How to optimise your CV to get through ATS filters


Mention ‘ATS’ to some job seekers and it can send shivers down their spines. Some may even come out in a cold sweat.

The truth is, as long as you follow a few golden rules, there is no need to overly worry yourself about applicant tracking systems (ATS).

Just as you don’t have control over the human recruiter who will ultimately make a decision on calling you to interview, so you don’t have control over any ranking ATS will make on your CV. For both, you just need to follow the common protocols of best practice in writing a CV.

Think like a search engine

ATS work like search engines. So, if you understand the concept of search engines then you can pretty much figure out how ATS systems work too. It’s all about key words and phrases. You type in a key word into Google and it will then display, in rank order, the websites it thinks best suit your needs. ATS use similar algorithms. They scour applicant CVs for key words and phrases that are most in common with a specific job description and person specification. Key starting point: Read the job description of the role you are applying for and highlight the key words and phrases.

Make sure your CV template is ATS compliant

ATS can easily be sent off track if we don’t follow their rules. They work better with Word documents rather than PDFs, so always send your CV as a Word document. Make sure all the information in the Word document is contained in the main body - do not use tables. As an alternative you can use the tab function if you want to arrange certain information neatly. Also, do not have important information in headers or footers, so make sure your name and contact details are also within the main body of the document. Finally, use commonly understood headings so the ATS can understand what information will be contained within a specific section. ‘Career history’ or ‘work history’ are fine ‘my jobs’ may not work so well.                                

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Read the job description and person specification

Once you have got your CV template ATS friendly, now is the time to work on the content. Begin by reading the job description and person specification. Look for key terms and phrases that are used more than once. These can include accountancy qualifications, accounting terms and phrases, job titles and IT or technical knowledge. Also look at soft skills and more cultural aspects of the company and role. Now weave these terms and phrases in the appropriate sections of the CV. You can also create a ‘key skills’ section as a specific area to include relevant key terms. This section should be adapted for different roles.

Tailor your CV for every application

No two job descriptions are written the same, so neither should your CV. Every job will have slightly different requirements and the more your CV is tailored to show how you meet these, the better your CV will perform. Do not rely on one generic CV, this is often the biggest cause of frustration for job seekers when applying for lots of CVs and getting no return. Tailor your CV for every application.

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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