Four tips for optimising your CV for ATS

ATS’ don’t mean you have to slip through the cracks…

With many organisations using applicant tracking systems to filter through high volumes of applications, you might feel it’s a little harder to make your CV stand out. But if you know how to utilise them correctly, ATS’ aren’t just a great tool for showcasing your skills – they could also be the difference in finding you the right role.

We’ve already covered what an ATS is, but here are our top tips to teach you how to make them work for you:


  1. Keep your headings simple

An ATS works by scanning your CV for relevant keywords, and categorising them in relation to the headings they come under.

However, it won’t recognise the headings it doesn’t have in its database – meaning it’s vital to stick to standardised variations (e.g. Work Experience, Employment History, Professional Experience etc.), instead of including any that are more abstract.

For example, renaming your ‘Personal Statement’ section to ‘About Me’, or changing ‘Work Experience ‘ to ‘Professional Contributions’ might seem like a great way to set your CV apart, but it could be the reason you don’t make it through an ATS.

The same goes for any new additions you might want to make; because adding extra headings that step outside the box will only mean that the information that comes under them can’t be categorised accurately.

So to be safe, just focus on including the essentials – covering Work Experience, Education, Qualifications, and Key Skills.

How to write a CV


  1. Clean up your formatting

The format of your CV is one of the key factors you need to get right if you want to stand out to an ATS.

And whilst you might be tempted to mix it up in the hope that recruiters will see your creative side, an ATS is more interested in simplicity. In other words, fancy graphics, symbols, logos, text boxes and tables will only confuse it.

So veto the frills, and focus on the facts. Although employers in some industries (e.g. design) might be looking for more creative CV layouts, most are keen on reading one that’s clear and concise – without any distractions.

Additionally, other formatting tools like headers and footers are probably doing you more harm than good; especially if you use them for important information.

This is because some ATS’ will simply filter them out – meaning anything from your address to your contact details could be completely lost.

CV layout: Dos and don’ts


  1. Be industry-specific

Every industry has specific jargon and qualifications associated with it.

And since these words and phrases often relate to the essential skills and knowledge needed to do a job, ATS’ (and employers) are primarily focused on looking for candidates with them in their CV.

That doesn’t mean you should include an acronym in every sentence , but it does mean that you should think carefully about your wording.

Using the job description to find the most commonly used ones is a great way to make sure your CV matches up, especially because most hiring managers will programme their ATS according to the requirements, duties, and person specification.

You can also find frequently used words and phrases by researching what kind of language the company website/social media sites uses, as well as the industry as a whole.

Lastly, make sure your qualifications and titles are written in both full-length and acronym format, such as ‘Personal Assistant (PA)’, to ensure your CV covers all types of keyword searches.


  1. Check for spelling mistakes

OK, seems obvious, right?

But although you’ll always be conscious of spelling errors putting a recruiter off, you might not have realised that getting one letter out of place could stop your CV from making it through the filtering stage. And let’s face it, that’s even worse.

Human eyes might give some leeway when it comes to minor mistakes (or at least have the opportunity to figure out what you’re saying); but an ATS? Nope.

So to ensure your CV passes through the filter, always read it thoroughly before you send it off – getting a second opinion if possible.

And remember: spell check tools won’t find every error that’s their.

What not to do on your CV

Common grammar mistakes to avoid on your CV


Final thoughts

Although these are great ways to beat ATS’, there is such a thing as overdoing it.

Because even if excessive keyword stuffing and jargon does help you get through an ATS, an illogical CV will only put off an employer when they get round to reading it – no matter how highly you ranked on the system.

So be sensible, tailor it to each job, and make sure ATS optimisation doesn’t cause your CV to lose all sense.

Remember: your CV will still need to be read by someone. All the ATS does it filter out the most irrelevant application.

And if you still don’t hear back from an employer? Express your enthusiasm by following up. That way, even if your CV hasn’t been picked up by the ATS, the recruiter will be able to search for it and potentially take your application further.

Four ways to follow up after your application


Need more CV advice?

It takes an employer just seven seconds to save or reject a job applicant’s CV. This means creating a succinct CV is absolutely vital if you want to land that all-important interview.

To find out how to make your CV stand out from the crowd, buy James Reed’s new book: The 7 Second CV: How to Land the Interview.



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