How to get your CV through ATS systems

Content ATS

Mention the phrase ‘ATS’ to some job seekers and it is likely to send shivers down their spines.

It is estimated applicant tracking systems (ATS) filter out 70% of CVs before they get read by a human. Add to this that there are over 200 ATS systems available, all working slightly differently and configured to the needs of a particular recruiter, and you can forgive the bewildered applicant for wondering how on earth to get their CV through this impenetrable barrier.

What are ATS?

Applicant tracking systems automate the initial sifting of CVs to ensure the most appropriate ones are put in front of the human recruiter. They work rather like search engines such as Google. When you type in phrases to Google it uses algorithms to scour the web and find the most appropriate pages. It does this by looking for concentrations of similar key words. ATS use a similar principle.

How do they work?

ATS systems work by analysing CVs against an uploaded job description and person specification. Just like search engines, ATS look at concentrations of key words and then rank the CVs in order to provide a list to the recruiter. This means you have to read the job description and person specification, look for the key terms and requirements within, and reflect these in your CV.

Tailor your CV for every job you apply for

Job descriptions can be written in a million and one different ways. You cannot write your CV for one description of a ‘financial controller’ and hope that the CV will work the same for other similar jobs. Your CV needs to be tailored for each job you apply for to give yourself the best chance of getting through ATS.  

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Use industry standard job tiles and headings

Job titles are important key words analysed by ATS so always make sure you use the most common industry understood title for what you do. Use standard headings in your CV so ATS can then understand the information under that heading. ATS can get confused if you don’t play by their rules. The days of nicely designed CVs are over – automation requires uniformity.

ATS friendly format

ATS cannot understand information in graphic form, so do not use infographics. They can analyse information more easily in Word documents than PDFs. Make sure all the information is contained within the main body of the Word document. Avoid tables or information in headers and footers.

Don’t stuff your CV full of key words

A key skills section is ideal for including keywords and you can adapt this for each time you apply for a role. However, you shouldn’t stuff your CV full of the same key terms. This can confuse ATS and lead to a lower ranking score. Ideally you want a key word repeated two to three times maximum.

Your CV needs to work for the human reader too

Remember, a decision on calling you to interview will ultimately be made by a human. The CV needs to look professional and be well written. Show the difference you have made in your work through specific examples of achievements and support these with facts and figures.

There is no magic wand you can wave to wish your CV through ATS systems. However, by adopting the techniques above, you can give your CV the best chance of getting your CV through ATS filters and in front of the ultimate decision maker, the human recruiter.

This article is written by Neville Rose, Director of CV Writers.

CV Writers are the official CV partner to ACCA Careers.

In addition to a CV writing service they can help with LinkedIn profiles, cover letters and interview coaching. You can get things started with a Free CV Review.

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