Creating ATS-Friendly CVs
What is an ATS?
If you’ve ever applied for a job you thought you’d be perfect for, only to receive no response, it’s likely that you’ve unknowingly encountered the judgment of an applicant tracking system (ATS). An applicant tracking system is an increasingly popular software application used by recruiters and hiring managers to narrow down their applicant pool to the candidates who are most appropriate for the role they want to fill. Once the ATS filters out approximately 75% of all the applicants, the hiring managers will manually sort through the remaining 25% of applications. While this is advantageous to hiring managers, as they no longer have to read hundreds of applications daily, it means candidates have to make some adjustments to increase the chances of their CVs making it to a hiring manager’s desk.
Although design software, such as InDesign and Illustrator, gives candidates the opportunity to be more creative with their CV layout, it is highly unlikely that an ATS will be able to read CVs submitted in such file types. As a result, CVs in this format will be immediately discarded. Even though online job portals generally accept PDF files, ATS software is unlikely to be able to extract all the text from a PDF. ATS software typically cannot identify text if it is in the header or footer of a document; therefore, it is a good idea to avoid headers and footers entirely. Similarly, while charts and graphs are a compelling way to indicate your skills, such graphics are unreadable to an ATS. Finally, though it may be tempting to make your CV stand out by using a unique font, there’s a good chance that an ATS won’t recognize fonts that don’t come preinstalled on typical word processors. The safest file types to submit your CV in are Word (.doc or .docx) or Text (.txt) files, using only text in standard fonts. Making sure you meet these requirements will ensure that you make it through the preliminary requirement of an ATS- having a readable file.
Having a readable file is just the first hurdle to cross when writing an ATS-friendly CV. In order to ensure that an ATS doesn’t filter out desirable candidates, hiring managers can give the software specific criteria to sort applications. Typical criteria include the number of years of work experience and the level of education of candidates. Using standard vocabulary in your subheadings (E.g. ‘education’ and ‘work experience’) makes it easier for an ATS to identify this information. Another very common way that an ATS determines if a candidate is suitable for a role is by searching for keywords in their CV. A hiring manager will input keywords specific to the role into the system and the ATS will scan CVs against the list of keywords. CVs that include relevant keywords are far more likely to reach a hiring manager. Once again, standard language works in your favour. While it may be entertaining to call yourself a ‘virtuoso’ instead of a ‘manager’, an ATS looking specifically for managerial experience will not recognize that you have any. The job description of the role you are applying for is a very good indication of the words an ATS will be searching for. Consider the skills required for your job, such as competency in certain software programs, and if you meet these requirements, be sure to focus on them in your CV. If you decide to use abbreviations, be sure to write them out in full at least once, as a hiring manager may not have inputted the abbreviated version in the list of keywords. Don’t fall into the trap of overstuffing your CV with keywords, as you are writing for a hiring manager as well, who may not have the patience for certain terms appearing excessively in your CV.
Though it can be stressful writing to appeal to an ATS and a hiring manager, it may be comforting to break down the process into two steps. Consider the ATS a barrier between you and a hiring manager. Once you have created an ATS-friendly CV, you can begin to tackle the 6-second resume test.
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