(So have we!)

Everyday there are posts on social media that pertain to ATS being the reason your CV isn’t working, ATS is the reason your CV was rejected, ATS is the reason your CV isn’t read by a real person, ATS is a little gremlin which assesses your CV and tells the recruiter to invite you for an interview or not… and so on! Then you get the posts which say ATS isn’t a thing, ATS is not real, you shouldn’t match your CV to a vacancy/you should match your CV to a vacancy – honestly, how is a job seeker supposed to know what to do with all the ‘do this’ and ‘don’t do that’ going on!

  • I can tell you that ATS is a real thing, but it isn’t something to fear
  • I can tell you that ATS will play a part in your job search process, but it won’t decide the next steps
  • I can tell you that ATS helps recruiters manage applications, but it won’t decide for them
  • I can tell you that ATS will compare your CV with the vacancy, but it won’t automatically reject it
  • I can tell you that ATS may rank your CV, but only if the recruiter wants the top-ranked applicants

So, what is ATS?

ATS is the acronym for Applicant Tracking Systems or Applicant Tracking Software – conflict already, and that is just in what it is called!

ATS is simply a system / software that is used by recruiters and hiring managers to receive, organise, manage, and communicate with applications/applicants/candidates and its main reason for being in existence is to make the recruiters life easier.

You may be applying for one role with ‘company x’, but they may have multiple vacancies to recruit for so your CV could be one of hundreds or even thousands of CVs which before ATS would have all gone into the recruiter’s inbox (I remember those days!).  So, what ATS does is it sorts all the CVs into a database which is filtered by vacancy, applicant, and applicant information, in essence taking the first step in the process away from the recruiter and making it automated.  Then the recruiter will review each CV in relation to the role it has been applied for and assess it against the vacancy, just like they would have done in days gone by!

ATS may also store applicant information for future vacancies, so one of its ‘other jobs’ is to search the database for CVs that contain relevant information, keywords, and phrases that the recruiter inputs (i.e., the vacancy details) that match the search criteria – so it is usually this process that prompts a contact from the recruiter ‘out of the blue’ when you may have forgotten all about your initial application!

Lastly, some ATS may rank your CV based on a number of filters and/or keywords – recruiters can run a search for CVs through their own internal system or they can buy a specific number of CVs from a third party database (usually job boards where candidates are asked if they wish their CV to be visible to recruiters – so if you ticked ‘yes’ to this question then your CV can be made available), here recruiters can request anything from 1 to multiple numbers of CVs which are then subject to ranking as the system will pull the CVs that have the highest match to criteria.

ATS FACT: there are hundreds of systems out there, just like there is no ‘one size fits all’ with a CV there is also no ‘one size fits all’ with ATS.  However, each system may have many individual features in how they parse, store, and manage information, they are ALL based on the same fundamental basic process – to support the recruiter to make the most effective and decisive choices in the recruitment operation.

Some of the leading ATS include Workday, Taleo, iCIMS, and Bullhorn – did you know that some of these systems were created as far back as the 1990’s, so ATS is nothing new!

How does ATS work?

ATS, regardless of which system the company/recruiter uses will parse information from your CV into the populated areas of the database so that each application can be stored, searched, and filtered.  You must ensure that your CV is readable, contains relevant information and is spelling/grammar error free!

Each ATS will have its own way of doing this so don’t be fooled into formatting your CV for one system, as it may not work with another – tip here is to limit the formatting in your CV and avoid those funky/colourful and media trending templates as they are full of formatting features which may not parse well with some systems.

Once your details and CV are stored in the ATS then the recruiter can access your information in relation to any vacancies they are recruiting for by asking the ATS to search for specific keywords/information via pre-populated filters and keywords that then form a match between the vacancy and applicants CV.

As far as ATS works that is it in a nutshell, so it is not rocket science, it is not out to trick you, but it is there to help the recruiter save time, reduce workload, and improve the selection process for each vacancy they are recruiting for.

Does it have some pitfalls – yes it does, and that is why once you know how they work then you can go about making your CV work more effectively and productively!

Top 5 Tips on what can you do to help your CV work in your favour

1. Read and understand the vacancy – the first step to making a productive job search is to ensure you are applying for a role you can do, that you have the right experience, that you meet all the specific criteria the vacancy is asking for (if you don’t then make sure you address this positively in either your CV or cover letter)

2. Tailor your CV – in other words, match your CV to the vacancy through keywords, phrases, and experience requirements; make your headline match the role title, if they want ‘HR Business Leader’ and your CV says ‘People Manager’ change it to match, then ensure your skills or areas of expertise are aligned, include hard skills with a good mix of soft skills throughout

3.Ensure your CV is readable – no fussy fonts, no fancy designs, colours, tables, columns, headers/footers etc… keep formatting simple as it may affect if or how the ATS reads your information

4.Make sure your CV is not loaded with buzzwords by ensuring you have justified your claim to each skill within your CV through example – show how you meet the competence or what you have achieved by carrying it out in your role; there is nothing worse than seeing a list of keywords with no depth of detail behind them (it may trick the ATS but it won’t hit first base with the recruiter)


  1. Error check your CV – spellings and grammatical errors can change the impact of your CV immediately, misspelt words can be missed through the ATS and look sloppy with the recruiter, grammar errors can change the tone of a sentence completely and don’t forget to include a mix of acronyms only if you have included the longform spelling (never just use acronyms)

Lastly, CVs must be created with ATS in mind but be written for the recruiter, remember there is no trick to beating the ATS and there are no trade secrets either – just be respectful of it and give it some attention, but do not get wrapped up in it as it will keep you entertained for far too long!

If you are already tailoring your CV for a specific role, or selection of similar roles, but are not getting the responses you expect then we do offer an ATS Report and Feedback service; we use one of the leading ATS systems which supports the job seeker to identify the keywords, presentation and content within a CV to a specific vacancy (it is not necessarily the same system the recruiter will use, as we have said previously there are 100’s of versions out there, but it does help to gauge how well matched a CV is, how to identify vacancy keywording, support content etc…) – just give us your CV and a link to a vacancy, we will run it through the system we use and it will produce a report, we will then hold a 60-minute consultation to show what can be done to improve compatibility and how you can tailor your CV for every vacancy you apply for.

Price for this service is £99  (inc) and can be ordered here ATS Report and Feedback Consultation

Additionally, we also create CVs with ATS in mind, but always written for the recruiter based on individual client target objectives, experience, skills, and accomplishments which showcase the USPs (unique selling points). If you need support writing your CV or any job search documents including cover letters, profiles, bio’s or even support with interview techniques then click on one of the links below.

CV Writing

Cover Letters

LinkedIn Profiles

Interview Technique Training

Career Coaching

Professional Bios

Personal Statements


Telephone: 01603 327 644

Email: info@professional-cv-writing.co.uk

Web: www.professional-cv-writing.co.uk