How to Get Your CV Past An Applicant Tracking System

It’s easier than ever for candidates to apply for jobs online, thanks to the introduction of applicant tracking systems (ATS). Candidates now have to spend less time job searching, and companies can screen a high volume of CVs more quickly. However, applicants might argue that applicant tracking systems can be too stringent at screening and sometimes filter out applications that are, in fact, relevant. So if you’re wondering how to get your CV past an applicant tracking system and increase your chances of getting a job interview, this article is for you.

12 Tips to Get Your CV Past an Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

Early ATS were such a costly investment that they were previously only used by fortune 500 companies or bluechip organisations. These days, applicant tracking systems have become much more affordable to smaller businesses. Even many recruitment agencies use them. Therefore, job seekers must keep the below advice in mind when applying for any job opening.

Tailor Your CV to the Job You’re Applying For

Applicant tracking systems decide whether or not a CV is a suitable match for a job by cross-referencing the applicant’s skills with those mentioned in the job description. So by tailoring your CV to the role you’re applying for, you increase your chances of being a good match for that role.

That said, your skills don’t need to match 100%. Even if you’re only 60% of the way there, your CV should get past an applicant tracking system.

Only Apply to the Most Relevant Roles

When you’re desperate to find a job, it can be tempting to submit job applications to every available role within a company. However, you should only apply for positions that are relevant to your skillset. For example, a candidate interested in a First Line Support Technician job wouldn’t fit the profile of a Chief Technology Officer and vice versa.

So if an applicant tracking system spots the same CV being submitted to multiple roles with wildly different skill sets, it may reject all applications from that person as spam.

Avoid Complex CV Formatting

CVs do look a bit boring, so it can be tempting to use stylish formatting to jazz yours up a bit. However, if you want to get your CV past an applicant tracking system, boring is best. Here is all the formatting faux pas you should avoid for an ATS friendly CV:

  • Colours
  • Tables
  • Columns
  • Skills ratings graphs or star charts
  • Photos
  • Graphics
  • Funky fonts
If you want to get your CV past an applicant tracking system, this image shows all the formatting errors to avoid
CVs can look rather dull so it’s only natural to want to jazz them up a bit but boring is best for an ATS!

Applicants applying for creative positions often have seriously stylish CVs. However, if you think it might have to get past an ATS, it’s good to have a plain text version to send as a backup.

Use Keywords Wisely

Studying the job description carefully should divulge clues on which essential keywords you should use in your CV. You should use these keywords several times throughout your CV but take care not to make it seem spammy.

For Example, let’s say you’re applying for the role below:

Excerpt from a job advert with all the keywords circled that should appear in your CV
The keywords you should include in your CV if you want to be a good match for this job.

As you can see, we have highlighted all the key skills for this job posting. Listing all the skills you’ve used throughout your previous work experience is the ideal way to include the keywords without making your CV seem spammy.

It doesn’t matter if you don’t have the same job title as the one you are applying for. However, if you are applying for a Senior Software Developer, as in the example above, an ATS may search your CV for the keyword ‘Software Developer’.

Incorporate a Skills Section or a Summary of Qualifications

So what if you have the skills an employer is looking for, but you have never used them throughout your previous work history? Including a skills section, a summary of qualifications or courses you have attended is an excellent way to include these keywords in your CV.

Don’t Lie or Embellish Your Skills to Get Past an Applicant Tracking System

There are a couple of tactics candidates use to get past applicant tracking systems that you should avoid at all costs.

  1. The first sneaky tactic is to simply list all the keywords you think a hiring manager wants to see on your CV in tiny white text at the bottom of your document.
  2. The second is very similar to the above but requires less imagination: What you do is copy the entire job description and paste it in tiny white print at the bottom of the document.

In both cases, the candidate thinks they have been cunning: By including precisely the information the ATS is looking for, they believe it will be an exact match for the role. At the same time, they think they have been geniuses in hiding their sneakiness.

In actual fact, they’ve shot themselves in the foot and here’s why: Remember above when we said to avoid fancy formatting? In this case, we’re talking about colours. The applicant tracking system converts all text to black to ensure that the hiring manager doesn’t miss anything important. So the hiring manager will see what this candidate has done, and their CV will end up in the rejection pile.

If the company doesn’t use an ATS, you may manage to get an interview using this tactic. However, you will still need to give examples of your skills during an interview so it’s still best not to lie or embellish your skills, or you could find yourself in a bad interview situation.

Candidate applying for a job via mobile
Applicant tracking systems have made it easier than ever to apply for jobs online but are often criticised for being too stringent.

Don’t Worry About Length

The reason people often use complex formatting is that they want to squeeze more information into a smaller space. This is because they believe that a CV should be two sides of A4 and no more. Actually, that’s not strictly true; applicant tracking systems will rarely reject CVs that are longer than two sides.

Of course, a CV shouldn’t be too wordy, so keep to concise bullet points rather than lengthy paragraphs. However, you shouldn’t worry too much if it spreads onto a third or even a fourth page.

Make Your CV Readable by Both Humans and Robots

More important than its length is that a CV must be readable by both Humans and AI robots. While AI robots don’t discriminate on fonts, hiring managers do get tired when they’re reading CVs all day. Sticking to the same font throughout your CV will make it easier for the reviewer’s eyes. Make section headings stand out by changing the size and using bold text.

Serif fonts are easier on the eyes — such as Cambria, Didot, Georgia and Times. However, certain sans serif fonts are also acceptable, the best choices being Arial, Avenir, Calibri and Helvetica.

A visual of all the most suitable CV fonts
The most suitable fonts to choose for a CV.

Always Include Dates of Employment

Hiring managers want to see dates of employment and how your experience has progressed throughout your career. Employers may also be wanting to see a minimum level of experience, for management-level positions, for example. Therefore, companies will often set up their ATS systems to screen out CVs that don’t include dates.

Hiring managers may also want to see that you have no gaps in your CV and that you’re not a job hopper.

Be Consistent With Your Personal Brand

Most employers check a candidate’s social media profiles before inviting them to interview. So whoever you claim to be on your CV must be consistent with your personal branding on social media.

Use The Right File Type

PDF is always the best file format to save a CV in, mainly because it’s the most difficult for anyone else to edit or alter. However, some applicant tracking systems will reject PDFs, so having a .doc format saved as backup is good practice.

Follow Up With a Phone Call

Most applicant tracking systems will send candidates an email acknowledgement to confirm receipt of their application. They may also advise when you should expect to hear from the company if your application is successful.

It’s always a good idea to follow up on your application with a phone call. If you haven’t received an automated response from a company, it may mean they have not received your CV. Even though you may have submitted it, the occasional glitch in the system can result in the intended recipient receiving it.

Even if you have received an automated response but haven’t heard from the hiring manager within the time limit stipulated, it’s good to ask for feedback and find out if they have any other roles that might be a suitable match for you.

The telephone is a highly underrated tool in job hunting and when used wisely can yield unexpected results — don’t be scared to pick up the phone!

A Few Final Thoughts on How to Get Your CV Past An Applicant Tracking System

There is certainly a lot to consider when creating an ATS friendly CV. However, following the above guidelines will enable you to create a CV that is not just easily readable by robots; It will likely also impress hiring managers.

After reading this article, we hope that you increase your chances of getting your CV past applicant tracking systems. If you found it helpful, please share it on social media.



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