Don't let your CV get binned by the hiring bots.

Imagine this: You find the perfect job ad, invest the time to painstakingly customise your CV and cover letter, submit your application online and then anxiously wait to hear back from the company. Unfortunately, your CV is lost in the internet void and you're left wondering why the employer never bothered to contact you.

Does this sound familiar?

If so, you're not alone. What many job seekers don't realise is that nearly 98 per cent of organisations use software known as an applicant tracking system (ATS) that is designed to scan CVs and eliminate the least-qualified candidates for a role. This results in up to 75 per cent of CVs being rejected before the recruiter even sees them, and that the chance of your CV being tossed before it has even been read is painfully high.

Therefore, it is crucial to know what an applicant tracking system does and how to write a CV that will pass one.

What is an ATS?

An ATS scans and stores candidate CVs in a digital database that recruiters can use to shortlist applications based on keywords. A recruiter receives an average of 250 applications per job advertised, so it makes sense why they would adopt an ATS to help find the perfect candidate.

However, if the perfect candidate submits a CV that is not formatted for an ATS, the recruiter is never going to know they exist.

What is an ATS-friendly CV?

An ATS-friendly CV is one that will land on an HR manager's desk every time. It won't get held back by the applicant tracking system because it is correctly formatted and ticks each box set forth by the software. Essentially, it's the CV you need if you want to land your next role.

To write an ATS-friendly CV, you must eliminate any issues and incompatibilities that will make the digital gatekeeper think you aren't qualified. To get you started, here are a few things you can do to ensure your CV beats the bots every time.

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How to create an ATS-friendly CV

1. Include keywords

An applicant tracking system works in a similar way to search engine optimisation (SEO): by employing keywords. When you submit your CV, the ATS scans it and stores it in a database. The recruiter can then search this database using keywords such as specific skills, qualifications or job titles to create a shortlist of applications. The trick for candidates is to make sure their CV contains the relevant keywords that the recruiter is likely to search for. 

So, how do you find the right keywords to use in a CV? It's simple. Look to the job ad as a starting point. Nine times out of 10, the job ad will contain the specific skills and qualifications the recruiter is looking for. Your task is to make sure these keywords are listed in your CV.

For example, if the recruiter has listed 'project management' as a required skill and you have project management experience, then make sure the term 'project management' is listed in your CV. 

2. Format your CV correctly

The format of your CV has a major impact on whether an ATS can successfully read it and pick up on the right keywords. Follow the below points as a starting guide:

  • Submit your CV as a Word document and avoid PDFs (unless requested).

  • Use a font size no smaller than 10 points.

  • Left align your document.

  • Use at least half-inch margins.

  • Avoid using custom fonts, embedded images and unusual CV designs. They may be pleasing to the human eye, but they can create some serious issues for your CV when it passes through an applicant tracking system.

  • Keep your information in the body of the document, and avoid putting anything important (name, email address, etc.) in the header or footer.

3. Include specific qualifications

If a job vacancy requires the candidate to possess a particular skill or qualification (as many do), it's likely a recruiter will use an applicant tracking system to search for CVs containing that specific qualification.

Include a Skills or Qualifications section on your CV to ensure it is picked up in the search. Remember to list all of your relevant skills and qualifications in simple language that the recruiter is likely to search for. 

4. Avoid the fluff

When it comes to your CV, it's common to want to list all the special things that make you a wonderful employee – your willingness to learn, your positive attitude, your excellent work ethic. However, an ATS will not pick up any of these terms, so feel free to leave them out.

Stick to actionable skills and qualifications instead, as these are the terms that will help you beat the bots.

5. Use clear job titles

Calling yourself a 'Director of First Impressions' when your job title is simply 'receptionist' may sound witty and cute, but it will do you no favours when trying to pass an ATS. Recruiters will be searching for job titles that they know, so it's important that the job titles in your CV match what they have in mind.

Try looking through all the job vacancies advertised by the recruiter to see what language they use and then mimic this in your CV.

6. Clean up your social media presence

The jury is out on whether this is a good or bad thing, but nevertheless, some ATS software can also search the web to assess your social media presence - which is why it's important to maintain your online brand. So not only do you have to ensure your CV will pass the ATS, but your online presence has to pass this assessment as well.

Here's the good news: You can control what the ATS finds. First of all, check your privacy settings on all of your social media profiles and choose what you're OK with being public and what you would like to keep private.

In addition, remove any embarrassing or inappropriate photos, comments, or posts that may show up. It's always better to be prepared than to lose a job opportunity because of an inappropriate tweet from five years ago. 

How do I know if my CV is ATS-compliant? 

Save your CV in plain text

Applicant tracking systems favour CVs with uncomplicated designs and a clear hierarchy of information. They often have trouble reading information contained within fancy design elements and images; when your CV passes through the ATS, these details will become garbled or will be entirely left out of your application entry in the system. 

To determine what information may become misplaced or eliminated after passing through this electronic net, copy and paste the information from your CV into a plain text file and then review the results. If the plain text version of your CV is missing details from your original document, if some of its characters have saved incorrectly, or its information looks disorganised (e.g. the heading for your Education section appears in the middle of your Job History section), then you can be certain your CV did not pass the 'ATS-readability' test.

Request a free ATS scan

TopCV offers a free ATS scan as part of our free CV review. In the first part of the review, you'll receive an objective look at your CV's strengths and areas for improvement from both content and design perspectives.

In the second part of the review, TopCV shows you exactly what information an ATS will pull from your CV, what information it will be unable to identify and retrieve (such as your name, contact information, most recent job title and most recent employer), and what top skills and keywords your CV currently ranks for.

If the ATS is unable to recognise any of this important information or believes you're a fit for a job that you're not aiming for, then your CV did not pass the ATS-readability test and you should make some changes. You can also enlist a professional CV writer to help.

If you're unsure where to start when it comes to writing an ATS-friendly CV, submit your CV for a free review to learn where you can make improvements. 

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