How To Beat Applicant Tracking Systems

How To Beat Applicant Tracking Systems

In today’s digital world companies can source candidates via job websites, recruiters, LinkedIn and other social media platforms. All these sources increase their chances of reaching the right candidate, but results in many more applications to sift through. Applicant tracking systems can help to filter out the best candidates for the job.

What are applicant tracking systems?

Applicant tracking systems or ATS is software which scans through every CV which has been submitted. The CV’s are matched to pre-defined criteria for example keywords, or qualifications. It will filter and order CV’s putting the most suitable candidates to the top, based on the criteria. This speeds up the hiring process.

99% of fortune 500 companies use ATS tracking systems. No particular ATS dominates the Fortune 500 market.

The systems can also store the data so that a recruiter can search for candidates by keyword, qualification etc. This means that whilst you may not be successful in securing an interview initially you may be contacted about a different role in the future.

Does that mean a recruiting manager never sees my CV?

If your CV is shortlisted by the Applicant Tracking System it will then be reviewed by the recruiting manager. So as long as you’ve tailored your CV for the role that you’re applying for and you meet the criteria you shouldn’t need to worry about the ATS filtering you out.

Should I pay to get my CV reviewed?

As a Careers Springboard member you can use our free CV review service to help you tailor your CV. This is a two-way process where you will be guided and advised. The CV review team don’t re-write your CV for you. Based on their guidance and support you make the changes you wish to.

Jobscan has a great online tool which you can use for free. It takes into account common ATS patterns and things recruiters look for. You can upload your CV and add a job description, or choose from sample jobs. It gives you tips for optimising your CV, covering everything from titles, skills, qualifications, formatting, buzzwords to word count.

With CV library your CV will be reviewed by a professional consultant, who will firstly rate your CV’s effectiveness out of 100. They suggest points  to improve, providing pointers on content, layout and style. You can choose whether to pay for additional advice or just work on your CV from the advice they’ve given.

If you are going to pay to use a professional CV writer we would recommend that you are fully engaged in the process. A CV that is too obviously the work of someone else can be counter-productive. Everyone is different and has their own unique combination of strengths, knowledge, values and skills. A CV constructed from an impersonal template can eliminate your key features.


Top tips for beating Applicant Tracking Systems

Here are some top tips to remember. You can find more advice in the members section of our website.


  • Research the company as well as the role you’re applying for
  • Review the job description highlighting keywords
    • job titles
    • hard skills – typically learned through education or work experience, such as ability to use specific software, tools, or specialized processes.
    • soft skills – for example ‘team player.’ Recruiters are less likely to search for these. They are weighted less in the match rate, so prioritise hard skills.
    • other keywords – industry lingo, company specific jargon. These are rated less in the match rate.


  • Prioritise the keywords that appear the most in the job description. Include these within your CV in a natural way if they are applicable to you. Don’t lie!
  • Job title – make sure your job titles in your CV match where you’ve done that role previously. Some companies use creative names like Director of first impressions. It’s better to change this in your CV to a more common name e.g. Director of Customer Service. Then, if a recruiter searches the ATS by job title you won’t be missed.
  • Include measurable results in your achievements to show the impact that you’ve made within your roles.


  • Use common section headings in your CV so that the ATS can find the relevant content. We have a recommended CV template in the members section of our website.
  • Limit your CV to 2 pages, approximately 1000 words. This increases the focus and ease of reading for recruiters.
  • ATS and recruiters prefer specific date formatting for your work experience.
    Please use the following formats: “MM / YY or MM / YYYY or Month YYYY” (e.g. 03/19, 03/2019, Mar 2019 or March 2019).
  • Include the full name of your qualifications.
  • Don’t use images, keep the format simple.
  • Use bullet points.
  • Check spelling.
  • Use a standard page size.
  • docx and pdf file types work better than others.

Can I avoid the applicant tracking system?

We always encourage jobseekers to use their networks as a key part of their job search. Many job roles are not advertised. The company may want to:

  • reduce advertising costs.
  • keep hiring decisions quiet
  • source candidates through employee referrals. Employees understand the needs of the job. Some organisations offer a bonus to employees who recommend applicants who are hired.

By using your networks you can sometimes avoid your CV needing to go through an applicant tracking system.

At Careers Springboard we regularly run webinars on CV writing and networking, previous presentations can be found in the members section of the website. Find upcoming webinars in the events section.