Applicant Tracking System: How to create an ATS friendly CV

Finding a job has become increasingly difficult, with more large companies making use of Application Tracking Systems. Whilst the system has helped companies and recruiters, in terms of narrowing down their searches and finding ‘more suitable’ applicants, it has meant a more stringent selection process for candidates – getting your CV into the hands of a hiring manager has never been harder.

What is the Application Tracking System?

“Applicant tracking system (ATS) software is a centralized tool where human resources teams can manage candidate sourcing, evaluation, and hiring. Companies can track each part of the application and hiring process in the tool—from start to finish.”

Why do companies use ATS?

ATS is an invaluable tool for companies and recruiters who receive hundreds of CVs a day. ATS allows companies and recruiters to filter through all those CVs without spending hours doing so. By the time human eyes see the filtered CVs, only the ‘qualified’ are left.

What’s wrong with ATS?

As with all software, it’s not a perfect method. Unless you understand the complexities behind the software, it’s difficult to know how it works and how to beat it. On some occasions, a person may meet the requirements for the position but the ATS system has not shortlisted him/her for one reason or another. One of the major reasons for this is CV formatting and missing keywords!

How does ATS filter CV’s?

ATS scans trough CVs and picks up certain words. If you don’t have those specific words you won’t be shortlisted. At the end of the day it’s all about the ATS algorithm and how to optimise it. 

What should I do to make my CV ATS friendly?


  • ATS is looking out for words so pictures, graphs and infographics aren’t picked up and can sometimes confuse the software. There’s no need to add these extras.
  • The simpler the better. There is no need for fancy boarders or texts.
  • The document format also matters. Read the job advert carefully before sending your CV. Most will specify what format to send it in but if not, your safest option would be sending it as a PDF or Word document.
  • For text use Arial, Calibri or Times New Roman.


  • KEYWORDS! KEYWORDS! KEYWORDS! Keywords are of the upmost importance! When writing your duties try including as many as you can. The more you’ve written the better chance you have that the software will pick up a particular phrase or word. And the best part is the recruiter, most often, has provided you with those keywords already! Your secret weapon is the job advert. Use the words and phrases that appear in the job advert in your CV. This means you must tailor your CV per job application. But again, don’t overuse them. You want your CV to still make sense.
  • Include both the full word and acronym when it comes to job titles and qualifications. For example, write out ‘Bachelor of Commerce Degree in Accounting (BCom Acc)’ or ‘Personal Assistant (PA)’.
  • Have a look at your previous job titles: do they accurately describe what duties you performed? You can make small changes to your previous job titles, so they reflect what your duties were. Your job titles should also be as generic as possible i.e. a title that is most associated with the role. Also, you need to be specific when it comes to your previous job titles. Saying ‘Manager’ or ‘Key Account Manager’ is not enough. For example, if you were a key account manager in the recruitment field your title should rather be ‘Recruiter – Key Account Manager’.

If you follow these few tips and you are qualified for the position, your CV should get through the ATS bodyguards and into the hands of the all-important hiring manager. These tips should be thought of even when sending straight to a hiring manager. Having a simple format allows your achievements and abilities to shine through.

Good luck!

P.S. There are a lot of articles available on Google, that provide more tips and guidelines for creating an ATS-friendly CV. Spend some time doing your research! There are even websites that will scan your CV to assess how ATS-friendly it is – please be careful to not include personal information if using this tool (you don’t want your personal information all over the internet – make sure it’s a secure website).