The first set of ‘eyes’ on your CV may not always be human. I’m not being rude about recruiters. I’m talking technology. Technology is transforming the recruitment process, making it quicker and easier for recruiters to identify the best candidates for open positions.

Although not yet a widespread tool in UK recruitment, a growing number of recruiters and organisations are using Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) to help them manage applications, mine applicant data, and sift and rate CVs.

Jobvite’s 2015 UK Social Recruitment Survey reported that 73% of UK recruiters did not have the technology in place, but summarised that ‘The UK is approaching a turning point in the way its businesses recruit’ with ‘technology… a must within our recruitment teams’. The respondents that were using an ATS confirmed the benefits, with 75% reporting an improved ability to onboard candidates faster. In contrast, ATS have been around for some time in the US and have become an accepted norm.

If you are sending your CV directly to your target hiring manager or a warm internal lead, you can afford to be less worried about ATS requirements. If you are applying via a job board, or via the company website you need to consider the possibility than your initial fate lies in a robot’s hands.

How likely is this scenario? Applicant numbers will influence the likelihood of an ATS. Larger and global companies are more likely to use one than an SME or start-up, for example. Regardless, the chances that your CV will be screened by a robot are increasing, so it’s a good idea to find out how these systems work, and how to get around them.

ATS provide a central database of past and present candidates, allowing recruiters and employers to search for candidates that fit their specific needs. Automating the initial candidate sift saves both time and money.

There is more than one kind of ATS on the market, and not all are created equal. Different technologies offer different capabilities and have different tolerances, impacting how CVs are parsed. Whichever system is being used, there are implications for candidates, who risk an immediate rejection if they don’t know and apply the rules.

These tips will help you present your CV for ATS success.


Add Keywords


  • Keywords are critical. If your CV doesn’t contain the right keywords, you run the risk of it not showing up in an ATS search.
  • Avoid ‘black hat’ or unethical practices like keyword stuffing or hiding keywords in white font. Your CV still needs to be readable and engaging. Plus, as ATS evolve, they are increasingly looking for keywords used in an appropriate context.
  • Spell out acronyms, e.g. Applicant Tracking System (ATS).
  • Add a clear headline that reflects your current or target job title.


Signpost Content


  • Use clearly defined and obviously named headings (e.g. Profile, Skills, Experience, Education) to signpost your content. This will help the ATS to decode your CV.


Use an Appropriate File Type


  • Different ATS have different tolerances for format elements. Some systems can read .pdf and .doc files, and these are more likely to handle formatting. Those that can only read .txt or .rtf files won’t recognise or cope with more complex formatting. A job advert will sometimes specify the CV file type required, giving you a clue about the system in use.
  • Follow the specified file requirements or, in the absence of instruction, use a Microsoft Word .doc file, as not all ATS can read .pdf or .docx files.
  • Save your document using a meaningful filename so the content can be easily identified.


Keep the Format Clean


  • If you can find out which ATS is being used, you can research specific format requirements. If not, err on the side of caution and adopt a simple format, omitting graphs, charts, diagrams, text boxes, tables, horizontal lines, italics, symbols, borders, shading, or columns – single column presentation is best. Stick to standard bullet points rather than fancy symbols.
  • Make your font size 11pt or 12pt and select a sans serif and web-safe font such as Arial, Tahoma, Georgia, Lucinda, Calibri, or Trebuchet.
  • Left align your text.
  • ATS can’t always read or interpret header and footer content, so reserve valuable information for the body of the document.


List Each Role Properly


  • List the full company name for each position – even if you’ve held multiple positions with the same company – along with your job title and dates of employment.
  • Place any dates on the right-hand side.
  • List full years e.g. 2016, rather than abbreviations, e.g. ’16.


Proofread, Proofread, Proofread


  • If you misspell a keyword on your CV, you are less likely to make it through an automated sift.


Remember, Humans Matter Too


  • Think of the ATS as a gatekeeper that can pass your CV through to a human recruiter or hiring manager. Your content and presentation must appeal to these readers too.


Want to ace your CV?

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Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire

Lis McGuire is a professional CV writer at Giraffe CVs. She has 15 years of experience gained delivering interview-winning CVs and cover letters for professionals at all levels, helping individuals to stand out from the crowd in a highly competitive job market.
Lis McGuire
Lis McGuire
Lis McGuire

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