What is an ATS compliant CV or Résumé?

When a large company posts a job advert they will expect to receive hundreds and sometimes even thousands of applications. The time it would take to read all of these applications can put a huge stress on company resources, and that is why more employers are using ATS software.

ATS means Applicant Tracking System.

An Applicant Tracking System is a computer programme which quickly scans through all the CVs and résumés to identify potential candidates. When fed specific search parameters the software can narrow down the search and weed out the applications which are either irrelevant, have been incorrectly sent, or are just not up to scratch.

Preparing your CV or résumé so it is ATS compliant is vital if you are applying to a large company who may be using the software. For smaller companies you are probably not going to find that they are using this as they won’t receive the same number of applications.

If you are unsure if the company will be using any kind of filtering software, you could consider contacting them to find out. In any case, making your application ATS friendly will have lots of benefits regardless of whether it goes through the filtering system.

“62% of companies using applicant tracking systems admit that some qualified candidates are likely being automatically filtered out of the vetting process by mistake.” ~

Terena Bell, CIO

Here’s how you can create an ATS compliant CV or résumé:

ATS compliant CV

Use the right keywords 

It makes sense that one of the most obvious ways an ATS software will narrow down a bunch of applications is to search for certain words or phrases. These keywords are not too tricky to find if you know where to look.

The job advert itself is the best place to start, and you will likely find enough from here alone to fulfil the requirements of a tracking system. Try to match your skills and experience to the job description, and look to amend words or phrases that mean the same from an old CV.

You may have the right skills, but if you don’t use the same keywords you are not going to filter through to the eyes of the hiring manager. Once you’ve picked the job advert apart and implemented as many keywords as possible, you can also visit the company’s website and social media pages to get an even better understanding of the industry.

Your CV needs to be tailored to the role and demonstrate your commercial awareness. You can only achieve this by conducting your own research on the company, the customers, and the industry. Here’s how to tailor your CV to the role.

“In the past, people thought that they could exploit the system by overstuffing their resumes with keywords, thus ranking them higher in the eyes of the ATS. This is a very bad idea: Not only is the software sophisticated enough to see this kind of keyword stuffing, if your resume does make it into human hands, no one will be impressed by a nonsensical resume dressed to the nines in keywords.”

~ Mark Slack and Erik Bowitz, The Muse 

Use standard job titles

When trying to make your CV or résumé ATS compliant you need to also consider your previous job titles. The tracking software is looking for obvious titles like ‘Marketing Manager’, which means anything else you may have used for the same role should be standardised.

‘Brand Champion’ may have been the snappy job title your previous company liked to used, but the ATS will most likely have no clue what that means. Using standard job titles is a far safer approach to take if you want to make it through to the ‘human stage’.

This doesn’t mean to say that you should drastically alter a previous job title so that it becomes incorrect. Instead, you need to look back over your illustrious career and edit any wacky job titles. Again, using your research and industry knowledge you should be well equipped to know the types of job titles the company uses and what the ATS software would expect to search for.

Here’s a great article on how to build your work experience.

Use the correct formatting 

To pass through some tracking applications you may need to ensure you keep your CV format simple. This means that you should refrain from using any graphics, pictures, graphs or charts, and anything else that strays from standard words, bullet points and subheadings.

You should also stick to using just the one font if possible, as more than one font could confuse the system and create issues with yours filtering through correctly. Creative CV templates can look fantastic, and we of course specialise in the design of these awesome looking templates. But when it comes to passing through an ATS system you may be better opting for something more conservative.

Don’t forget however that only larger companies may decide to use ATS, so you are free to experiment with a more creative CV template if you are happy the business won’t be using this filtering system. Further, not all creative CV templates make use of graphics or pictures, so you can still go for a more modern design if you like.

Here are some of our free CV templates that don’t have graphics, pictures or tables:

Remember your CV has to pass both the ‘bot’ test and the human test

It’s all very well optimising your CV to get it through the ATS but remember that if it passes the bot test, it’ll land in the hands of a human.

“Always keep both audiences in mind. It’s important to avoid the major resume mistakes that will cause an ATS to dismiss your application, but remember that a human being will ultimately look at your resume once it passes the ATS test.”

~ Amanda Augustine, TopResume

Optimise for ATS, regardless. 

Most of the advice given in this article is actually just as useful to anyone writing a CV or résumé – even if the company doesn’t use any filtering software. Everyone should use matching keywords and phrases to help the hiring manager see that you are the right person for the job.

An employer will receive lots of applications that tick all or most of the boxes. When faced with the tough decision of who makes it through to the interview stage, the successful few have to offer more. That could come down to presentation, layout, experience, or maybe the amount of relevant keywords which have been used.

If you go out of your way to conduct lots of research on a company and the role, you are in a much stronger position to write a CV or résumé that stands out from the rest. A generic CV will not give the employer what they want. However, a well tailored CV that uses the right technical jargon, keywords, and shows a clear understanding of the industry, will have a clear advantage over other generic applications.

Is your CV ATS-friendly? Find out – use our ATS-checklist!

2 thoughts on “What is an ATS compliant CV or Résumé?”

  1. I think it’s bad that companies use these and accidentally filter out good applicants. It also precludes showing some creative flair with your CV.

    • I agree Marcia, especially for creative roles. It’s just a time efficiency thing, but that’s a huge shame because quality candidates are sometimes overlooked.


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