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How to write a CV for successful online job applications

by Julian Briggs in Career Insights 21/11/2019 0 comments
CV Writing Tips

Find out how to write a CV for successful online job applications. If you apply for jobs online, or you’re updating your CV, read how the introduction of Artificial Intelligence (AI), in recruitment, could terminate your application, and how to write a CV for the bots.

I’m from the generation that both embraces technology, but also remembers the days before it ruled our lives. When my kids have a meltdown, because the wifi’s gone down for a split second, I find myself saying things like “in my day we didn’t have the internet, but still had fun.” I’m not proud I’m turning into my dad!

Technology is great – when it works! When it doesn’t, it’s the most frustrating thing! I believe technology should work for us, not make us work for it. However, what works for one might not work for the other. And this is often the case with AI in the recruitment process.

If you’re applying for jobs online, or updating your CV, read how the AI robots could terminate your application, before it reaches a human. Find out how to create a CV that enhances your chances of it being read by human being.

Why you need to know how to write a CV for online job applications

With companies trying to bring the recruitment process in-house, posting job adverts on their websites, jobs boards and social media, more often than not your application goes through an “Applicant Tracking System (ATS)”. Recruiters are also streamlining their screening process. Pressure to reduce fees, to win work from clients wanting a cheaper recruitment process, has led to the introduction of AI. Changing from a traditional CRM, to an ATS, reduces the time, and therefore overhead, of a humans preliminary screening your CV and job application.

ATS’s do have their benefits, but as already mentioned – what works for one might not work for the other. If your CV isn’t written in the right way, then an ATS may reject your application before it reaches the human eye.

What is an Applicant Tracking System

To know how to write a CV that’s suitable for online job applications, you first need to understand what an ATS is.  In a world of increasing Automation and Artificial Intelligence, the recruitment process has changed. Standing between your CV, and a human, there now lurks a robot. Better known as an Applicant Tracking System or an ATS.

An Applicant Tracking Systems is the software used by many recruiters, online jobs boards and companies, when you apply to online job adverts. ATS’s are particularity good at managing high volumes of job applications. The ATS reads your CV, and can ask you preliminary screening questions. It assesses and scores the content of your CV, and your answers to any questions, grading their relevance to the job description.

An ATS can be programmed to look for keywords such as your skills, location, education, specific experience such as software packages, job title etc. They then give a percentage score for your relevance. They can be programmed to dismiss any applications that don’t match the defined score.

If the ATS doesn’t rate, or can’t read your CV, it will instantly rejected it. Terminating your job application before it’s reached a human for consideration. Admittedly not all job applications go through an ATS, but an increasing number do. That’s why you need to know how to write a CV to beat the bots, and increase your success with your online job applications.

How to write a CV in a format an ATS can read

Often when applying through an ATS you’ll receive an automated message, along the lines of “thank you for your application blah blah blah. ” Sound familiar?

By following these formatting tips you’ll learn how to write a CV that increases your chances of it getting past the ATS’s initial screening. If your application is relevant, these tips will increase your chances of hearing back about your job application.

  • Don’t use a template and to be ultra cautious, write and save your CV in a standard Word document. Not all ATS’s are able to read .docx, excel, PDF, RTF, and JPG formats. (Not great for creative and design led CV’s / portfolios I know)
  • Keep the formatting simple, don’t use: headers or footers for your name and contact information, or lines and symbols. Bullet points are fine though.
  • Customise your CV for the specific position being sought. Use the same descriptive language, used in the job description, in the wording of your CV. Use relevant, target keywords and phrases for the position you’re applying for. Be specific, i.e., if the job spec requires knowledge of “Adobe Photoshop” list it on your CV rather than just saying knowledge of “design software” or even “knowledge of the Adobe Suite”.
  • Use the keywords and phrases within the job advert / description, incorporating them into descriptive and achievement oriented bullet points, rather than losing them in a paragraph listing your skills, competencies and experience.
  • Edit and spell check your CV carefully: An ATS won’t recognise misspelled words, and frankly spelling mistakes won’t impress a human, once your CV gets past the ATS!


