An applicant tracking system (ATS) is the gatekeeping software that employers and recruiters often use to help them shortlist candidates. It has other purposes, but this ability to organise and rank applications means you, as a candidate, need to know how it works. Armed with this information, you can then ensure your CV is appealing to the bots and the boss.
When it comes to ATS, it’s largely about ticking the right boxes. A human will still review your CV before interview – but only if the system determines that you make the cut. So how do you do that?
How applicant tracking systems work
Before we dive in to the 5 key elements you need to know in order to make your CV ATS-friendly, it’s good to have an overview of how they work.
Most ATS analyse different sections of the CV and split it into categories. Within these, it then searches for certain keywords, set by the recruiting manager.
Its purpose is to eliminate the least qualified, not identify the most suitable.
If you follow these 5 ATS CV writing tips then you’ll succeed in showing the bot that you are worthy of human attention.
1. The lingo of the bot – keywords
An ATS is like a specialised search engine. If you know anything about keywords for SEO, then you’re ahead of the game.
When you type something into Google, you’re giving it a keyword to search for. The same process applies here. Your CV needs to contain the keywords that match those set out by the recruiter.
The best suggestion here is to look at the advert, and the job description, if available. The candidate specifications in these will give you clues about the keywords being used.
2. Common job titles
Anyone from the world of work knows that a job title can be misleading. This is particularly true if your job titles, in your work history, have ever been particularly out of kilter with common job titles.
Try to simplify your job title to the most common version out there. For example, if your job title is ‘Crew officer’ but actually you do the role of a ‘HR officer’, then use the latter. Bear in mind, you may need to look up the language the employer itself uses for its roles. Head to LinkedIn and see what titles they tend to use.
3. Ditch the waffle
When thinking about keywords, it can lead you to think you need to dumb down what you’re saying. For example, you may think you have to list the term ‘teamwork’. You don’t; the technology is much cleverer than that.
What you do need to do is list experience and skills clearly and succinctly, in an evidence-based way. The ATS will be able to match this to the parameters set by the recruiting manager.
4. Formatting for ease
A good CV should be well laid out with plenty of white space and careful use of headings and bullet points.
This same approach makes it easier for the ATS to ‘read’ too.
Keep fonts basic and consistent throughout. Don’t use graphics, symbols or tables — they could confuse the bot.
5. Technical skills and qualifications
Let’s go back to our HR Officer example. If the job advert lists that you need to be CIPD qualified, make sure you use the same acronym in your CV, as well as listing the fuller version of Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development. The same applies for all qualifications, standards and technical skills that are required for the job. Try to include the acronym and the full name.
Write for humans
Remember; don’t just write it for the robots. Write primarily for the human audience and you will be fine. The technology behind the ATS has been shaped to mimic just this. And, once you’ve passed through the ATS, your CV needs to appeal to the recruitment team.
Andrew Fennell is the founder of CV writing advice website StandOut CV