98% of big companies use applicant tracking systems to screen CVs before shortlisting candidates for interviews. Your CV will most likely go through ATS screening if you’re applying to a big corporation. 

Smaller companies in the UK also use ATS screening. It may be on a small scale, but they do, too, if they have a lot of candidates to attend to. 

When applying for a role, you must optimise your CV for applicant tracking systems.

The next question is, “how do I optimise my CV for applicant tracking? This blog will answer that and any other questions regarding how to beat ATS bots. 

What is an Applicant Tracking System? 

An applicant tracking system is a computer program recruiters use to examine employee prospects and streamline the numbers. Primarily, the software helps hiring managers create a shortlist of suitable candidates for a role.

You can think of an applicant tracking system as the facilitator of a preliminary test in your journey towards employment. 

It’ll look through your application and determine if you qualify to proceed to the next stage. 

Employers use applicant tracking systems because they make their work a lot easier. The average employer will get up to 506 offers for a low-skilled position and 56 for high-skilled ones

That’s where applicant tracking systems come in. 

  • These setups whittle down the number of candidates who applied for a role. That way, employers will only have to interview a few employee prospects.
  • Applicant tracking systems make it easy for recruiters to store candidates’ information in a central database. The data will include the CV, cover letter, and contact information. Having all that information in one place makes it easier for hiring managers to send feedback to job seekers anytime.

What is an ATS Friendly CV?

Put simply, an ATS-friendly CV is one you deliberately optimise for applicant tracking systems. You create these CVs so ATS bots can quickly scan through, score and recommend them for the next review stage.

A typical ATS-optimised CV will include an easy-to-read structure without any pictorial representations. It’ll also include relevant keywords and other additions to ensure it’ll beat the applicant tracking system requirements.

Optimising your CV for ATS increases your chances of securing an interview for a role. Hence, it’s in your best interest to know how to optimise your CV for the applicant tracking system. 

How an ATS Works 

ATS are multifaceted and have several features that make them applicable to almost every aspect of the recruitment process. Recruiters can use them to create job ads and also send job offers.

Hiring managers can also integrate ATS with job boards to streamline postings, organise applications and enable applicants to create profiles. 

Applicant tracking systems typically operate in the following sequence.

Candidate Sourcing

The hiring process begins with tracking down and encouraging suitable candidates to sign up for a role. Typically, the hiring manager will request applicants apply for employment. 

Most top applicant tracking systems have functionalities that recruiters can apply to this end. An ATS will enable you put up job postings on your company website, job boards and other email marketing means. 

Essentially, it gives you the means to reach out to job-seekers.

Accepting and Storing CVs for Review

Previously, most companies received job applications physically, often ending up as stacks of papers on the recruiters’ desks. Or, sometimes, it may be in emails scattered around the hiring manager’s inbox. 

That situation creates preliminary sorting and organising work for the recruiting team. They must first arrange and document all the applications before reviewing each.

Thankfully, the ATS removes the need for all of that. Firstly, a company using an ATS will require all applicants to submit their CVs electronically. The submissions go directly into the software, automatically and efficiently storing them in a central database.

Analyse and Cull Qualifying Candidates

Companies often get applications from both qualified and unqualified candidates for a role. Initially, it would fall to the hiring managers to review all the applications and shortlist prospects that pass. Now, that’s a job for applicant tracking systems.

In fact, it has become the most recognised and vital job of applicant tracking systems. They reduce the number of candidates by scanning through, analysing and shortlisting qualifying applicants.

  • ATS bots can execute their main functionality based on specific parameters the recruiters set for qualifying applicants. Primarily, the hiring managers tell them what to look for in each candidate’s CV. If you optimise your CV for the applicant tracking system to find the predetermined requirements, you pass; if it doesn’t, it’ll disqualify you. 
  • ATS bots also work by matching candidates to the job description. They can do this thanks to artificial intelligence, which lets them mimic the human thought process. This way, they can analyse a prospect’s profile and determine if they fit the role.

