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Leader interview

Sep 21, 2021

How to write your CV for an applicant tracking system

When applying for a new job, it’s essential to know how to write an ATS-friendly CV.

Ever wonder why your perfectly crafted and customised CV and cover letter aren’t getting you interviews?

Have you stopped to think about how your application is being processed by the recruitment agency or school?

What you might not know is that most large recruitment agencies and schools use software known as an applicant tracking system (ATS) that is designed to scan CVs and remove the least-qualified candidates for a role. What this means is that a high number of CVs can be rejected before the recruiter or hiring manager even sees them.

It’s essential, therefore, to know what an applicant tracking system does and how to write a CV that will pass one.

How do applicant tracking systems work?

An applicant tracking system is essentially a database that saves and organises candidate information. A recruiting manager can use an ATS to access all candidates and their profiles, and search for the right candidate for a position.

At Explore CRS, we use an ATS that helps us organise and manage our candidates.

When you apply to a job or register as a candidate with Explore CRS, your CV is automatically saved into our ATS. The system will scan your CV, ‘parse’ or pull out information, and rearrange your CV into a digital candidate profile – the ATS detects the details you wrote and adds them to the corresponding fields in the system.

This process is useful for our recruiters because the CVs we receive come in many different formats and designs, and applicants often use different words to describe the same thing. This makes it tricky to compare candidates for the same role.

The ATS takes these differently formatted documents and converts them into a standardised list of candidates, allowing our recruiters to easily compare and shortlist applicants for a position. They can also filter candidates in the database by different search criteria depending on the position they are hiring for. 

How does this affect my applications?

If your CV is not ATS-friendly, your application might not be processed correctly by the system. This means the recruiter or hiring manager is unlikely to see your CV or application to a role.

To write an ATS-friendly CV, you must remove anything that might make it difficult for the ATS to parse your CV and pull out the necessary information. 

How to create an ATS-friendly CV

1. Include keywords from the job description

Most ATS identify the different types of information required for the digital candidate profile by searching for keywords in a CV. Recruiters can then search the database using similar keywords related to specific skills, qualifications or job titles in order to create a shortlist of applications.

You should make sure your CV contains keywords from the job description that match your skills. For example, if the recruiter has listed 'curriculum development' as a requirement and you have curriculum development experience, then make sure the term 'curriculum development' is listed in your CV. 

2. Design your CV correctly

The design of your CV can have a major effect on whether an ATS can successfully read it. Applicant tracking systems favour CVs with simple designs and a clear structure of information.

Here are some basic guidelines to follow to ensure your CV is formatted correctly:

  • Ideally, submit your CV as a Word document (unless requested to send a PDF) as these generally work better with ATS.
  • Use the same font and size throughout your CV – make sure the font is larger than 10-point. Stick to a dark colour for the text.
  • Don’t add too many photos, just a headshot is enough if required.
  • Left align your document.
  • Avoid using an unusual CV design. While it might look great, highly designed CVs are not easily recognised by applicant tracking systems.
  • Keep your information in the body of the document – don’t put anything important (name, email address, etc.) in the header or footer.

3. Include specific qualifications

If a vacancy requires candidates to have a particular skill or qualification, it's highly likely a recruiter will use an applicant tracking system to search for CVs containing that specific qualification.

It’s good to include a Skills or Qualifications section on your CV to ensure it is picked up in the search. Remember to list all of your relevant skills and qualifications in simple language that the recruiter is likely to search for. 

4. Use clear job titles

Recruiters will use an ATS to search for people who have held specific job titles, so it's important that the job titles in your CV match what they might have in mind. To get an idea of how to list your job titles, try looking through other vacancies advertised by the recruiter to see what language they use and then imitate this in your CV.

How can I check if my CV is readable for an ATS?

Save your CV in plain text

ATS often have trouble reading CVs that are too highly designed or formatted – when your CV passes through the ATS, information contained within your CV can become jumbled if it’s been formatted incorrectly.

To check whether any information may become disarranged after being parsed by an ATS, copy and paste the text from your CV into a plain text file and review the results.

If the plain text version is missing details from your original CV, if some characters are displaying incorrectly or strangely, or the information looks confused (such as the heading for your Education section appearing in the middle of your Previous Employment section), then you can be sure that an ATS will struggle to read and make sense of your CV.

next steps!

Why not submit your CV, either by applying directly to one of our vacancies or by registering as a candidate

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