to your career summary/mission statement at the top. This section should clearly communicate who you are, what you do and how you add value to the company.

This is the prime space to make the most of your window of opportunity of less than 10 seconds, which is the average time a recruiter spends screening top candidates. The starting point is actually your current position, so make sure it’s somehow related to the role you’re applying for.

Have a clear and clean CV layout to make it appealing and easy to read. Bear in mind, the recruiter’s job is to rule you out, narrowing down the choice to the most qualified candidates, so any inconvenience could be fatal.

When listing your past experiences, resist the temptation of listing your most important tasks but opt for high-impact accomplishments. Recruiters will look for examples of how you’ve saved money, repaired declining relationships, or increased revenue.


It is easy to notice if the line of your career had an evolutionary road or if it followed an irregular trajectory with ups and downs. Recruiters want to understand better your decisions behind the career choices. They want to see the logical methods used to climb the career ladder.” Addison Jenning, Apha Gamma

Most recruiters don’t think outside the box, if you followed your heart or decided to move abroad for some time, it can be challenging to even stand a chance. An alternative is to contact the person you would report to directly on LinkedIn, but this could backfire or you may be simply ignored.




If you manage to get invited for an interview, you do need to go through another screening process, even more difficult to beat. According to Successful Selection Interviewing by Anderson and Shackleton, these are the most common weaknesses of interviews:

  • "Self-fulfilling prophecy effect - Interviewers may ask questions designed to confirm initial impressions of candidates gained either before the interview or in its early stages.

  • Stereotyping effect - Interviewers sometimes assume that particular characteristics are typical of members of a particular group. In the case of sex, race, disability, marital status or ex-offenders, decisions made on this basis are often illegal. However, the effect occurs in the case of all kinds of social groups.

  • Halo and horns effect - Once interviewers rate candidates as ‘good’ or ‘bad’ in some aspects, they often replicate this judgement across the board, reaching unbalanced decisions.

  • Contrast effect - Interviewers can allow the experience of interviewing one candidate to affect the way they interview others who are seen later in the selection process.

  • Similar-to-me effect - Interviewers sometimes give preference to candidates they perceive as having a similar background, career history, personality or attitudes to themselves.

  • Personal liking effect - Interviewers may make decisions on the basis of whether they personally like or dislike the candidate."

Most of these are outside your control but you can make an effort to make a good first impression, sound enthusiastic and upbeat, and prepare well for the interview. I covered this on How to Find a New Job, basically you need to research yourself (with stories to prove your competencies), the position and the company.




These days, interviews tend to happen on a video format, so it helps if you record yourself in advance and see what makes you come alive and what you need to improve. Be mindful of the video background and dress the part, look into the company’s staff photos to make sure you fit in. Think of it as costume design.


Note to employers

When companies hire maybe they should start considering how much would they save by improving staff retention, looking seriously into their staff turnover and recruitment costs.

What was the longest period you stayed with the same company? Why? Was it due to the company’s culture? Or career progression opportunities? Or you just loved/believed in what you were doing?


Companies rating higher on Glassdoor for satisfaction by their current employees are more profitable than those with lower ratings. Research by Glassdoor also indicated that a great salary package is essential to achieving a positive staff retention rate, as well as attractive benefits. But maybe further research needs to examine this more closely.


Top10 Employee Perks

  1. Flexibility programs around work location/hours

  2. Fridays off

  3. Parental perks

  4. Health insurance

  5. Professional development: Mentorship/ Coaching services

  6. Lifestyle: Cycle to work/Gym membership reduction/Wellness initiatives

  7. Free food and drink

  8. Social initiatives: drinks after work, team building, away day

  9. Assigned time off for volunteering

  10. Holiday related: travel budget


The current recruitment process seems to be not only outdated but completely out of sink with the changing nature of our careers. All recruiters should read The Multi-hyphened Method by Emma Gannon to understand the real driving forces behind people’s careers.


Think of Rihanna, she’s not just a pop star, she’s an amazing businesswoman and good in a variety of areas: film, fashion, beauty… Most people are like that, they can succeed in different roles, going above and beyond the limits of a particular title or linear career trajectory.



This reminds me of a Channel 4 show broadcasted 20 years ago, called Faking it. One of my favourite episodes was when Chris Sweeney left behind his life as a lead signer of a punk band to fake it as an orchestral conductor in just four weeks.

Claire Wilcox, the senior fashion curator at the V&A, has just published her memoir entitled Patch Work. Her brilliant career includes highly acclaimed exhibitions, from Alexander McQueen to Frida Khalo. For further information, read this article by Rachel Cooke on the Observer.

“I was in my early 40s by this time. I thought I was eccentric, unemployable. But the museum was looking for new ideas and energy and I got so excited in the interview, I actually stood up at one point. I told them that I wanted to stage fashion shows in the museum and three months later, there I was, putting on my first Fashion in Motion [a live catwalk event].” Claire Wilcox, senior fashion curator at the V&A.

I wonder if something like this could happen today with our current recruitment process. Would she manage to beat ATS? If a recruiter had used the control f to find the job title, she wouldn’t show up on the top of the list and would never had a chance to get an interview…

#recruitment #applicanttrackingsystems #ats #careers #careerstrategy #jobhunting

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