Guide to Writing a Brilliant ATS CV, with Tips

Guide to Writing a Brilliant ATS CV, with Tips

Employers often receive hundreds of applications for a single position. It can take a long time to review each application. Today, many employers use software to scan, rank and shortlist CVs. These are called applicant tracking systems (ATS). Creating a CV that’s ATS-friendly can greatly improve your chances of success. In this article, we discuss ATS CVs and provide tips on creating a CV that’s more likely to pass this stage of the application process.

What does ATS mean?

ATS stands for ‘applicant tracking system’. This is an umbrella term for any software that helps recruiters or employers to manage and review job applications. While ‘ATS’ is the most common term for this type of software, employers may use similar terms such as ‘candidate relationship management’, ‘hiring software’, hiring platform’ or ‘recruitment automation software’. All of these are names for software packages that perform similar tasks, assisting employers with the management of their recruitment processes.

What does an Applicant Tracking System do?

The main purpose of ATS software and other recruitment management applications is to scan CVs and rank applications. The software can guide employers on candidates who are likely to meet the requirements of the role. They do this by searching for key words and phrases that match the job description and indicate the candidate has the necessary skills and experience for the job. They may also search for job titles, key duties from the job spec and educational achievements, such as degrees.

ATS software doesn’t filter out applicants, but it can provide rankings and a framework to help employers decide which applications to read in greater depth. This can help with decisions about which applications progress to the next stage. By ranking applications, employers can quickly get an impression of the most viable candidates and concentrate on reviewing their applications more closely.

Pros of an ATS

ATS software provides various benefits for employers. The main benefit is that the system can handle the time-consuming task of reviewing every application submitted for a position. In some industries, employers regularly receive hundreds of applications for every vacant role. Scanning CVs for minimum requirements and key skills can accelerate the hiring process. The systems also help employers to develop a pipeline of talent, by saving applicant details and building a database that hiring managers can use for future recruitment. In short, the systems can streamline the entire recruitment process, making it far more efficient for employers.

There are also some benefits of ATS for applicants. The use of these systems makes it easier to decide how to structure your CV, and which details to include in your document. Any ATS apps are likely to scan for requirements mentioned in the job advert and description. ATS software means you have a ready-made guide for what to include in your CV. With so many employers now using them, it makes sense to write your CV with ATS in mind.

Cons of an ATS

Although there are valuable benefits to ATS, it’s worth noting some of the systems’ shortcomings and drawbacks. These apply to both recruiters and applicants. The most obvious shortcoming is the lack of nuance in the software. While ATS software can scan for complex sets of key words and phrases, it’s possible that the system may miss a promising candidate because of a lack of experience in a certain area, or an unusual career path. This is a drawback for both employers, and for candidates who might not fit the job description perfectly.

Another drawback for employers is that ATS software, like all software, is not immune to bugs, crashes and other technical difficulties. Employers are putting their trust in a computer to do a job that the human eye is probably still better at doing. This risks losing strong candidates as a result of technical problems.

For applicants, the use of these systems by employers can make it harder to stand out from other candidates. Details that you might think add colour and personality to your application, helping you to stand out from other candidates, may be disregarded or poorly weighted by ATS software, meaning your key points of differentiation reduce in significance. As such, they can lead to bland CVs that don’t necessarily give a fair reflection of the applicant.

ATS software means you have a ready-made guide for what to include in your CV. With so many employers now using them, it makes sense to write your CV with ATS in mind.

Creating an ATS-friendly CV

There are numerous steps you can take to create an ATS optimised CV. Follow these tips to write a CV that ATS systems are more likely to rank highly:

Use a traditional CV structure and layout

The structure and layout of your CV plays a big role in how easily ATS software can scan it. It also helps you to include all the relevant information that ATS programmes are likely to scan for. Choose a traditional, reverse-chronological structure that allows you to clearly list your work experience and skills in a readable layout.

Pick a professional template

There are plenty of CV templates available to help you create a CV that’s likely to pass the ATS stage of any recruitment process. The best templates have clearly labelled sections, appropriate use of headings and an unfussy, linear design that’s more friendly to computer scanning tools. CVwizard has a range of easy-to-use templates that can help you to create an ATS-friendly CV.