Some of the typical things an ATS scans for are academic qualifications, specific skills and past job experiences. So an excellent way to beat the ATS bots is to optimise your CV for these.

Sending Feedback to Applicants

After analysing all the applications and shortlisting qualified candidates, recruiters must send feedback and interview invites to the eligible candidates. 

Typically, that would mean sorting and sending emails to each of them.

ATS often have central storage for all applicant details. Furthermore, recruiters can integrate it with their mailing system to create and send feedback messages to all applicants simultaneously.

The recruiter only needs to create one general mail template containing all necessary information and push it into the system. The ATS will handle the rest by distributing the message to all the contact emails stored in its database.  

Tips to Optimise CV for Applicant Tracking System 

Consider the following ideas to optimise your CV for applicant tracking systems and hiring managers.

Tailor the CV to the Job

The number 1 rule in CV writing — write for the role. The world has evolved beyond one-size-fits-all CVs.

To stand a chance, you must optimise your CV for the applicant tracking systems and the job as a whole.

Additionally, writing for the role makes it simpler to optimise your CV for ATS. 

Your initial draft will already contain several terms related to the position. You won’t need to make many changes when editing it to beat applicant tracking systems or similar software.  

Do Keyword Research

The best way to write an ATS-compliant CV is to speak the language the robot understands. You should know what the bots are looking for and give it to them. That’s where keyword research comes in.

Applicant tracking systems typically work like internet search engines. 

When you need to find something online, you type keywords in a prompt, and the search engine generates relevant results.

Applicant tracking systems do the same for your CV. They search for specific keywords on your CV and grade it on a relevance scale. Hence, word selection on your CV can affect your chances of getting an interview.

The first step to optimising your CV for applicant tracking systems is identifying the relevant keywords for the role. Then, strategically place these keywords in your CV. 

Of course, keyword research is easier said than done. Keywords are consistently evolving, so it may be a bit challenging to get the exact keywords to use. That’s why most people decide to let professional CV writers handle the job.

  • You can find keywords by carefully examining the job description the employers posted. They usually hint at the keywords in the job overview and candidate specifications.
  • Considered the position and the industry while doing keyword research.
  • Keywords usually vary by role requirements. If you identify different versions of the same keywords, compare and pick the one most relevant to the position.

Use Standard Headings

Applicant tracking systems are fundamentally bots. They often incorporate artificial intelligence. 

But they’re inherently programs with preset values, features and conditions. So, they primarily operate on these parameters. 

A recruiter may understand and appreciate your creativity with the terminologies. However, you must beat the applicant tracking systems first, and that may mean sacrificing some creativity for standard measures.

An ATS will only recognise standard terms in a CV. Therefore you must always use universal terminologies, especially in your section headings and while writing. 

For example, an ATS is more likely to recognise “Work Experience” over “Jobs I’ve Done”. Alternatively, it will understand a ” Skills ” section over “Core competencies”. 

Go for an ATS-Optimised CV Template

How you structure your CV goes a long way in how the ATS rating comes out. Again, you must use a layout the ATS is familiar with. 

Some unnecessary additions or modifications can be why ATS bots reject your CV.

For example, graphics and symbols are not recognisable to ATS. Hence when you optimise your CV for applicant tracking systems, stick to text only. The only exceptions are bullet points.

Also, ease up on stylish fonts. We understand the desire to be creative and make the CV pop. But you may end up confusing the computer program, which may discard your CV as a result. 

A simple and sleek minimalist design for your CV is the better option.

Fortunately, you can easily avoid all these potential issues if you go for an ATS-optimised CV template. You can easily mimic CV designs for similar roles when creating yours. That makes your work easier. 

Best Format for ATS-Friednly CV

Word document format is the ideal file type for an ATS-friendly CV. Make the file name concise and relevant to the CV. 

PDF format may be acceptable if you want recruiters to see the document exactly how you designed it. 

But then, most recruiters specify the preferred format in the job description. So pay attention to that.

