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4 Strategies to Beat ATS Auto-Reject and Get More Interviews

Updated: Jul 1, 2021

Applicant Tracking Systems have multiple functions designed to work together to create time and efficiency measures in the hiring and recruitment process for corporations big and small. Although job seekers are learning the importance of an ATS-optimized resume, the Auto-Reject Function is another method that ATS Software uses to eliminate job seekers and it is independent of ATS resume scans. The auto-reject function is also referred to as “knock-out” questions or prescreening questions that over 80% of the top ATS software is using to eliminate less qualified candidates. This presents a problem because qualified candidates who are ignorant of how ATS software operates are being eliminated by the same auto-reject questions as unqualified candidates. The top 4 strategies to beat the ATS auto-reject functions are strategies you can do yourself or hire professional help to assist.

Choose more positive answers when given choices during ATS questions.

1. When in Doubt Answer Positively

An application for a job is not the time to doubt your skills or be conservative. Sometimes applicants doubt the level of their skills when completing the prescreening questions of an ATS and end up doubting themselves right out of a job they were qualified for. Doubt and conservative self-assessments make honest but qualified applicants undervalue themselves from a misconceived notion that answering conservatively would be more honest.

As Founder and Executive Advisor of RCF Resume, I have helped many now happily-employed job seekers over the years get more opportunities and better job prospects with the simple act of explaining how the value of their experience is adaptive, not one-dimensional and that claiming that experience not only helps them as a candidate but also employers looking for candidates like them. As an example I reviewed an online application with a client when the following question came up, “Do you have 5 years experience as a General Manager?” her instinct was to answer no because she worked the last 5 years as an Executive Director. I convinced her that answering “yes” was an honest response because her experience included nearly all the same skillsets and functionality to the job she was applying for but within a different industry. Although ultimately, she turned down the job, she landed the interview and was offered the position because the employer was interested in her skillset thereby proving she was a qualified candidate. Most people have one job title but may wear many hats covering multiple job functions and they have every right to claim that experience.

When you are applying for jobs through an ATS, never lie, but don’t err on the side of caution either. Applying online is not the time to be conservative with your experience or skill level. Err on the side of getting an interview—you can always further clarify your skills in the interview. As an example, if applicant Joe is asked to rank his skill level between 1 – 10 and he estimates his skill level is somewhere between 5 and 7 then Joe should rank himself as a 7. His response could be the difference of getting auto-rejected by the ATS if the employer chose to eliminate all candidates who ranked lower than 6, or it could mean he now ranks higher and gets more interviews than the conservative candidate who ranked themselves as a 5. He can always explain why he chose that rank at the interview if asked. The best strategy is to remain honest but to claim the upper hand when at all possible.

Alternatively, if Joe knowingly ranks himself as a 9 when he estimates his skill between 5 and 7 to pass the ATS, he might face the scrutiny of having to explain a level he is clearly not knowledgeable in. When his skill level falls short of his self-ranked score, he not only looks inept in the interview but he is viewed as someone unable to properly gauge their own skill level which is a big risk for a hiring manager. There are additional reasons why being honest with qualifications is important.

Lying on application could mean getting tagged as a "Never Hire" candidate in the ATS.

2. Apply to jobs you Are Qualified but NEVER Lie to Pass an ATS

While keeping the above tactics in mind, the easiest way to beat the ATS system is to focus your job searches on positions for which you are qualified. Never lie to pass the ATS because it can have more long-lasting ramifications. Besides the embarrassment of getting caught in a lie in an interview, if it’s discovered that you lied in your application in order to get the interview, some of the top ATS software has a “never hire” function which will then prevents your application from being considered for any job with that company ever in the future. In the Taleo ATS Setup Guide, they distinguish their Knock-Out Candidates as “Knock out – Candidate” (KO-C) vs “Knock out – Requisition” (KO-R) in which KO-C candidates are marked as not a good fit for the company as a whole and KO-R is not a good fit for the position.

As you begin to understand the Auto-reject questions you may be tempted to answer falsely so that you are not eliminated from the candidate pool. However, if by some chance, you do get hired despite the lie on your application and it is later discovered, be prepared for immediate termination., a legal services firm asserts that lying on your application could even provide legal or even criminal grounds against you if the lie caused the employer damages. Instead, focus your job searches on positions you are qualified for and instead get an edge on other candidates by bolstering your skills through services like or, or outshine your competition by being better prepared for the open-ended short answer questions.

Research the companies you apply to before answering company culture questions.

3. Do Your Research

There are some auto-reject questions that have predefined answers that you can’t alter but questions with open-ended provide a chance to shine if you do your research and know-how

to the best answer for that job. Predefined questions like, “Do you have a bachelor’s degree?” are yes/no and there is no way to work around them or answer better than someone else. However, for companies who include company culture knock-out questions to further identify quality candidates (i.e., by eliminating more candidates who do not fit into the culture) there is an opportunity to pass these questions by doing some simple research. Talk to people who work at the company, search for articles or company websites for an answer. For instanc