Resume Robot

Sometimes a robot decides if you get the interview

You probably don’t know this, but when you apply for a job online your CV sometimes goes through an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) that scans your CV for keywords to decide whether to put it through to the next stage. In fact a recent BBC survey of 20 of the world’s biggest organisations discovered that 18 of them used some type of electronic selection. Scary huh?

Although smaller companies have been slower to follow suit, Applicant Tracking Systems (also called Automated Resume Screeners)  are sadly a cost-effective way of processing a large amount of application forms so it’s entirely possible that more companies will jump on board at some point.

Because it seems that it’s all about the money rather than a personal service nowadays – so I reckon that the more you know about these applicant tracking systems the better.

The good things about Applicant Tracking Systems:

  • They’re objective so no-one can make judgements based on your sex or perceived ethnicity. Recruiters aren’t supposed to, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
  • They keep you on record and look back at previous applicants for new jobs – which means you might even be put forward for a job you didn’t apply for.
  • They’re mainly still just being used by really large organisations.

Basically, they’re used because they’re financially viable for a big company. They focus on keyword recognition to make sure the applicant  has understood and reflected back the requirements needed to do the  job – which is essential to any recruiter whether they’re a computer or not.

A generic CV will not get you an interview so always needs to be tailored anyway.

How to get your CV through an Applicant Tracking System:

  • Key words are the daddy so you need to make sure they match the industry you’re applying for and put the most important ones near the top of your CV – which you should already be doing frankly, unless you’ve ignored everything I’ve ever written!
  • Make a note of the main keywords used in the job ad and made sure you reflect them back in your CV. You’ll probably be doing this anyway if you already work in the same industry.
  • Example: If you work in sales then some main keywords would be KPI’s, key account management, revenue growth, sales training, marketing/business development, positioning, negotiation etc. There should also be some specific industry-recognised products or brands, associations and training and measurable sales figures in your CV as well of course.
  • Make your CV really clear. Give it distinct sections and don’t use any graphics or tables. Focus on clarity, key words and relevant content to get it past a resume robot.
  • When outlining your experience on your CV you need to include what skills you used as well as the outcome.
  • I’ve read ATS articles that say keep your CV to two pages and others that say it doesn’t matter, so it’s anyone’s guess I’m afraid – don’t shoot the messenger! I always try to keep a CV to two pages but if I feel that three pages is required to say everything that might get them the interview then I make it three pages.
  • Don’t upload your CV as a PDF because tracking systems lack a standard way to structure PDFs and can easily misread them apparently. Although I have to say that I find this slightly odd actually as most online systems always ask for a PDF so the formatting doesn’t go all squiffy.
  • Don’t lie by using key words where you don’t have the matching experience because you’ll certainly be found out once a ‘real’ person reads your CV.
  • I think it’s best to assume that your CV will go through a tracking system because then you cover all bases and give yourself a better chance of selection however your CV is assessed

Additional resources

  • Because I’m not an expert on tracking systems, here’s a more detailed article on the BBC website about getting your CV through.
  • Get some  CV examples from the Downloads Section and see how to format your CV. Although it’s not a table, maybe remove the box round the personal profile if you’re uploading it to an online job board just to be safe!


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