Application Tracking System (ATS): How to Outsmart the ATS and Land Your Dream Job

In today’s competitive job market, securing your dream job can be a daunting task. Many job seekers may be unaware of the pivotal role that Application Tracking Systems (ATS) play in the recruitment process. In this article, we will dive into the world of ATS, shedding light on what it is, how it works, and most importantly, how you can navigate this automated gatekeeper to land your desired position.

What is an ATS?

ATS stands for Application Tracking System, a powerful tool used by organizations to streamline and manage the influx of job applications they receive. It acts as a digital gatekeeper, sorting through hundreds or even thousands of applications to find the most qualified candidates for a given position.

Why Employers Use ATS:

The primary reason for using ATS is to simplify the hiring process. For many employers, especially larger companies, sifting through countless resumes and cover letters manually is an impractical and time-consuming task. With ATS, they can quickly filter out unqualified candidates and focus on the most promising ones.

The Impact of ATS on Job Seekers:

ATS can be a double-edged sword for job seekers. While it can help employers find the right candidates more efficiently, it can also lead to the inadvertent rejection of well-qualified individuals whose applications do not align with the system’s criteria. In fact, up to 70% of applicants may be disqualified by ATS even before a human sets eyes on their resumes or cover letters.

How ATS Works:

  • a. Knockout Questions: When you apply for a job through ATS, you’ll often encounter knockout questions. These can be checkbox questions or short answer queries. If your responses do not match the employer’s expectations, your application may be rejected immediately.
  • b. Automatic Ranking: Some ATS will rank applications based on how well they match the job description. This ranking helps hiring managers quickly identify the top candidates.
  • c. Keyword Search: Keywords play a crucial role in ATS. The system scans your resume and cover letter for specific keywords from the job description. If your application lacks these keywords, it may not make the cut.

How to Beat ATS:

If you want to increase your chances of getting through the ATS and onto the hiring manager’s desk, consider the following strategies:

  • a. Customize Your Application: Tailor your resume and cover letter to each job description. Highlight relevant skills and experience.
  • b. Use Keywords: Incorporate keywords from the job description into your application materials. This will help you match the criteria set by the employer.
  • c. Long Forms and Acronyms: To cover all bases, use both the long form and acronym of keywords. For example, if the job posting mentions “SEO” (Search Engine Optimization), include both terms in your application.

Seek Professional Help:

If you’re unsure about how to optimize your application for ATS, consider seeking professional guidance. Many career services, like Career Point Solutions, offer free CV reviews and career coaching sessions to help you tailor your application for maximum effectiveness.


The Application Tracking System is a crucial aspect of the modern job application process. While it can be a hurdle, understanding how ATS works and learning to navigate it effectively can significantly increase your chances of landing your dream job. By customizing your application, using keywords, and considering long forms and acronyms, you can stand out in the eyes of both ATS and potential employers. Remember, in today’s competitive job market, the first step to success is understanding and mastering the tools that employers use to find the right talent.

Also Read: How to Apply for a Job by Email and Get The Job Interview

I’m Daniel Mutuku, a Career Coach. I help professionals get jobs with the UN, NGOs and international organisations.

Discover and unlock your full career potential and achieve your top career goals. As your career coach, I will support you through the application process, all the way until you secure the job.

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