Highlight Skills and Qualifications in Bullet Points

You should structure your CV in a way that highlights your best career image. 

Position your skills, experiences and other competencies in a way that’s easily recognisable for the ATS bots.

The best way to write such an ATS complaint CV is to structure your skills and experiences in bullet points with clear headers. Don’t lump the items together to avoid confusing the applicant tracking system.

Proofread Your CV

A CV with typos or grammar errors is a red flag for applicant tracking systems. Since ATS operate with preset values, simple mistakes can make certain words unrecognisable. 

Those simple spelling errors can have significant repercussions on your chances.

Optimise your CV for the applicant tracking system by ensuring it’s free of mistakes. Read through your write-up as many times as possible. 

It’s also a good idea to let CV professionals review it before submitting it for your job application.

Mistakes to Avoid While Optimising CV for ATS

Following the tips above can set you up to pass the applicant tracking system tests easily. However, all your best efforts can get undone by simple mistakes. 

Below are some mistakes you should watch out for when writing an ATS-friendly CV for any role.

Avoid Applying to Multiple Roles in the Same Organisation

Applying to multiple jobs in the same company may confuse the ATS regarding your profile. 

The ATS may think your other submission is a duplicate and delete it. Needless to say, it won’t be pleasant if the ATS removes the application to your most suitable role.

For example, you could apply for a developer and logistics manager position in the same company. However, you have more skills as a developer and already have a well-optimised CV for that. 

On the other hand, you have a relatively good CV for the logistics manager position. But then, the ATS identifies your two applications as duplicates and deletes one. Unfortunately, the one it deleted was your developer profile. 

You just lost your best chance at landing a job in that company. The example gives a good reason you should apply to only one role per company.

Don’t Apply to Jobs You’re Not Qualified For

“Fake it till you make it” is sometimes a good concept, but never in this case. Don’t try to fake your way into a job role. If you do that, you likely won’t get past the ATS.

Some ATS can track all your previous job applications and compare them with the current ones. So, even if you pass the ATS, the recruiters may review your job application history and take note of any discrepancies.

Avoid Fluff

ATS are not humans. Hence they can’t get bored or excited reading your CV. However, they analyse and grade the relevance of all your CV’s content when scoring you. Hence the less irrelevant information you have there, the better.

Essentially you should optimise your CV such that it’s concise and easy for the applicant tracking system to read. 

Don’t attempt to stretch the truth. Refrain from exaggerating facts to make your application more appealing. 

Recruiters tend to recognise discrepancies during interviews. And, of course, it may affect your chances if you’re caught lying on your CV.

Don’t Try To Trick the ATS

Using relevant keywords is an excellent way to optimise your CV for applicant tracking systems. The caution here is to avoid loading your CV with keywords to outmanoeuvre the tracking system. 

Avoid spamming the white spaces between paragraphs on your CV with the keywords.

When you do that, it’ll only count as fluff and won’t add any value to your CV. Some people will advise you to do so, and yes, it may work on the applicant tracking system. 

But remember that humans will still review the CV after the ATS has done its part. Such tricks won’t affect the recruiter; in fact, they may have the opposite of the desired result.

Don’t Put Contact Information in the Header

This mistake is one of the most familiar several people make when creating their CVs. Most recruiters don’t program their ATS to recognise figures in headers.

Hence putting contact information containing numbers in the title can make it unidentifiable for the software. 

If you have yet to be successful in your previous attempts with job applications, this may be why. Therefore, it would be best to desist from indicating your contact information in your CV’s header.


You can optimise your CV for applicant tracking systems by using the right headers, keywords and CV template. And as described above, your CV’s structure will influence the average applicant tracking system’s opinion of it. 

All the above is easier said than done. That’s why The CV Expert has built a stellar reputation helping professionals like yourself create perfectly optimised ATS-friendly CVs. 

We offer CV writing packages for leadership, executive and mid-career roles. Contact us today to discuss your target roles, and let us get to work. 

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