Article continues below. 

How to write a CV that’s optimised for an ATS

As well as the layout and format of your CV, you also need to know how to write a CV that’s optimised for an ATS. Getting your CV’s content written correctly will increase it’s score with an ATS.

  • Place your name on the top line and do not include any degrees or certifications after it.
  • Don’t include any special characters, or accented words, and don’t put any punctuation in your name, such as ( ) , / –
  • Write your CV using single column format, and don’t use tables or text boxes, extra spaces between letters, or complex formatting. The ATS might not be able to “read” it!
  • Use simply formatted text / fonts, Arial, Georgia, Tahoma, Calibri, and Verdana are all safe options and you should keep the font size to at least 11.
  • When listing dates of education and / or employment include the months e.g. 06/2010 – 08/2015), and always place dates on the right hand side of your CV.
  • Use proper capitalisation and punctuation, both may affect how the information is parsed and assigned within the ATS database. Parsing a CV is when the software reads your CV and automatically fills out fields within the ATS with the information. i.e. name, address, email, phone number, key skills etc. If any of this info is missing if your CV is reviewed by a human the first thing they see of you will be your profile on the ATS, not your CV. If the fields don’t contain your details, or the skills they’re looking for then the chances are they won’t open your CV, and will move on to reviewing the next applicant.
  • Use the full, spelled-out version of terms in addition to abbreviations and acronyms. E.g. Business Development Manager / BDM, Group Account Director / GAD, Project Manager / PM.
  • Job titles can be ambiguous. If your skill sets match the job description, but your Job Title is different, change your job tile on your CV to match the position you’re applying for.
  • If your CV includes an overview of your employer, place this information after the company name, job title, and employment dates.
  • Consider breaking up your CV by using headers and writing them in ALL CAPS. This makes it easier for the applicant tracking system to categorize the information.
  • If you’re currently working towards a certification that’s required for the vacancy, include it on your CV e.g. “currently pursuing (insert name of accreditation. )”
  • Keep an eye on your email, including spam folders, when applying for positions online. Some applicant tracking systems acknowledge submissions, via an automated response system; these could end up in your spam folder and be missed by you.
  • Don’t list any of your credentials, MBA, CPA, etc. next to your name. Include them on a separate line for example marked Education and Training.
  • Don’t try tricking the ATS by adding skills you don’t actually have. Anything on your CV will challenged or tested at interview, or increasingly these days in a skills-based test before your interview.
  • Don’t use different fonts and different font sizes in your resume, this could confuse the ATS.
  • Don’t write a completely stripped out CV, remember once it has past the ATS screening, your CV will be seen by a real person. Keeping some simple formatting such as bold, caps and bullet points will  help keep your CV attractive and easy to read.

Job search tips

If you’re applying for jobs online with little success, hopefully these job search tips will help you. As an additional tip, it’s worth remembering that online job adverts receive high volumes of applicants. Often irrelevant to the position being advertised.

The recruitment sector is booming and companies such as google, facebook etc have now entered into the market. With numerous platforms already established and new ones emerging all the time, applying for jobs online can be a numbers game. Your application can be lost in the mix of literally hundreds of other applicants.

Whilst online job searches have their place, you should also include other methods in your job search strategy. Also bear in mind other factors that can improve your job applications. There’s a great article, providing 60 job search tips that are backed by science on The article features lots of tips on the little things that can be the difference between your CV being looked, at or binned.

If you’re currently working, but interested in exploring your career options, looking for your next role can be a full time job. You may decide you don’t have time to research the market, or know how to get through to the right person in your target companies. (there’s little point sending your CV to a generic email address found on company’s websites, such as info@ etc.)

If this sounds like you, then research recruiters that specialise in your market. Find out how they would approach helping you in your job search. Some may not work in a way you want them too, so it’s important for you to understand exactly what their methods are. Choose one you’re comfortable with and agree a managed proactive job search, on your behalf, with them.

For further careers advice or to discuss your specific job search brief with us, feel free to get in touch for a confidential chat.

*NB. This article is an updated version of a previous post, written by Julian Briggs, published on 29/09/2017 

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