CV Tip #10: How ATS can be your friend

Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are types of software that help employers and recruiters filter through CV applications more efficiently. But how can you ‘beat’ ATS to get your CV to a real person? 

You can’t ‘beat’ ATS. 

I’ve read lots of articles online with tips on how to beat the system and the truth is that you can’t. There is not just one ATS, but hundreds, and different companies use different Applicant Tracking Systems for their own purposes and they all work differently. However, like many things in life, although we may not be able to beat it, we can try to be friends with it and maybe take it out for lunch. 

How can you optimise your CV for ATS?

You may not be able to beat it, but there are ways that you can make the most of your CV within the ATS framework. For example:

Use keywords

Recruiters and hiring managers use job-specific keywords that ensure that CVs with the relevant keywords get past the first stage of the application process to be read by a real person. Have you studied the job ad to identify keywords and phrases and have you incorporated the majority of these into your CV (and cover letter)? It doesn’t need to be so stuffed with keywords that it doesn’t read well – remember the objective is to get a person to read it at some point – but it does need to be keyword rich. 


  • You are tailoring your CV to each targeted role, aren’t you? If not, you should be. A generic, one-size-fits-all CV is a waste of your time and the recruiter’s. Your time is valuable. Use it well
  • Have you included the appropriate skills on your CV? Have you incorporated keywords from the targeted role? Use industry-specific jargon as that positions you as an experienced specialist in your field 

Keep it simple 

ATS doesn’t like elaborate CVs with lots of bells, whistles and fancy graphics. Keep your formatting simple. 

  • ATS doesn’t read text boxes, tables, logos, headers and footers. So, for example, if you have got your contact details in a header, take it out as ATS doesn’t read the contents
  • Use simple bulletpoints, white space and a professional-looking font such as Calibri
  • If you use acronyms, also write them out in full as ATS doesn’t always recognise them eg volunteer for WHO (World Health Organisation)
  • Use CV sections that are standard such as Professional Experience and Key Skills as opposed to something more fun, but non-ATS-friendly such as Work Stuff  

Be professional

  • If you have an email address that is ‘fun’, change it to something more appropriate and professional, even if it is an email address that you just have for your job search
  • Are your contact details correct? 
  • Triple-check your spelling throughout your CV. Use online spellcheckers such as Grammarly or in-built ones in Microsoft Word and Google Docs and then check again. A seemingly minor typo or spelling mistake such as ‘Soles’ instead of ‘Sales’ can not only demonstrate a lack of professionalism, but also not get your CV past ATS because it didn’t include the keyword ‘Sales’ which is rather important if you’re going for a sales role  

Websites such as RezRunner and Jobscan can be useful to get a view on the key skills, but approach with caution as they score on word repeat from the job ad which you would never see on a CV. They also want you to pay, but if you are smart you can see the feedback for what it is and use the information to your advantage.

If you would like help with getting the most out of your CV, have a look at my other blogposts or get in touch with me at Career & CV Therapy. 



Photo by Ravs Yan on Unsplash

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