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It happens to every aspiring candidate at one point or another, your job hunt leads you to an open position that matches up perfectly with your experience and skillset. You send in your CV, and a well-written cover letter in an expectation of a quick reply. Then days pass and nothing happens, eventually you’re forced to turn your attention towards far less suitable opportunities with no inclination as to why your application failed.

The truth is, in most cases your CV probably didn’t reach the hand of the HR Manager in question. Instead your application was probably rejected before it even got to this stage, by a software system known as an ATS.

What Is an ATS?

The Application Tracking System (ATS) is a purpose-built program used to manage and control the recruitment process from sorting through applications to interviews and hiring. Currently 95% of Fortune 500 companies make use of these systems for their talent management.  

When your CV is sent to a company that uses an ATS, the 'paperwork' is archived in a database. Typically your CV is then scanned and ranked on a database based on certain criteria set by the hiring team (usually a list of keywords). Some ATS systems also employ a similar methodology to scan social media profiles on networks like LinkedIn for relevant keywords.

While this automated process creates efficiency and ease for organisations, an ATS can relegate highly qualified candidates to the scrap heap based only on a lack of correct keywords. To prevent this from happening you need to optimise your job application to better target these systems.

Complete the Application

Although replicating the same information on an application over and over again can be a chore, it’s a necessary task. Any blank fields may automatically disqualify your application from moving further.


There’s no excuse for spelling mistakes and grammatical errors on a CV. But while a recruiter should be able to figure out the intent of your message based on context clues, a computer program won’t be so lenient. A simple spelling mistake may make the difference between a great keyword ranking, and a routine rejection.

Simplicity is Key

Highly stylised CVs and cover letters may catch the eye of a hiring manager, but a clutter of images, designs, and inconsistent typefaces, may make it impossible for an ATS to correctly scan your application.  Here are some steps for keeping things simple:

  • Put your name and desired position in clear title font at the top of your CV
  • Stick to relevant subheadings like “Education” and “Work Experience
  • Use standard fonts
  • Save the file in a commonly used format such as .pdf or .doc
  • Present historical information in a consistent, chronological manner
  • Put contact information in the body of your CV

Check the Job Description for Relevant Keywords

Optimise your CV for keywords using some of the specific language used in the job description. Any technical terminology, required qualifications or repeated buzzwords should be integrated into your content. When typing up qualifications make sure to include the commonly used acronym as well as the complete name of the degree or certification.

Do make sure that these terms are used organically, the modern day ATS have grown wise to keyword stuffing techniques!