You’ve spotted the perfect-match job vacancy. You then spend hours researching the company. You re-write your CV, upload it and hit send.

And, then what happens? Nothing. You hear nothing back, at all. Ever.

Sadly, this is a familiar scenario for many job seekers. Around 75% of CVs are never even seen by a human, according to a study from job search services firm Preptel. Instead, they’re scanned (and often rejected) by applicant tracking systems (ATS).

Most large employers, recruiters and online jobs boards use an ATS to sift through the hundreds (possibly thousands) of CVs they receive online. Many smaller employers have also embraced this technology. In many ways, this makes perfect sense and it certainly saves recruiters time and money.

For candidates, however, it can be a depressing experience. It’s easy to become cynical and respond by either getting trigger-happy and hurling your standard CV at dozens of vacancies or simply giving up. But there are more effective ways to improve your odds of getting past these increasingly powerful job-market gatekeepers.

Start by understanding how applicant tracking systems work

These systems scan CVs for specific keywords and phrases and offer a basic matchmaking service between recruiter and candidate. These keywords could be hard skills, such as particular programming languages, project management qualifications or cyber security certifications. Sometimes the software includes transferable skills, such as team leadership, networking or mentoring. Your CV could even be knocked out if you don’t specify your availability for work at a particular location.

Depending on how highly the ATS ranks your CV, you could be first in line for an interview or buried so far down the list your CV gets lost in a digital black hole. This can even happen to well-qualified candidates with relevant skills and experience if they haven’t optimised their CV with the ATS in mind. While some argue that these systems can reduce bias in hiring, there are also risks.

For example, the algorithms are sometimes derived from data gathered from a current employee base that lacks diversity. This can intensify employers’ existing prejudices. Women, older workers, minority groups and those with gaps on their CV are particularly vulnerable to the risk of being rejected by these systems. Maybe it’s one reason why the UK has more fund managers called David than female fund managers?

10 ways to pass the robot judges

Here are our 10 top tips to help your CV pass this first-round robot screening test.

  1. Include keywords and phrases from the job advert or role/person specification; specify relevant qualifications by name and make sure all spellings are correct. Remember, your CV will (hopefully) also be read by a human at some stage, so these keywords need to flow naturally throughout your CV.
  2. Illustrate your achievements with specific examples from your employment or voluntary work history. Try to quantify your results with statistics such as money earned, market share gained or clients won.
  3. Use widely recognised job titles and list them in a way that shows increasing responsibility and status throughout your career.
  4. List brief gaps in your employment history in years only, rather than years and months.
  5. If you’ve had a longer career break, use our Victoria Sponge Cake.
  6. Include the city or region where you want to work (which may be different to where you live).
  7. The headline and summary at the top of your CV is crucial. This needs to position you as the perfect candidate for the specific role. All your essential experience and attributes (mirroring the keywords in the job ad) need to be carefully crafted into two or three compelling sentences and bullet points. It’s quite a skill.
  8. Use Word rather than a PDF or other format, simple formatting and a professional font. Bullet points are great, but CVs with tables, graphics and logos are often automatically rejected by an ATS.
  9. If you have a contact inside the company, let them know you’re applying. They may be able to put in a good word for you and some companies actively incentivise current employees to put candidates forward.
  10. Clean up your social media footprint. In particular, make sure your LinkedIn profile aligns with your CV. Some ATS are integrated with various social media channels and can scan candidates’ activity. If that’s a concern, you might want to consider changing some of your settings to private.

If you have any questions about job hunting in a particular profession, industry or even company, contact us on 020 7100 6656 or by email. We have a team of experts with experience across everything from law and finance to engineering and marketing and we’re happy to have a chat about what would work best for you in your career.

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