Optimising your CV for applicant tracking systems

That’s why making a few simple tweaks to your CV could help you get a much-needed foot in the door.

How does an applicant tracking system (ATS) work?

An ATS is a piece of software that assigns each CV a score based on how well it matches the job criteria set out by the employer. It then ranks and sorts candidates, allowing those with the highest scores to progress and discounting those with the lowest scores. This cuts out a lot of the work for the hiring manager and should mean that only the strongest candidates progress.

How do I make the ATS work in my favour?

There are five simple ways to improve your chances if your CV comes up against an ATS:


  1. Borrow language from the job description. Look at the skills listed in the job description and use similar language so that you tick the right boxes. The ATS will be programmed to look out for these keywords. Include any special skills you’ve gained, such as training, awards and accreditations.
  2. Choose your font carefully. Stick with easy-to-read fonts such as Arial, Lucinda or Tahoma so your CV can be read by both the ATS and the employer.
  3. Remove images and graphics. The ATS won’t be able to read or understand these, so including them could affect your overall ranking. The same goes for special characters such as arrows and fancy borders or shading (bullet points are fine though).
  4. Refine the text. Take out any unnecessary waffle and stick to information that is relevant to this specific job. The more concise and relevant the text, the higher your score will be.
  5. Check for typos. The ATS may not recognise misspelt words, so check your CV several times and ask someone you trust to do the same. Even if you get past the applicant tracking system, the hiring manager is unlikely to be impressed by poor spelling and grammar.


Whether the employer is using an ATS or not, following these steps should give you a real head start. Make sure you include up-to-date contact information at the top and an introductory paragraph explaining who you are and why you’re the perfect candidate for the job.

While it’s time-consuming to tailor each CV you send off to the specific job in question, doing so is much more likely to get you through to the interview stage. It’s better to send off five excellent applications a week than 50 mediocre ones. Concentrate on the jobs you are really interested in and give yourself the best possible chance of success.


If you’re looking for a new role, check out our latest job vacancies here 


Click here for more careers tips and advice


Joy Tibbs is a freelance writer and editor who regularly contributes to Premier. Find out more at joyofediting.co.uk and find her on Twitter @joyous25

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