ATS Scanners Explained (Plus 5 Quick Tips to Beat Them)

May 13, 2020


So, you’re searching for a new role. Unfortunately, you’re getting one rejection email after another – even for jobs which you’re really well qualified for!

What’s going on?

You speak to some friends. A few of them say something about ATS systems:

“You got rejected by the ATS system.”

“Your CV wasn’t ATS friendly. It’s been rejected by the ATS Scanner.”

Is your first thought… “What’s an ATS Scanner?”

Don’t worry!

Unless you’ve worked in Human Resources or Talent Acquisition, it’s unlikely you’ll have come across an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) before.

So, let’s take a quick look, get some answers…

…and tell you how to BEAT them!

What are ATS Scanners?

ATS Scanners are pieces of software that sift through resumes, manage interview schedules, analyse recruitment metrics…

…and ELIMINATE job applicants!

An estimated 45% to 75% of companies in Hong Kong use them.

An ATS Scan typically rejects 50% to 75% of job applications… sometimes more (up to 98%!)

Why are ATS Scanners used?

The job market is saturated with candidates!

Hiring managers now receive dozens… if not hundreds of applications for their roles.

Getting through them all is a lot of work, and some HR departments simply don’t have the manpower.

ATS Solutions allow them to quickly remove unsuitable candidates…

…and focus purely on the ones who are likely to be the best fit!

How do ATS Scanners work?

ATS Screeners work out who’s an excellent candidate and who’s not by:

Looking for specific job keywords in a resume.

Hiring managers often configure Applicant Tracking Systems to look for specific keywords in a candidate CV. Some modern ATS Solutions can also decide on the keywords by looking at the job advertisement.

These keywords can be core skills and responsibilities, toolsets, company names, education, certifications, and even, occasionally…

…random pieces of text (they’re not a flawless solution!)

The ATS Scanning software will then review a candidate’s CV to see how many of these keywords are present.

Resumes with a lot of the keywords present will be given a high score. Resumes without the keywords get low scores.

High scoring CVs get viewed by hiring managers, and low scoring CVs…

…end up in the trash!

Is it a perfect system?


Highly qualified applicants do occasionally get eliminated by an ATS System, just because their resume isn’t ‘ATS Friendly’, ‘ATS Compliant’, or ‘ATS Compatible’.

Again though, ATS Scanning is still used because it saves HR departments and hiring managers so much time:

Potentially missing out on a few great candidates is seen as a worthwhile trade-off.

So, what can you do to make sure your resume gets past an ATS Scanner?

Here’s 5 Easy Steps to ensure your CV reaches the next level!

TIP #1 – Cover Your Keyword Bases

Are you a Project Manager?

It sounds obvious, but make sure ‘Project Manager’ features somewhere in your CV!

Not only that, it’s SUPER important that you include variations of it too:

…project management…

…project managing…

…project delivery…

…project implementation…

…project planning…

By including a range of related keywords you cover your bases…

and decrease your odds of an ATS Scanner eliminating your resume!

TIP #2 – Know That Every Job Ad (and ATS Solution) is Different

Just like snowflakes, every job ad is slightly different…

…and so are ATS Screeners!

Where a resume for one job ad may score highly, the same CV, for the same role with a different company… may not!

Not only that, the exact same job ad and resume may not return a matching score when passed through different ATS Screeners.

You won’t know which ATS Scanning solution a company is using, so it’s good practice to try and make sure you score really well (around 80%):

That way even if your CV scores slightly lower on another ATS Scanner, it’s still high!

And importantly:

Tailor your resume to every, single job ad.

More work?


Worth it?


TIP #3 – Present Your CV in an ATS Friendly Format

ATS Scanners struggle with: Fancy, or unusual, formatting.

Looks great to you, sure! An ATS Screener on the other hand, it’s much more rigid in how it can read and review a resume.

It can’t read graphs, doesn’t know what to make of funky graphics, and it’s blind to images.

If your CV is 95% infographic…

…an ATS Screener is judging you on 5% of your experience.


Use conventional formatting, standard headers, and common fonts.

(Want a head start? We have FREE resume templates, and they’re all ATS FRIENDLY)

TIP #4 – Test it Yourself, with Mock ATS Software

The best way to make sure your resume beats an ATS Scanner?

Try it out for yourself!

A number of ATS Screening solution providers offer FREE signups and trials, so you can give your CV a test run!

(,, etc.)

Not scoring highly?

See what keywords they recommend adding, make some changes…

…and try again!

Keep going until your resume is an ATS Winner!

TIP #5 – Remember the Humans

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, remember that once your CV gets past an ATS Screening…

it will still be read by an actual HUMAN.

An ATS Scanner may love seeing a dictionary-style list of keywords, or job descriptions that are 95% keywords:

A human hiring manager, not so much!

Make sure your keywords are inserted naturally.

They should sit smoothly in your resume, massaged in carefully…

…not shoved in without any real thought.

It can be a tricky balance, but with a little practice (and a lot of common sense), you’ll get there:

A CV that impresses not just ATS Scanners, but Humans too!

There you have it!

ATS Scanners explained, and 5 Quick Tips on how to beat them!

Want one of our consultants to take a look for you, and make sure your resume is ATS Ready?

Take advantage of our FREE CV Feedback! We’ll be happy to give you an expert opinion.

Interested in some more job application tips, looking beyond ATS Scanners?

Here are a 4 more BONUS Quick Tips, looking outside your resume:

  • Network, Network, Network: Some of the best roles aren’t advertised… Someone on the inside knows they’re coming and refers a friend/colleague/acquaintance – Keep in touch, and have your CV ready!
  • Be active on professional Social Media: LinkedIn is a powerful resource, use it!
  • Scour job boards: Don’t miss out on an awesome opportunity just because you didn’t see it!
  • Reach out to headhunters: Recruiters are liars? You won’t work with headhunters? You’re missing out! Recruiters can help sell you to a company direct… take advantage of them – We’ve got a handy list of headhunters in Hong Kong to help you get started

Want an expert opinion before you submit your CV to an Applicant Tracking System?

Free CV Feedback Form