How to make your CV ATS-Friendly

If you've ever struggled to get selected for the interview rounds with larger companies, but felt you were perfect for the job, then there's a good chance you were rejected by an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) before your CV was even read by a human.

Read our article on ATS here to learn more about how and why they are used.

Tips to beat the ATS

These are some of the key improvements you need to be making to your CV if you're going to start winning more interviews:

  1. Research relevant Keywords
    Extract relevant keywords from the job descriptions and make sure they are placed in your CV. ATS will search for these keywords to filter out applicants.
  2. Integrate keywords strategically
    Try to fit these keywords (skills) into phrases that describe your skills-based accomplishments in relevant sections.
  3. Expand acronyms
    Make sure to also include the full words if using an acronym for a relevant skill. E.g. Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
  4. Remove tables
    ATS often misread tables, reading them up and down, instead of left to right, and sometimes don't detect the information they contain at all.
  5. Remove text boxes
    Similarly to the above, an ATS can't always detect text in a text box (as stupid as that sounds). You're safer to avoid using them all together, and use other formatting techniques to produce a similar visual result.
  6. Remove graphics
    ATS can't read text in graphics so remove all images. Also, an ATS is unlikely to choose you based on your profile picture, so don't bother including these, it is a waste of space - however, as a caveat, in some countries it can be common to include an image of yourself, so tailor it to your audience.
  7. Remove unique section headings
    Stick to commonly used headings like Summary, Education, Employment and Skills. Don't try and be creative by titling 'Work Experience' as 'Career Achievements', this is only likely to confuse the ATS, and adds nothing to the quality of your CV.
  8. Avoid special fonts, font treatments and colours
    Don't try to be creative with the fonts, use a standard and clear font like Arial, Georgia, Impact, Courier, or Lucinda, and don't use any colour other than black throughout the CV. Also avoid underlining words, which can mess up the legibility of some lower case letters.
  9. Avoid special characters
    'Fancy' icons or bullet points are often not legible to an ATS.
  10. Avoid spelling errors
    While a human may know what you meant (although is likely to be unimpressed by the error), an ATS won't detect it as a keyword.
  11. Format work experience properly
    Don't start with the dates you worked there, or the ATS may register the date as the company name or job title. Use the following order: title, company name, city, country, and date, and order experience in reverse chronological order (most recent at the top).
  12. Remove headers or footers
    Don't include contact information in headers or footers since an ATS won't always pick it up. Also, avoid page numbers, they are completely unnecessary in such a small document and only confuse some ATS.
  13. Send a .doc file, not a .pdf document
    Some ATS lack the ability to structure PDF documents and therefore they are easily misread. Always save your resume as a basic word doc (.doc) or .text file.

Will these tips work for all ATS?

Some ATS are better than others at extracting data from CV documents, but it's within your interest to play it safe and make it compatible with as many as possible.

Testing your ATS-optimised CV

Many ATS will extract your CV data and store it on the database in .txt format, which can severely alter the visual appearance.

A simple way to see how your CV may look to a recruiter using an ATS is to export your CV in .txt format and judge the visual appearance of it yourself. Is it still readable?


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