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Written by Karl KahlerKarl Kahler

How to optimise your CV for the ATS scanner

8 min read
How to optimise your CV for the ATS scanner
Discover how to elevate your CV with professional insights, designed to highlight your strengths and make a lasting impression on potential employers.

CVs are the cornerstone of every job application, greatly influencing the first impression a candidate makes on potential employers. CVs contain the essence of a professional's career, summarising relevant skills, professional experience, and accomplishments. However, in today's digital hiring landscape, an outstanding CV on its own may not suffice. 

Without a clear understanding of how Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) function, even the most polished and professional CV can go unnoticed. ATS algorithms pre-screen applications by searching for specific keywords and phrases that align with job descriptions. Put another way, without knowing how to optimise your CV for the ATS, you risk going unnoticed by employers!

Think of an Applicant Tracking System as a friendly but discerning librarian who helps manage a vast library of job applications. Whenever you submit your CV online, the ATS is the first to greet it. It's like a digital assistant that sorts through CVs, carefully scanning for specific keywords and phrases that match what employers are looking for. 

It's also a bit of a gatekeeper that organises and ranks CVs, making sure that only the best and most appropriate CVs get passed along to busy hiring managers. By understanding how the ATS works, we can make your CV more like a favourite book that always gets picked off the shelf—well-formatted, easy to read, and, most importantly, relevant to the job you're applying for. 

Professional tip

To help optimise your CV for the ATS, review the job description thoroughly and use the keywords that are most relevant to your own experience. For example, if you have any of the skills listed in the job description, go ahead and list them in your CV.

Tailor your CV to each job application

Ideally, your CV should be a tailored reflection of your professional skills and experiences, crafted with a keen eye for what each potential employer values most. By personalising your CV for every job application, you demonstrate your qualifications, your dedication to the role, and your understanding of the company's unique needs and culture. 

This level of customisation can set you apart in a competitive job market. Check out the personal statement below from our carpenter CV example, and take note of how the applicant tailors their CV to the client by using important keywords:

Example: “Efficient and effective carpenter with 10+ years of experience in the carpentry industry. Specialising in commercial and residential building, cabinetry, plumbing, repair and drywall installations. Committed to bringing the ideas and dreams of Kiwis to life, ensuring all work is completed in a time-effective, cost-friendly manner.”

ATS CV formatting tips

Navigating the CV design process can be tricky, so here’s a few of our top formatting tips:

  • Opt for a straightforward and professional CV format: Refrain from including graphics, photos, or intricate designs. Choose a standard font like Arial, Calibri, or Times New Roman and clearly separate different sections with appropriate headings.
  • Avoid using tables and columns: It's much better to use bullet points and plain text layouts, since ATS software may not interpret information within tables or columns accurately.
  • Use standard section headings: These heading titles include “Personal Statement,” "Work Experience," "Education," and “Skills" Creative titles can confuse ATS systems!
  • Save your CV in a universally accepted format, such as .docx or .pdf: It’s always best to use .docx or .pdf, unless the job posting states a specific format. Some ATS systems will reject less common file formats.
  • Always remember to include relevant and important keywords from the job listing: The ATS is programmed to look for keywords and will prioritise candidates that include them!
  • Spell out acronyms: Instead of using abbreviations or acronyms, write out the full terms, such as "Search Engine Optimisation" instead of just "SEO."
  • Follow a reliable CV layout: Your CV should always include your contact details in the header, a personal statement, a work history section, your academic details, and a skills section. And as tempting as it might be, avoid quirky names like “Superpowers” for the skills section – clarity is key.

Frequently asked questions about the ATS

What actually is an ATS-optimised CV?

An "ATS-friendly CV," or "ATS-compliant CV," is tailored to include keywords from the job listing that the employer is likely to have programmed into their ATS. For instance, if you’re an accountant applying for job opportunities in Auckland, it’s likely that the ATS used by local employers will prioritise applicants who have Auckland mentioned as their city of residence, or applicants eligible to work in New Zealand. 

Are text boxes ATS friendly?

It’s important to be mindful of text boxes, since some ATS scanners may overlook them, thinking they're graphics. Uh oh! The same goes for tables and columns—these can confuse the ATS. 

If you’ve got a complex story or data you’d like to illustrate, provide a brief summary in your CV and mention your willingness to share more details in an interview. It can also be a good idea to elaborate further in your LinkedIn profile, where you’re not limited by ATS constraints. And remember, provide full web addresses instead of hyperlinks, as the ATS may not always process links correctly.

Do ATS systems scan cover letters?

Keep in mind that employers might put both your CV and cover letter through their ATS software. To play it safe, it's best to make your cover letter ATS-friendly, too. Ultimately, it’s best to optimise your CV and cover letter with those all-important keywords. When in doubt? Attach your cover letter anyway.

Key takeaways

Crafting a well-structured and keyword-optimised CV is key for passing through the Applicant Tracking System (ATS) filters that many employers use. 

Investing time into creating a CV that speaks the language of the ATS, while also being clear and professional for human eyes, is an important step in your job search strategy.

Here are our top tips to remember when optimising your CV for the ATS: 

  • Stick to simple fonts and skip the flashy graphics
  • Use a well-structured CV template to help keep your CV professional
  • Leave enough space on your CV to make it easy to read
  • Use keywords that are relevant to your field, but avoid overused phrases and clichés like "team player" and "self-starter"
  • Always include a short cover letter with your CV
  • Double-check for any spelling or grammar mistakes before sending your CV

Cvapp.nz is one of New Zealand’s leading career resources platforms. We offer comprehensive career guides and expert advice to help Kiwi professionals elevate their career potential. Plus, with an easy-to-use online CV builder, bypassing the ATS and creating polished, professional CVs has never been easier. 

Short on time? Build a professional CV in 15 minutes or less
Short on time? Build a professional CV in 15 minutes or less
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