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How To Get Your Online CV Past The Robots

30 Apr 2019

We’ve already got some high quality tips on our site about creating a winning CV for traditional-style postal job applications, but how about the growing trend of applying for jobs using online systems such as ATS (Applicant Tracking Systems)?

Well, some of the same basic principles still apply, but you can tweak a few things to tailor your CV and ensure the bots pass it along to the human decision-makers.

Big recruiters who have to deal with thousands of applications for their vacancies don’t have time to sift through each application individually, so they now need some way of whittling down weaker applicants so that they are left with a manageable pile of worthy contenders.

Studies suggest that the machine-learning element of ATS systems can reject up to 3 in 4 job applications before they even reach the desk of a human being.

If you get just a couple of things wrong, then an automated system might not recognise some parts of your CV. Indeed, there’s a chance that they may not spot that it’s a CV at all if you get the format wrong.

So, here are some top tips for making your CV stand out from the crowd when robots are the first filter of the recruitment team.

Keywords Rule

In much the same way that Google and other search engines use the terms you enter to decide which list of websites they present to you, ATS systems also use keywords to sift through huge amounts of information to find the best list of candidates.

So, you need to make sure you use the keywords which are relevant to the jobs you are applying for.

For example, if the vacancy on offer demands someone who has previous work experience in a kitchen, then they ATS system will search through all the information in its database to find only those candidates whose work experience fields include some mention of ‘kitchen.’

Check the job ad, and the recruiting company’s careers site to see if there are any stand out words they are using. You could also try a Google search for your main keywords and check the ‘people also ask’ and ‘related search’ results for more specific words which might be useful.

Then ensure you get a decent sprinkling of those keywords throughout the various sections of your CV – like in the education, skills, qualifications and work experience fields of the ATS system.

One word of caution, though. Don’t overdo it! Google has now cracked down on websites which attempted to ‘keyword stuff’ their pages in order to try and game their system.

In a similar way, ATS systems are set up to spot ‘spammy’ candidates who try to game them by adding too many keywords. So, of course you need to include them, but only use them when relevant and try to add them naturally so as not to spook the robot algorithms with overuse.

Nail The Format

One guaranteed way to fail in your ATS job application is to use formatting which is invisible to the robots.

While you might have a PDF copy of your CV to hand, the particular ATS system you are using might not be able to recognise the Portable Document Format. So, if you upload one, your details will never get into the database, meaning you will never be found.

Usually, the Word format is more preferable, but, if the ATS system doesn’t explicitly state which formats are acceptable, then do a bit of digging around the help sections to see if that will give you any pointers.

One other thing to note here is that particular sections of your CV file could potentially be ‘invisible’ to the robots. For example, headers and footers are sometimes ignored, so make sure you don’t include any important information in sections which will not even be picked up by the ATS bots.

Game, Set & Perfect Match

As always, make sure that the details you put into the ATS system are a perfect match for the specific job vacancy you are applying for.

It’s as true with online CV applications as it is with offline CVs.

If the job ad states that you certain skills and qualifications are absolutely essential for the role, then make sure you include them in the relevant fields on your application. Otherwise, you will be a ghost in the machine. The robots will never choose you to go forward to the next stage of recruitment.

Beat The System, But Don’t Cheat The System

As with traditional CVs, don’t try to stand out from your fellow applicants by over exaggerating your skills and other assets.

Always be honest about your background and qualifications, because , even if you can get your ‘exaggerations’ past the ATS bots, you’ll get found out if a human then gives you a grilling about them at interview.

Some people have even tried underhand tactics such as including ‘invisible’ keywords in their ATS applications by writing them out in white text. The idea being that the robots will see the keywords, but the human won’t.

Suffice to say, those tactics rarely work and could get you booted off the system completely.

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