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How To Write An ATS-Friendly CV And Beat The Bots


When hiring, most organisations use software known as an applicant tracking system (ATS), which scans CVs, eliminates the least qualified applicants and creates a shortlist of the most suitable, all before a human has set their eyes on the applications. Fail to tailor or format your CV appropriately, and you may never hear back from an employer.



Written exclusively for Expat Network by Laura Slingo of TopCV


To increase your chances of beating the bots and securing that all-important interview, here’s what you need to know about what an ATS is, how they work and how to write an ATS-friendly CV.


What is an ATS?

An ATS is a piece of software used by employers and recruiters during the hiring process to sift through CVs and sort the wheat from the chaff.

The ATS was originally created for large organisations; they received around 50,000 job applications every week and therefore needed a way to efficiently collect, sort, scan and rank job applications for their open positions. Whilst around 98 per cent of Fortune 500 companies rely on an ATS to streamline their processes today, the software has also become a recruitment solution for companies of all shapes and sizes.

The result of this screening process? 75 per cent of applications are never seen by human eyes.


How does an ATS work?

An ATS is an electronic gatekeeper for an employer, and it is programmed with the job spec and a selection of qualifying criteria. When it receives an application, it parses the CV’s content into categories and scans it for specific keywords and phrases.

If the document does not meet the criteria, the ATS will assume the candidate is not qualified and will eliminate the application from the pool. But if the CV’s score is strong, the ATS will move the application on to the next stage, which is usually a human review.

There are no grey areas with an ATS ‒ it will treat your CV objectively. The catch is that if your CV is not formatted or written with an ATS in mind, your application may end up in a black hole, even if you are a perfect match for the role.


How to write an ATS-friendly CV

Here is a selection of musts to help your application avoid the CV black hole, make it through the initial ATS review and land in the recruiter’s inbox.


Optimise your CV with relevant keywords

To beat the bots, your CV must incorporate keywords that are relevant to the vacancy. Identify the important language by reviewing the job description and highlighting frequently referenced words and phrases.

Sprinkle these buzzwords throughout your CV, particularly in the core competencies and employment history sections. Don’t be afraid to mirror the language of the job description either, as that is what the ATS is looking for.


Simplify the CV’s formatting

Most ATS cannot read logos, graphics and charts. Whilst it may be tempting to design a creative CV, it’s not worth it if your application is going through an ATS ‒ the design elements will appear garbled or disappear altogether.

An ATS likes plain, standard fonts like Calibri and Arial. It also likes a clear hierarchy of information, so bold headings are a must as well.

Try saving your CV in plain text to ensure no fancy design elements remain. Then save and send as a Word document. You can save your CV as a PDF, but some ATS have difficulty processing that file type, so it’s best to play it safe with Word.


Do not include headers and footers

Often, an ATS cannot parse information placed in headers or footers. If text is included in those sections of the document, it will appear scrambled, and therefore, ignored.

Avoid adding your name, contact details and page numbers in the headers and footers. If you need extra space, decrease the margins to 1.5 centimetres. This will give you more room to play with without compromising formatting.


Proofread your CV carefully

As said earlier, an ATS is objective. Whilst a recruiter may forgive a rogue typo, an ATS won’t because it cannot understand a word written incorrectly.

To avoid silly mistakes like typos, proofread your CV carefully. Read your CV aloud as well ‒ you are more likely to spot the errors as you verbally stumble over them. You can also pass your CV to a friend or family member who can confidently proof your CV.


Final thoughts

Once you have a decent grasp of what an ATS is, how they are used and how to tweak your CV accordingly, it’s not impossible to beat the bots with an ATS-friendly CV.

But, you only get one chance to get it right. If you are doubtful, professional CV writers are on hand to review your CV for ATS compatibility, make the required changes and help you unlock your dream job.



Laura Slingo is a regular contributor to TopCV, the leading CV-writing service in the world. TopCV offers a range of CV-writing services including expertly written and keyword-optimised CVs, cover letters and LinkedIn profiles. Request a free CV review today.




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