Choose a suitable font

While it may seem insignificant, your font can be a factor in your chances of success. Choose a clear, readable font such as Arial, Garamond, Calibri or Cambria. ATS software is more likely to scan these accurately. For font size, go for a size between 10 and 12 points.

Reference the job title

One of the most valuable things you can do for an ATS-friendly CV, is to reference the exact job title in your document. You could do this in your CV header, by including a strapline or title to your CV, such as ‘Experienced management accountant’ or ‘Innovative senior UX developer’.

Identify and use keywords

Similar to including the exact job title in your CV, one of the key ingredients for an ATS-friendly CV is your use of keywords. These are words and phrases the ATS will search for in your document.

The best way to find suitable keywords is to read the job description. Look for words or phrases that the job description references multiple times, or anything listed as ‘required’ or ‘essential’. You can include keywords throughout your CV, such as in your CV summary, your work experience section and your list of skills. If you have a certification or qualification referenced in the job description, make sure you also include this. CVs that include these details are far more likely to rank highly.

Avoid abbreviations, initialisations and synonyms

One of the key things to avoid when creating your CV, is using too many abbreviations, initialisations or synonyms. While it might be tempting to include widely used initialisations to shorten your CV, you can run the risk of an ATS failing to identify it and missing vital information. Wherever possible, use complete job titles, phrases and names for software, machinery, regulations and qualifications.

Additionally, avoid using synonyms for key skills and responsibilities that deviate from those in the job description. If, for example, the job description calls for ‘interpersonal skills’, don’t change it to ‘people skills’ on your CV. Likewise, if the CV refers to ‘sales’, use this word instead of ‘business development’.

Use an appropriate file type

While ATS software programmes are usually capable of reading several types of file, the most suitable tends to be a PDF. When you save your document as a PDF, make sure you save it to optimise for accessibility, rather than optimising for printing. This should make it much easier for ATS software to scan. If the system you’re uploading your CV to doesn’t accept PDFs, save your CV in Word as a .doc or .docx file.

Expert tip

Make your CV ATS compliant, but also include some personal content. Use a clear structure, a professional layout and a suitable font. Read the job description and include keywords on the required skills, experience and education. However, also try to use strong verbs and engaging language, and include some unique and interesting facts about your career achievements, to make the document more interesting for hiring managers to read.

Frequently asked questions about ATS

Find answers to some of the most common ATS-related questions below:

1. Do all employers use an ATS?

Not all employers use ATS software to manage their recruitment process, but many do. In the US, estimates suggest as many as 99% of Fortune 500 companies use ATS to support their recruitment. For large companies in the UK, this figure is likely to be similar. Smaller and medium-sized firms are less likely to use ATS, though many software companies provide affordable basic packages. 

2. How do I perform an ATS check for my CV?

There are several steps you can take to check your CV for its compatibility with ATS software. Firstly, make sure your CV follows a clear structure with suitable headings and key sections. Ensure you’re using a readable font (size 10-12) and make sure the document has a clear layout. Consult the job description for keywords and include as many of these as possible in your CV.

3. Is a PDF or Word document better for ATS?

PDF is the best file type for saving and submitting your CV. While some older ATS software may not accept PDFs, most should. ATS software tends to handle the submission stage of the application, so you’re likely to upload your CV directly onto the system. If this is the case, the app will probably specify what file types you can use. PDFs are difficult to edit or tamper with, so they’re more reliable and secure than Word formats.

If possible, save your PDF in an accessible format, rather than optimising for printing. This format retains some background data and should make it easier for a system to scan it. 

Key Takeaways for an ATS-Friendly CV

In the modern jobs market, it’s essential to make your CV ATS-friendly. Your application is much more likely to pass the ATS review stage if you follow a few simple rules, such as using a clean CV template, following a traditional structure and using keywords from the job description. However, remember to also make your CV personal and include some interesting information for when the hiring manager actually reads it. This can help your CV to stand out from the crowd.

CVwizard’s tools and resources make it easy to create an ATS-friendly CV that also makes an impression with hiring managers. Sign up today and use CVwizard’s CV maker to create a winning ATS-friendly CV.

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