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How to Make Your CV ATS-Friendly in 4 Simple Steps

Hannah Mason
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How to Make Your CV ATS-Friendly in 4 Simple Steps

Hannah Mason • May 04, 2022

What is ATS, and how does it affect your CV?

If you're looking for a new job, then you’ve likely come across much advice on ‘How to beat the ATS’.

Perhaps you have even begun to wonder if the ATS is rejecting your CV and you’ve been feeling helpless at the notion that landing a new job now means getting past the robots before a human even sees your CV.

Wasn’t life easier when you could just print out a few copies of your CV and hand them to the Hiring Manager whilst you looked them in the eye and impressed them with your natural charm?

Now, all you hear about is ‘keywords’ and ‘parsing’ and ‘evil recruitment bots’. When did it all get so complicated?!

Well, the good news is, the above sentiments are only partly true. Yes, ATS is an important recruitment tool, but it isn’t out to get you.

Coming up

In this article, I’ll delve into exactly what ATS is, and what it isn’t, and will outline the key considerations you need to make about ATS in your job search.

I want to make sure that you are completely clear as to how ATS affects you as a candidate and what it means for your CV and job applications.

By the end you'll be confident to choose an ATS-friendly CV template, and write a CV that is completely compatible with modern recruitment software.

ATS stands for Applicant Tracking System

There are many different types of ATS, some are used by multiple companies and some businesses build their own custom ATS.

Every system has its own unique set of functionalities, but they all serve the same process, that is to help manage the recruitment process by tracking applications through the recruitment cycle.

How does recruitment work?

Without an ATS

When I first started recruiting, we didn’t have an ATS which meant each recruitment consultant was responsible for individually managing the incoming flow of job applications.

For me, this typically meant that I would advertise a role and then would start receiving applications into my inbox.

If I was feeling organised, then I would manually sort these emails into folders, or perhaps I would set up an auto filter rule on Outlook.

Only I had access to these applications and the candidates’ details would not be stored on any type of database.

I would then need to open each email and attachment and decide whether to shortlist or reject the candidate.

For the candidates that I shortlisted, I would then manually add them onto our database to continue to manage through the process. The rejected candidates’ details would be lost forever.

As you can guess, this is not a great system for candidates, or for recruiters. Visibility is very limited and it relies very heavily on the recruiter being highly-organised.

With an ATS

An Applicant Tracking System is designed to solve a lot of the inefficiencies and lack of transparency that can happen through the application process.

When my company got an ATS, the process changed dramatically.

Where applications were previously collected in my inbox, they were now stored in a centralised system that anyone in the company could access.

I would simply click on the position I was recruiting for and would be able to see all corresponding applications.

I could then look through these applications (for me, this meant scrolling through CVs in the same you would scroll through tinder, with reject or shortlist buttons for each one) and decide if the CV was a good match for the role.

All rejected candidates would automatically receive a rejection email and all shortlisted candidates would automatically be entered into my workflow.

Many systems will be able to track and move the candidate from initial application all the way through to job offer, including many smart automations to streamline the process.

The CV I would check was the same CV that had been uploaded by the candidate. However, our system did quick load documents and those with strange layouts would not present correctly. This meant that I would need to take an extra step to view the original document.

All CVs received for a role would be stored and associated with that role and could be searched through at a later date.

As I mentioned, different ATS have different functionality. There are systems that have smart filtering or ranking features in order to sift the most relevant applications to the top of the pile.

In these cases, the system will be ranking on a percentage match to the job description or will utilise some advanced AI functionality. However, in all cases, a recruiter will still be the one that reviews the CVs in order to decide who to shortlist and who to reject.

ATS does not make the final decision about a CV

Human recruiters are the ones that need to decide which candidates to shortlist and which to reject, it’s for this reason that I always recommend you write your CV for the human reader first.

Yes, there are tricks you can employ to ‘get past the ATS’ i.e. to rank as a higher percentage match against the job description, but if the recruiter reviewing your CV doesn’t like what they see, you simply won’t be shortlisted.

How does ATS impact you as an applicant?

As you can see from the descriptions above, ATS is designed to help your job search, not hinder it. It is essentially a data management tool that recruiters use to keep track of applications. ATS does not reject your resume or CV.

That being said, there are things that you can do as a job seeker to ensure that whatever system a recruiter is using, your CV displays correctly and can be searched through for keywords. There are also things you can do so that your profile ranks higher as a relevant fit.

As I said before, this is not a magic bullet and these elements are secondary to a CV that tells a clear story and demonstrates your value to a recruiter.

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4 steps for creating an ATS-friendly CV

1. Use a CV template that has a clear layout and structure

One-column CVs with a top-to-bottom layout perform most consistently and encounter far fewer issues across ATS.

Much like a human reader, most computer software is programmed to read left to right and top to bottom.

Any layout that doesn’t follow this structure can therefore cause issues, especially for less sophisticated software.

2. Standardise the formatting of your CV template

If you’ve ever uploaded your CV only to find that you need to re-enter certain details, this is likely due to inconsistent formatting.

Many ATS will take information from your CV template and assign it to certain categories such as education or career history.

Using consistent formatting will help this information parse correctly.

In particular, I always suggest that you should use the same format for dates, company names and job titles.

An ATS-Friendly CV Template Example - A Navy and Blue Bold CV Design
An ATS-Friendly CV Template - Available From The English Meeting Room

3. Ensure all the information on your CV template is typed

ATS can only understand what you have typed out as words.

It cannot interpret images or infographics. If you have used company logos for your career history or images to show your skills, you should change this to text.

4. Don’t save your CV as an image file

Your CV should be uploaded as a Word or PDF document, not a jpeg or png file. If you upload it as a PDF, you should ensure that all information will be picked up. You can do this by selecting all the text and copy and pasting it to a plain text document. If everything is picked up and still makes sense, you’re good.

Conclusion

If you follow the above guidance, then your CV is ATS-friendly and you can now focus on ensuring the content shows your skills and appeals to the human reader.

Don’t get sucked in by out-of-date advice that you have to use a certain font or font size, can’t include hyperlinks or any shading or horizontal lines.

This guidance may have been true for the very earliest versions of ATS but is not applicable today.

Just think about it, if a system was automatically rejecting candidates for these small indiscretions, recruiters would be missing out on a huge percentage of applicants for each role, the system wouldn’t be helping them at all. Why would they use it?

All of my CV templates are ATS friendly, whilst still be attractive to the human reader and drawing attention to your key accomplishments.