Is your CV ATS-friendly?

Yesterday, I was chatting with a visiting cousin; in the middle of that chat, she applied who for a job at Microsoft in Germany. She is a very senior manager and she is a definitely fit for that role – please take my word for it; her CV is also very well- written. Within 6 minutes of her submitting the application, she had received a rejection email on a Saturday; in another application to HP Germany I think – also yesterday, she received an email rejection within 8 minutes from India. You know that no Hiring Manager was available to judge her CV (HR recruiters can rarely understand senior professional CVs) on a Saturday and there is no way a CV gets received and read by HR, gets passed to the Hiring Manager and get rejected within 6 or even 8 minutes.

So… what did really happen? She was simply rejected by a software application, an Applicant Tracking System (ATS); ATSes are basically CV reading robots.

Unfortunately, ATSes are here to stay and almost all large (and plenty of medium- sized) corporations use them to pre-screen CVs. The current ATSes are more of the ‘1st Generation’ with a lot of problems in reading and correctly processing CVs. The result is that you can easily get rejected even though you might be the best candidate for a role.

Why do companies use ATSes?
It’s all about speed – that simple.

It takes very long time to go through seas of irksome and sometimes irrelevant resumes – it is really a tedious work. ATS can ‘immediately’ identify candidates whose CV do contain certain keywords relating to professional experiences and relevant skill sets that match a JD (Job Description) as it is defined by a company’s HR and/ or Hiring Manager.

Do ATSes work properly?

  • 75% of the candidates don’t make it past the ATS screening (2012 Study by Preptel Inc.)
  • The famous Bersin & Associates, (a California- based research and advisory services firm specializing in talent management – part of Deloitte), performed a test in 2011: they created the perfect CV for the ideal candidate for a clinical scientist vacancy. The research firm matched the resume to the job description and submitted the resume to an applicant tracking system from Taleo, arguably the leading maker of these systems. Bersin’s Results:
  1. One of the candidate\’s work experiences was lost entirely because the CV had the date typed before the employer’s name.
  2. Taleo failed to read several educational degrees, giving the impression that the candidate lacked the educational experience necessary for the job.
  3. The Bersin & Associates fake perfect CV scored only a 43% relevance ranking to the job because the applicant tracking system misread it.

Please understand, that these results are typical of most systems, not just Taleo\’s.

And in 2017, ATSes still have problems!

How-to prevent ATS- rejection -our 9 humble suggestions.

The good news is that you can try to make your CV as ATS- friendly as possible by following these suggestions.

#1. Avoid any artwork on your CV.
The CV Robot -the ATS will fail to read and process correctly any CV that contains images, emoticons, strange bullets (images) and any artwork. It would usually translate those into strange character which might lead into rejection and possibly deleting your CV and/or your application.

Please “Scrap inventive layouts, graphics, or artifacts that affect the readability of your CV”.

Tip: Never employ a graphic designer to create a beautiful CV for you – sorry!

If you are a creative professional, use a separate portfolio file as an attachment in the application.

#1a. Don\’t include any tables or excel- graphics.

#2. Keep all your fonts and formatting simple.

Avoid cute unusual fonts – ideally use only one single font for the whole CV.

#3. Why (we insist on) a CV in Word format

Usually ATS use OCR (Optical Character Recognition) software to processes a CV. Some of them scan your CV, convert it into some sort of text format, extract your information and experiences from there and then repopulate the relevant fields in the ATS application.

While most ATSes are nowadays a lot better at reading PDF files, it is still safer – and thus advisable- to use a Word file; ATSes seem to have less problems with Word format. (you can google it please).

#4. Use clear titles – especially when using headings.

Don’t expect the ATS to recognize the headings you used, if you have written a different heading than normal.

Don’t use ‘Fun Activities’ as a creative substitute for ‘Hobbies’, for example or ‘My Professional Life so far’ instead of ‘Professional Experience’, or ‘Special Business Abilities’ instead of ‘Business Skills’.

An ATS will simply skip over a whole section if it cannot determine what your heading stands for. Even worse, it could be placing your qualifications under the wrong categories, or misreading your headings altogether. It can be a mess- trust me please.

#5. Don\’t start your Professional Experience with dates.

Remember the Bersin -test above? ATSes look for company names first!

Rule of thumb (i.e. not 100% true) is to always start it with your employer\’s name, followed by your title, followed by the dates you held that title. Never start with the dates please.

#6. Use Targeted Phrases and (Key)Words in your CV.

#7. Simple Page Formatting rules
Use standard margins (so there will be no problems with the OCR of the ATS), left – justify your pages and absolutely nothing on the page- Headers and Footers!

Parenthesis- we still see/ receive CVs where the candidate’s contact information has been ‘eaten’ by our ATS because it was in the Header. Please avoid that.

#8. Acronyms- Avoid if possible.
New ATSes can handle extremely common Acronyms, but to be safe avoid them, unless they are repeated over and over again throughout the JD.

#9 . Use a longer CV if needed (only if justifiable).

An ATS will scan your CV the same way whether that is 2-page long or 200-pages. But go for extra pages if and only if there would be more relevant experience included and thus more keywords and phrases which would increase your chances of ranking higher in the system.

ATSes and Cover Letters.
Cover Letters are /can also be scanned by an ATS. Then the combined content of both items is taken into consideration by an ATS when ranking your application.

The same tips as the ones above apply.
The greatest thing about a good Cover Letter is that it gives you another opportunity to include more and varied keywords, which can only benefit your application.

So, please, so take advantage of that and -as a generic sound rule- never skip the cover letter! It does matter and a lot more than you think or can foresee.

In Conclusion.
Obviously, an excellent CV it is not automatically an ATS- friendly CV. You really need to invest the time to create a good ‘ATS- CV’.

And since you want your CV to get ranked higher in relevancy (so it does not get rejected) by the ATS, you need to customize your CV for every application you make, so your CV would be rich of keywords and phrases relevant to that specific vacancy.

Preparing an application that will get ‘approved’ by an ATS, and ultimately read by the humans who are involved in the hiring, doesn\’t have to be a time-consuming nor a complex task.

Btw, we did make my cousin’s CV ATS- friendly and it has passed the ATM screening, waiting to hear from a human next week.

Thank you and Good Luck,


About the Author: Irene Gloria Addison is the owner of HIREghana [Human Intelligence Recruitment], a Leader Recruitment Agency and HRM & OD Consultancy. Irene -who has a LinkedIn footprint of 30.000+ connections- and her team have also been constantly mentoring and coaching candidates on how to improve their job-hunting & career- planning skills.

Irene welcomes your feedback/ comments/ remarks/ suggestions via your email message to


© 2017 Irene Gloria Addison and © 2017 Human Intelligence Recruitment

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