How to Optimise your CV for an Applicant Tracking System

Published on: 12 Aug 2021



In today’s competitive job market, it has become increasingly difficult for hiring managers to shift through every single CV received for a role. Many companies now automate their hiring process through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS). An ATS is a tool used by companies to scan and sort CVs by filtering out those that do not match certain criteria. The vast majority of companies, both large and small, now use some type of Applicant Tracking System to streamline their recruitment process, meaning a lot of CVs can go unseen by the hiring manager if they’re not optimised properly. GAAPweb has put together a list of the do’s and don’ts to help you to get your CV past the Applicant Tracking System and into the hands of the recruiter. 


1. Do include keywords

When it comes to CV writing, it’s all about the keywords. Including the right keywords should always be your top priority when tailoring your CV to the job you’re applying to, whether you’re optimising it for an ATS or not.

Not sure which keywords to use? The job description will tell you exactly what you should include in order to tailor your CV to the specific role you’re applying to. For example, the person specification may state: “Advanced Excel skills and effective leadership skills”. Here, the job description has hand-fed you two keywords, ‘Excel skills’ and ‘leadership skills’, and it’s vital that these skills - if you possess them - are included in your CV. Keywords such as these will be programmed into the ATS software for each specific role, so the more you match the criteria on the job description, the more chance you’ll have of getting your CV past the Applicant Tracking System. 

Look out for the hard and soft skills listed within the job description. We advise highlighting each skill listed and ticking them off once you’ve included them on your CV. Ensure you take note of any technical requirements and include professional qualifications too. Many Accounting roles specify the qualification required, usually written similar to ‘Qualified Accountant (ACA, ACCA or CIMA)’.

But remember, only include keywords if they apply to you - do not include any skills or qualifications that are not true.


2. Do not over complicate it 

By this, we mean keep the format of your CV as clear and simple as possible. Essentially, your role is to make it as easy as possible for an ATS (and subsequently hiring managers) to find the key information that will help determine whether you’re a good fit for the role. Try to avoid adding text within tables, using fancy fonts or including images or graphs. This could run the risk of large sections of your CV being unreadable by the ATS and as a consequence, be automatically rejected. 


3. Do use subheadings 

Use clear, concise and simple subheadings to prioritise the information within your CV. Organising your CV into sections such as ‘work experience’, ‘key skills’, ‘qualifications’ will not only help you ensure the key information required is on your CV, but it also helps an Applicant Tracking System determine what information matches the criteria on the job specification. Again, don’t over complicate this by using complex headings - keep it as simple as possible by using universal headings the ATS will recognise. 

Similarly, organise the information within each subheading in a logical order. For example, for your ‘work experience’ section, we advise using reverse chronological order, starting with your most recent experience and working your way back. However, if you have included a ‘key skills’ section then we recommend listing the top skills pertinent to the specific role first.  


4. Do not abbreviate words

Certain abbreviations may not be picked up by an Applicant Tracking System, especially if they are less common. We understand that you’ll want to save space on the page where possible, but sometimes it’s necessary to spell it out to ensure the ATS can understand your CV. If you’re unsure, think about what the hiring manager will programme into the tracking software- will they abbreviate that word or phrase? If the word has been included on the job description always match how it’s been written, as this is most likely how it’s been programmed in the ATS. If in doubt, use both. For example “Chief Financial Officer (CFO)”. 


5. Do not submit the wrong file type 

Some file types cannot be picked up by Applicant Tracking Systems and therefore will be automatically rejected, even if you are the most qualified candidate for the job. Most job applications will specify what file types are accepted, but if in doubt, use a .docx format. 


For more CV advice from GAAPweb, visit our blog. GAAPweb also offer a free CV review in partnership with TopCV. To claim your free CV review please click here