5 (of many) tactics for navigating an ATS (AKA Beating the Robot!)
So it’s no secret that as the job search (like so much!) has become more and more dependent on the digital, many applications now get ‘read’ by a computer programme before they even reach the human eye.
While these Applicant Tracking Systems (ATSs) have happily enabled recruiters to better manage the often overwhelming response to vacancy adverts that the web has fuelled by enabling anyone anywhere to apply simply at the click of a mouse, it has consequently made the task of CV creation, more of a ‘challenge’ shall we say, for allthose applicants.
As a result, writing a CV that navigates the boundaries of an ATS can produce a document that when read by an actual person seems to include superfluous information but remember you’ve got to get past the ATS first before you even get to a person!
ATSs are inevitably becoming more refined and sophisticated so the below points are generalist as of 2016 but since there’s no way to tell what the individual limitations are from the perspective of applicant, erring on the side of caution is always wise! So let’s therefore explain a few tactics that might on the face of it, seem odd:
1. This one is basic grammar anyway but in the main acronyms should usually be explained in full in their first inclusion in a document. Now this can cause space issues - but then there is a payoff when repeating the acronym as opposed to the words in full – however from the point of view of ATSs and the key words they may be plugged with, e.g. SLA or Service Level Agreement, RAMS or Risk Assessments and Method Statements) by including an acronym in full at least once you ensure you’ve covered both bases.
2. Repetition is the bane of any recruiter and one of the easiest things to overcome as a CV writer, however in some cases a bit of repetition is a powerful thing! As most marketing gurus will tell you, it takes around 6 times for the average person to remember a marketing message, and while we’re not suggesting you quite repeat yourself that often in a CV, whether overcoming an ATS or just the 6 second scan most readers apparently give a CV, then some key messages are worth repeating, since you can’t tell exactly what each reader’s eye might be drawn to (albeit clever science-types have studied eye patterns to help us, again it’s worth erring on the side of caution!)
3. In the main ATSs have trouble ‘reading’ anything pictorial: graphs, pie charts, photos etc. Now to be fair, if you’re applying for a design-based role, it’s less likely an ATS will be used as a recruitment filter because it’s only to be expected that applicants will be using their CV to illustrate their design skills. However for everyone else it probably isn’t worth the risk!
(This is why Googling images of modern CVs produces a plethora of cleverly creative approaches for Graphic Designers & Web Designers but rarely do such examples refer to other professionals and as yet, we haven’t heard of an ATS that can ‘read’ them. Therefore, while we at 4CVe continuously refine our own designs to reflect contemporary styles, for most clients we use the tools provided by Microsoft Word as opposed to Corel PaintShop or Serif DrawPlus etc., in order to ensure our clients’ CVs remain decipherable to an ATS.
4. Similarly many ATSs can’t ‘read’ anything in a header or footer, so putting your name and contact details in here isn’t wise either; instead you could expand the margins to maximise the available space.
5. On the plus side ATSs can’t count pages so the hang-ups of ‘2 page rules’ can be shelved, at least to a degree, although since eventually you hope your CV will reach a time-pressed human, this isn’t a licence to print War & Peace!