Cracking the Code: Understanding Keywords and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Cracking the Code: Understanding Keywords and Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

  |     2 min read

- By Chris Castelino, Certified Resume Writer.

In today's digital job application world, your first challenge is often getting past the Applicant Tracking System (ATS). These automated systems quickly sort through tons of applications, ranking them based on how relevant they are before a human even sees them. To pass this test, you need to understand how keywords work and get really good at ATS optimization. This guide will help you do just that by diving deep into ATS workings, teaching you about keyword optimization and giving you strategies for navigating automated screening.

Understanding Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Think of an ATS as a digital bouncer that stands between your application and the recruiter's desk. It goes through your Resume and Cover letter, pulls out important information and checks how well you match up against what they're looking for. Its main job is to make hiring easier by quickly sorting through lots of applications to find the best potential candidates.

How Does ATS Work?

It’s All About Algorithms

The ATS works using a bunch of algorithms - it scans/parses your application for specific keywords or phrases, measures how closely you align with the job description, then gives you a score accordingly. Understanding this process can help make sure your application stands out in this digital crowd.

1. The Importance Of Keywords

Keywords are like gold coins in the world of ATS - these words or phrases reflect skills or qualifications highlighted in job descriptions. Making sure your application uses these right keywords is like speaking the same language as the ATS, ensuring an accurate evaluation.

2. The Art Of Optimization: Finding The Right Balance

Optimizing involves finding the perfect balance between quality & quantity – overloading a resume with too many keywords (also known as "keyword stuffing") can raise red flags damaging chances so crafting a coherent narrative and incorporating keywords contextually is key to success - lazy attempts to simple copy/paste information verbatim from the job posting is easily identifiable.

Strategies For Success With ATS

Achieving success with ATS requires a strategic approach using a combination of techniques and best practices significantly increasing visibility/ranking within the system.

1. Tailor Your Application: Mirror Job Description  

Each application should mirror emphasized keywords/phrases from the job description tailoring Resume/Cover Letter echoing language used to boost your compatibility score within the system - but as stated earlier, ensure you don’t simply copy/paste information directly from the job posting! 

2. Be Comprehensive And Contextual: Showcase Expertise 

While it's vital to include keywords, make sure they're embedded in a comprehensive and coherent description of your skills and experiences. Provide a clear narrative of your qualifications and how they align with the job requirements to effectively showcase your expertise.
Mastering the science of keywords and achieving success with ATSs is a crucial skill in today's competitive job market. Understanding the workflow, prioritizing keyword relevance, and using strategic optimization techniques can help you smoothly navigate through the automated screening process.


 At Maple Road, we offer a range of comprehensive career services to help our clients achieve their professional goals. Our expert CPHR-certified Recruiters and CPRW-certified Writers specialize create professional, ATS-optimized tailored resumes, impactful cover letters, and engaging LinkedIn profiles from the ground up, that significantly increase the chances of getting hired and standing out from other candidates.
In addition, our one-on-one Job Interview training, Career Insights and Job Search Guidance will further prepare you to navigate the job market with confidence. Let our qualified professionals help you take the first step towards your dream job and achieve success in your career journey! 


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Chris Castelino

Certified Resume Writer - CPRW

Certified Resume Writer with 10+ years of experience in frontline leadership, people-focused communication, and HR recruitment, committed to supporting job seekers in achieving their professional goals in Canada.

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