How to outsmart “ATS” CV scanners

In the modern world, many job applications integrate applicant tracking systems (ATS scanners) to scan your resume for terms that match those used in job descriptions. Say you’re applying for a consultant position, if your resume or CV uses the word “consultant,” the system will pass your application on to a real person.

Some ATS scanners are more sophisticated and take synonyms into account. However, older, exact-match systems are still in use.

Many online job applications will sport branding of their ATS vendor’s logo on their webpage, allowing you to do a Google search of how that software works.

If you cannot find this information anywhere, hover over the apply or submit resume button on the webpage and check the destination URL at the bottom of your web browser. If the company is using recruiting software, the destination URL syntax and key terms may give this away.

Beating the system

Applicant tracking systems are by no means fullproof. On the one hand, corporations need automation to help sort through hordes of applications. On the other hand, the human eye is much more sophisticated, albeit inefficient.

In addition to getting job-blocked by tech that can’t recognise different titles, your resume may get lost among mass applications because you used Times New Roman. Some applicant tracking systems have trouble reading serif fonts such as Times New Roman or Cambria.

Older applicant tracking systems use ocular character recognition (OCR) to gather information. If you’ve gone to the effort of changing words for every employer, you want to make sure those words get recognised.

When applicant tracking systems search the skills and experience section of your resume for certain keywords, the matches have to be exact. The solution is to rewrite your resume every time you apply for work, lifting words from each job post’s expected duties, responsibilities, and skills sections: use those keywords in your CV or resume.

You may also want to make sure your bullet points are perfectly round. Avoid using arrows or other intricate symbols for your bullet points in order to insure OCR recognition on older ATS scanners.

Avoiding PDF, HTML, Open Office and Apple Pages formats can also help. Plain text (TXT) and ASCII-compatible formats are easier for OCR processes to read. The trick is to create your CV or resume in Word, then convert it to a TXT file, then convert it back to a Word file. This will also give your CV a more polished, professional look.

The human element

Once passed through the system, the person who finally sees your CV will spend around 6 seconds reading it. You should use bold typography, spacing and round bullets where appropriate to highlight important information, and to draw the reader’s eyes to particular selling points, as we have done in this article.

Avoid using acronyms and pad your skills section with as many applicable keywords as possible.

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