Applicant tracking systems - how to beat applicant tracking systems Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS)

Did you know that many organisations are now using applicant tracking systems (ATS) or talent management systems (TMS) to screen candidates’ CVs? With so many applicants applying for roles, applicant tracking systems have become a vital bit of kit for many recruiters.

How Does the Applicant Tracking System Work?

In short, an applicant tracking system is a database system used for recruitment tracking and data mining purposes.  Applicant tracking systems are capable of automatically filtering thousands of CVs based on certain programmed criteria.  Such criteria will usually include key words, experience, qualifications, skills, schools attended and even how long you have remained in each position.  Most applicant tracking systems have numerous settings and filters to enable the recruiter to specify their requirements and cherry-pick the most suitable applicants. 

Applicant tracking systems save recruiters vast amounts of time and their popularity appears to be increasing year-on-year so you need to make sure your CV can make it past the system. 

Think of it as applying search engine optimisation (SEO) techniques to your CV to get it on to page 1 of Google.  Only here, you want to get to the top of the recruiter’s CV pile.

How Can you Beat the Applicant Tracking System?

Tip 1: Target your CV Towards the Role

Once you have found the ideal job advert and have made the decision to apply, examine the job advertisement very carefully! Call me old-fashioned but I always think it is a good idea to print out the advert and get hold of a highlighter pen and literally highlight all the key words, skills and  attributes in the advert, then pick up your CV and see how many of them appear in your CV.  If you are missing any, look at where and how you can slip them in.  If you don’t have a printer or like to be more environmentally friendly,  you can use the highlighter function in your word processor. Better still, you can use a free word generation site  such as Wordle, Tagul or similar.  Just upload your CV and the job advert, and their software will pick out the key words.

Do not bypass this step! Ok, it might take you longer to tailor each CV and feel like a bit of a pain in the *#$/ but you want this job, right?

Tip 2: Submit your CV in as a Word Document

People are either a fan of submitting their CVs in either Word or PDF format but I have to urge you to submit your CV as a Word document.  Why?  Because I said so.  Joking aside, whilst a PDF does look good, some ATS systems are not that great at extrapolating key criteria from them, although I hear they are getting better.

If you send off your CV as a PDF because you are worried about information being secure or getting changed, be assured that many recruiters are governed by strict data protection regulation to ensure your data is safe. Plus, they do like to chop your CV about a bit when forwarding your details on to their clients to stop the client contacting you directly, meaning their lose their commission. 

So, don’t risk your CV being rejected, make sure you send a Word doc.

Tip 3: Simplify your CV’s Format

Applicant tracking systems are robots, they like to process nice, normal and simple-to-read CVs.  So make sure you stick to a standard professional CV format and only use popular fonts such as Arial, Courier or Times New Roman.

Tip 4:  Stick to Standard Headings

Applicant tracking systems easily get confused by unfamiliar headings so try to stick to standard CV section headings, such as:

Personal Profile, Qualifications, Professional Experience, Education, Skills, etc.

Tip 5: Update your Linkedin Profile

Why? Because some ATS/TMS software can integrate with Linkedin so your CV and Linkedin profile should closely reflect each other.  Take a few minutes to check the job titles, content, dates, education, etc all marry up with what is on your CV.

This is also a good opportunity to slip in some of the key words, skills and attributes you have been marking off whilst job hunting and scouring adverts.

You’d be amazed at how many people land new jobs from having a great Linkedin profile that shows up in recruiters’ searches.  So, that’s another good reason to make sure yours is looking and sounding great.  If it isn’t, contact us, we write CVs and LinkedIn profiles!

Top Tip 6: Avoid using Fancy Graphics and Decals

Applicant tracking systems can’t read graphics and don’t like decals, logos, pictures, symbols, shading or silly little icons.  Sometimes they also misread tables so avoid using useless decorative embellishments on your CV and minimise the use of tables.

Top Tip 7: Expand on Acronyms

A CV littered with acronyms can often be difficult for a human to read so imagine how confused a computer can get.  As such, I suggest you use both the acronym and the spelled-out form of titles, processes, systems, certifications, organizations, etc.

So if you have QC experience, I would suggest you use the term quality control and put the QC in brackets after the word to cover all bases, such as  Quality Control (QC)

Top Tip 8: Avoid Spelling Mistakes

I say over and over and over again to spell check your CV before you submit it.  An applicant tracking system will reject your CV if there are spelling errors or if it doesn’t understand what the incorrectly spelt word should say. Check, check and check again!

 Top Tip 9: Avoid Key Word Stuffing

Before you get all confused, I know  I said above  to make sure you include key words in your CV and that is very good advice.  However, there is a limit on how many times you use a key word in your CV without it looking a bit spammy and downright desperate.  Try to avoid using the same key word more than 2-3 times.  Think of alternatives, it will also make your CV read better.

Top Tip 10: Fit the Criteria

If the job posting requires either a Bachelor’s Degree OR 4 years of experience, make sure you have one or the other.  If you don’t, the system will automatically reject you.  Not only will you be left feeling deflated but pretty miffed you’ve wasted lots of time doing the steps above.


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