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How to beat an applicant tracking system (ATS)

Updated: Sep 7, 2022

Optimising your CV for ATS is an important part of job searching in the 21st century. Without paying attention to formatting. keywords and other ATS-friendly elements, qualified and experienced candidates can slip through the net. An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a human resources (HR) software that acts as a database for job applicants. ATS are used by companies of all sizes to organise, search, and communicate with large groups of applicants. It's estimated that 99% of Fortune 500 companies use an ATS as part of their recruiting strategy. The market size of applicant tracking system companies is reportedly in the 350 range, though many of them have only a few hundred clients. The most common ATS are Workday, Taleo Recruiting, iCIMS Talent Platform, SAP SuccessFactors, Jobvite, Greenhouse, Bullhorn, LinkedIn Recruiter, Lever and Recruiterbox. Here are some tips on how to beat applicant tracking systems:

1. Tailor your CV to the job description

Generic CVs do not work well in the modern era. You need to customise your CV for each job to give you the best chance of being identified as a fit for the job. Tailor and tweak your CV headline to match the role, edit job titles and prioritise your most relevant skills and experience.

2. Match your CV keywords to the skills found in the job description

Optimise for ATS search and ranking algorithms by paying close attention to keywords you include on your CV. Keywords are most commonly the hard skills requirements listed in the job description. Include as many relevant skills and keywords as possible on your CV.

3. use long form and acronym versions of keywords

Recruiters and hiring managers may search by keywords when looking for candidates. Some ATS will only return exact keyword match results. For example... if you included the term “Project Management Office” without its acronym counterpart, your profile may not appear in a recruiter’s search for the term “PMO.”

4. Don't use tables or columns

Even though tables and columns can improve readability for human readers, they may cause parsing errors in the ATS. If using columns make sure its within 1 section so that the information stays together. Do not split pages in half or use fancy sidebars.

5. Use a chronological format

Formats that deemphasise work history, like the functional CV format, don’t work well for applicant tracking systems that count on more traditional reverse chronological formatting to understand an applicant’s experience. Recruiters are also most familiar with chronological and hybrid resume formats.

6. Use a screen friendly tradition font

For readability, it’s best to use a traditional serif or sans serif font. Some ATS will automatically change unfamiliar fonts which can alter the design of your resume. I suggest you use Garamond, Calibri, Cambria, Georgia, Helvetica, Times New Roman, Arial, Palatino, Tahoma or Verdana for the best results.

7. Use standard CV section titles

Section headers like “Where I’ve Been” in place of “Work Experience” may confuse applicant tracking systems, causing them to organise information incorrectly. I suggest using the following titles: Personal Details, Summary / Profile / Key Skills / Achievements or Accomplishments, Work Experience, Education / Qualifications, Training / Certifications, Volunteer Work, Awards and Honours, Publications

8. Don't use headers and footers

The information in headers and footers may get lost or cause parsing errors inside and ATS. Do not put anything important in a header or footer.

9. Save your file as a doc.x

A docx file is most compatible with ATS.

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