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AI & the Job Search; How to Optimize your CV to beat Resume Screening Technology

By Justin D'Onofrio

Artificial Intelligence is revolutionizing all industries and human resources and recruitment are no different. With the advent of job aggregators through websites such as Indeed, LinkedIn, and Glassdoor, companies are getting more applicants to job postings than ever before. Gone are the days when recruiters would read every single application for an open position. Although the average number of applicants to a specific job stands at around 200 today, some companies can receive thousands of applications in more desired fields.  

Similar to any other repetitive task, the process of screening, sorting and even ranking of job applications and resumes has been automated. Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is currently being used by over 90% of Fortune 500 companies. The system screens resumes and cover letters looking for keywords chosen by the company, and will determine the qualifications of each candidate. As many as 75 percent of resumes submitted will not make it through the typical ATS screening process, immediately cutting down the applicant pool to 1/4th of its original size, at which time hiring managers will review the remaining applications carefully.

As harsh as the screening process may seem, an even more alarming fact however is how flawed these ATS softwares can be. Of the applicants who do not pass the process, 15 percent are actually qualified and are disregarded simply due to improper resume formatting. Living in the age of resume-screening technology, along with the fact that the job search has become increasingly competitive, building a well-crafted, ATS-friendly resume is critical. Any aspect of your resume that will ensure that your application is seen, is extremely important. Here are some ways you can optimize your CV for greater likelihood it makes it passed the screening process.

Modify Your Resume to the Job Posting

Generic resumes will not get you far with an ATS screener. In order to ensure your resume gets passed the screening process, the simplest and most effective method is to include the appropriate keywords. Decided by the hiring manager, the keyword screening function is at the base of all ATS technology. Often, keywords are centered around desired educational background, previous work experience, hard and soft skills and any technical certifications.

In order to determine the appropriate keywords, it is best to use the exact wording listed in the job application when it comes to responsibilities and qualifications needed. It could also be helpful to look for job ads in related positions throughout job sites to see the specific skills they seek,  as well as research the appropriate industry jargon needed for the position. Use common resume headers such as Summary, Work Experience, Education and Skills, and avoid unique headers, as this will make the classification of your qualifications easier. Also, avoid using acronyms such as B.COMM or B.A., as the ATS software might only recognize the full name (i.e. Bachelor of Commerce) as a keyword. It would also be helpful to use the more critical keywords more than once, however try not to overdo it - the resume must always remain clear and professional.

Tailoring your CV might also include modifying the names of previous job titles to better fit the application. For example, “Marketing Manager” might need to be changed to “Marketing Communications Manager” or “Brand Manager” depending on what the job ad calls for.

Don’t Get too Fancy with the Formatting

While eye-catching infographics and diagrams can be really attractive on resumes when viewed in person, they do absolutely nothing for ATS software. There have been strides to make the screening software better at reading resumes with different, non-traditional formats and layouts, including charts and tables, however it is safer to use a traditional layout that can be easily screened, especially when applying to larger firms.

Avoid using different size or styles of fonts, capitalisation and underlining, as all of those style choices can affect how your resume is read. Include bullet points and short form sentences, because the longer the sentence, the more difficult it is for the ATS software to extract the appropriate information.

And while it has often been said that the best file format to send a CV in is a PDF, which is definitely true when sending a direct email to a hiring manager, when submitting a resume to an ATS, a Word file is still advisable, as many ATS software cannot read PDF files.

Less Fluff, More Concrete Skills

It is safe to assume that hiring managers are tired of hearing the same cliches on resumes: “team player”, “results-oriented”, “passionate” - these terms won’t help you differentiate your application and definitely won’t help you with ATS. Instead of saying you are results-oriented or passionate, it is best to provide proof of that fact. ATS keywords are not likely to include those platitudes but rather relevant concrete skills. Tangible and measurable outcomes offer proof of a background of success and can better impress potential employers. In that case, try to match your achievements and success with the keywords of the job description to increase your likelihood of passing the screening process.

Final Thoughts

Trying to decode the job search is helpful in finding a job in a tough market, but it is always important to remember that your resume must be legible by both humans and robots alike. The combination of a readable and professionally toned resume with ATS-friendly formatting will increase the efficiency of your job search and hopefully help you land the job of your dreams.


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