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How to beat the ATS so your CV or resume gets read by a human

Written by: Matt Craven, Managing Director, The CV & Interview Advisors
Published on: Apr 13, 2023

Beat applicant software

An introduction to ATS

With over 75% of recruiters and employers now using recruitment software to select and manage applicants throughout the recruitment process, it’s crucial that your CV or resume appeals to both humans and the “machines”. You may have heard people talking about ATS, which is an acronym for Applicant Tracking System. These are the overarching technology platforms used by organisations to manage their recruitment process, but it’s the CV / resume parsing and matching modules that we need to concern ourselves with.


ATS have the ability to match applicant’s CVs and resumes to the job description and ‘parse’ the data in your CV / resume into the ATS. Your CV or resume therefore needs to contain the right information so that the ATS judges you a good match for the role, and it needs to be in a format that the ATS can easily read and parse, so when the data is transferred into the ATS, the information is transferred to the correct fields.


Free CV and Resume assessments

There are a number of automated CV and resume assessments available to job seekers that claim to judge how ATS-optimised your document is. Be aware that the only true way to ‘score’ a CV or resume, as far as ATS optimisation is concerned, is to measure it against a job description or run it through a proper ATS.

It is possible for a CV or resume scanner to look for obvious omissions or errors, but if you take advantage of a so-called ATS scanner tool, be aware that receiving a score without a benchmark is flawed logic i.e., if your score is say 57%, ask yourself the question “57% of what?”.

There are some CV and resume assessment tools that allow you to upload your document and job description and these provide a much more useful yardstick. There are also some useful CV and resume assessment tools that provide hints and tips, just be aware that as far as ATS optimisation is concerned, some are more of a clever sales pitch than a tool with any scientific foundations.

Key CV / resume optimisation tactics

Aside from the effectiveness of various CV and resume assessment tools, the logic of optimising your CV or resume for recruitment software is still a good one. Here are some quick wins to make sure your CV or resume appeals to both humans and the machines.

  • The type of document you use for your CV / resume matters and Microsoft Word has historically been safer than PDF. Although many newer ATS are able to read PDF, some of the older technologies struggle with this format. Arguably, PDF is better for those ATS that are able to read PDF documents, so look out for any instructions when making your application.
  • When structuring your CV / resume, the format you choose is essential, and a chronological style is the most accepted format for professionals. Display your roles in reverse chronological order and avoid features such as sidebars and funky layouts as they simply confuse the parsing technology.
  • Graphics such as logos are not advised and headers, footers and tables can cause issues. ATS cannot deal with fancy formatting and they may affect your CV / resume’s appearance once it has been parsed by recruitment software.
  • Headings are also important! Firstly, make sure your CV / resume has headings, and secondly, make sure they are commonly used ones. Having a ‘Work History Synopsis’ may sound cool, but the bots won’t have the faintest idea what on earth that section is. ‘Professional Experience’ or ‘Career History’ on the other hand, is a much more optimised heading that matches what the software is programmed to find.
  • If you have an unusual job title, it may be a good idea to change it to a more well-known version. ATS are not programmed to find every possible variation of a job title, so commonly used titles are much more effective. If you are concerned about how a recruiter or potential employer might feel about changing your job title, you could use the more commonly used variant and add your actual job title alongside in brackets.
  • Having your job title, or at least how you professionally describe yourself, after your name, is a great tactic to signpost your CV / resume and help the bots figure out what you are.
  • Keywords are crucial as the ATS algorithm is looking for a match between the keywords on your CV / resume and the keywords on the job description. Ensuring you include relevant key words in your CV / resume throughout the experience sections and in your profile will ensure you meet the requirements of ATS. 
  • The general content of your CV / resume is also crucial, making sure the descriptions of your positions are aligned with the requirements listed on the job description.
  • Accomplishments are one of the most important elements of a CV / resume as far as a recruiter or employer is concerned, but some ATS are clever enough to look for £, % and other statistical indicators that you have succeeded in your role. Make sure your CV / resume is at least 30% focused on outcomes, and this can have a positive impact on beating the ATS bots and getting the attention of the recruitment decision makers.
  • Fonts can play a small role in your CV / resume’s readability, so play it safe and stick to common serif or sans serif fonts such as Arial and Calibri.
  • When using acronyms, it’s important to ascertain how likely it is that a recruiter will be searching on the abbreviation or the long form version.

Why not request a free CV appraisal by emailing it to, referencing CIMAATS.