Applicant Tracking System - what it is and how your CV can pass it

Sue Foxley

By Sue Foxley

03 Feb 2015

An Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is software used by employers and recruiters to analyse the information from your CV and add it to a database. From this information, the system will assign you a score based on how well you match the job they are trying to fill and then rank and sort all candidates.

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What does an ATS look for?

The system analyses CVs, extracting information relevant to the role you are applying for such as:

  • Skills
  • Work experience
  • Education
  • Keywords and search terms.

This information is then sent to an internal database where it is accessed every time a recruiter searches for a particular job role.

When a recruiter searches for a job role, you are scored based on matches to that role from your CV data, and then top matches are then returned to the recruiter.

How to successfully pass the ATS

In certain instances, when applying though a recruitment website that uses an ATS, as many as 7 out of 10 CVs are not seen. Candidates with the highest scores do, while other candidates filtered out.

You can reduce the likelihood of being rejected by an ATS by optimising your CV in the following ways:

Use language from the job description. Look through the job listing to determine the skills required. Identify industry terms, buzzwords and jargon the hiring manager uses most frequently in the description and incorporate these words into your CV whenever possible and applicable — remember the ATS is looking for these keywords.

Remove images and graphics. The ATS breaks down the information you’re providing and sorting it into different buckets but it will not be able to read or understand an image.

Choose fonts carefully. Stick with standard web-safe fonts like Arial, Georgia, Impact, Courier, Lucinda, Tahoma or Trebuchet.

Get rid of irrelevant information. Only include past positions and skills that are relevant to the job at hand. Irrelevant positions are a waste of valuable space on your CV.

Don't use any special characters. Standard bullets are fine, but other characters (such as arrows) can cause issues that could prevent the ATS from correctly analysing your information.

Increase your skills section. Most employers use their ATS to search by specialised or technical skills. Make sure your CV includes any special skills you've attained, such as computer programmes, strengths, competencies and other abilities. Spell out your skills and include industry-specific abbreviations or acronyms that the employer may also search for when finding candidates with the right experience.

Create a customised professional summary. Include a list of bulleted achievements and qualifications that relate to the job description and desired skills.

Avoid spelling errors. The ATS will miss important keywords when they are misspelled. Avoid mistakes: Spell check, read your document backwards and have a friend (or two) look it over. You can never be too safe.

Place contact information at the top. Don't forget to include vital information, such as your phone number and email address. The ATS may even send an email after you’ve applied to the position with additional instructions — so check your spam folder religiously to ensure you don’t miss further communications.

Tailor each and every CV. Different adverts will contain different keywords and phrases. If you want your CV to be one of the top rated for each position, you must tailor your skills and experience to each opportunity.

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