Automatic rejection for your job application? Here’s why

by Mar 18, 2022

Are you receiving the dreaded ‘auto rejection’ email when you apply to jobs? It could be that your resume is to blame.

When you apply to a job, it is extremely likely that your resume will be read by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). This is a type of software most companies use to streamline the recruitment process.

The ATS scans resumes and only displays candidates who have specific key words and phrases in their resume. This means that a human has not actually seen your resume when you receive an auto rejection email. That said, don’t use this knowledge as an excuse. You should always look to improve your application documents and approach, not blame the bots.

ATS software scans thousands of resumes at once. When you apply for a job, your resume is not going directly to the hiring manager or recruitment team. It’s first being scanned by an ATS.

Let me give you an example from my time working as a recruiter. I might be managing ten jobs in one week. Say I have 1,000 applicants per job, that’s 10,000 resumes to review.

Typically, my clients (hiring managers) will expect me to present three candidates for each role to take to interview stage. So if I have ten jobs and three candidates needed per job to interview, that’s 30 candidates I need to present. So in a week, I have to conduct a phone screening call and interview 30 candidates to present with notes to my clients to convince them to interview my candidates.

It’s nearly an impossible task. I worked insane hours when I was a recruiter and could not imagine tackling this process without an ATS to assist me. ATS also keeps all those resumes in one place, helping recruiters and hiring managers to stay organised. But the reality is, ATS also allows top candidates to slip through the cracks.


Keyword searches

Recruiters can filter resumes in an ATS by typing in certain words and phrases.

A search can contain multiple terms. For example:

Accounting Software AND Zero AND Forecasting AND Budgeting

Let’s say I was recruiting a Social Media Producer role. I’m going to type in ‘Instagram’, ‘Twitter’, ‘Facebook’, ‘Snapchat’ etc. into my ATS so that it only displays candidates with those exact words in their resume.

However, if a candidate just had ‘social media’ on their resume, but didn’t list the specific platforms they had experience working across, they would not be displayed to me.

I fully knew that I was missing out on suitable candidates by doing this. But if I could get that list of 1,000 applicants down to ten, and find my three candidates from the list, that’s it. The other 997 candidates would receive an auto rejection email. So only ten candidates actually had their resume seen by me, the rest I never even opened.


Automatic rankings

Some ATS software can also automatically compare your resume to the job advert. It can rank each applicant based on how well their resume scores based on the job description. Instead of reviewing every single resume, the recruiter only has to focus on the candidates the ATS identifies as a good match.


Recruitment realities

Recruiters get a bad rep, but they have an incredibly difficult job that is constantly under extremely tight turnaround times. I felt like I never came up for air when I was a recruiter, always rushing to find candidates to fill jobs by certain ideal start dates.

If you want a human recruiter to see your resume, it is essential that you optimise it for ATS algorithms. In the rare circumstance that a company does not use ATS, the recruiter will only take a quick glance at your resume and decide within ten seconds if they want to progress with your application.

It’s really important that you have the right keywords in your resume not just for the ATS, but also for the real human being that is only looking at your resume for a few seconds.


Apply, even if you don’t tick all the boxes

In my experience, job ads are often a list of ‘nice to haves’ rather than must haves. Most people working in their current roles don’t tick all the boxes in the job ad for their own job. Or jobs are based on a job ad used for over a decade, with constant additions to the ad making the actual role totally unrealistic.

So what do you do when you think you can do the job, but don’t have the experience to get past an ATS? You list them as skills you are ‘looking to build’ in your career objective.

I’ve given an example below; this is a Career Objective in a resume and a list of skills.

Everything in bold was in the job ad. And notice the last sentence starting with “develop skills in” – everything listed there is skills this person does not have but wants to build. That’s how you get those key words in your CV!

Positive and solutions focused business graduate looking to join a dynamic marketing team. I’m aspiring to manage social media strategy and passionate about following digital trends to inspire engaging content development. Working in retail boosted my relationship building skills, attention to detail and built confidence in fast-paced environments. Seeking an opportunity to apply my studies and develop skills in client branding, Adobe Suite, reporting software and email marketing campaigns.


Technical Social Skills
Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Google Plus, Twitter, YouTube, Blogs, Canva


Follow up with the company

Just because the company uses automation to streamline their search doesn’t mean you have to act like a robot yourself. Finding a way to show the employer how keen you are can leave a really good impression. Reaching out directly after you submit your resume is a great way to do this.

Knowing what I know about ATS, I would never consider my application complete until I find someone at the company to talk to directly.

How do you get in contact with the employer? I highly recommend LinkedIn. In fact, I got my current role by connecting with someone in the company directly on LinkedIn. But you can also connect on email or at a networking event to introduce yourself and show how pumped you are about their job. Even when you apply with an ATS, a personal connection goes a long way.

If you can’t contact the hirer directly, reaching out to someone else within the company could lead to your resume getting a second look. Send a note and make it clear that you’re super excited about this job. If you succeed in making an impression this way, the recruiter may go out of their way to find your application in the ATS and giving it a look.


To summarise, if you want to beat an ATS, it’s essential you have the right keywords and phrases from the job ad in your resume. Using the right words in your resume will also impress the actual human recruiter when your resume displays on their screen. Don’t use acronyms, spell out words exactly the way they are listed in the job ad.

After you send off your resume, find a real person in the company to contact on LinkedIn or via email with the goal of getting your application noticed by the right people!


Featured image courtesy of Unsplash

Steph Miller

Steph Miller

Careers Consultant

Steph Miller is an experienced recruitment professional and a Careers Consultant at UTS Careers. She helps FASS students and recent FASS graduates meet career goals through career education in curriculum and recruitment guidance in group coaching providing help with career direction, personal branding, networking, negotiation and interviewing techniques while staying up on the most recent career trends. She was also involved in the launch of Life Design at UTS after attending Stanford’s Life Design Studio for University Educators.