How to get your CV past the online CV bot Did you know 98% of Fortune 500 companies use an automated system to screen your CV? At this stage, 75% of CVs will be screened out.

Here’s what you can do to make sure your CV gets past the bot and be selected for an interview.

When I worked in HR, I sifted CVs by hand. I was able to read between the lines, spot people with potential and decide who to interview. This meant I often interviewed people who didn’t have the right experience or qualifications – they just had that something – you know? That personality spark or different experience made me want to interview them. I hired people with criminal records, people with massive career gaps, and people with zig zaggy careers. This wasn’t just me – this is what HR people did. THEN the bot arrived.

What is an Applicant Tracking System? (ATS)

It’s a talent management system to administrate the hiring process. They can manage everything from screening to reference checks and new-hire paperwork. An ATS is programmed to look for specific keywords and types of backgrounds for advertised positions. This means good candidates can slip through the cracks. The ATS is looking to eliminate candidates to narrow hundreds down to 10-20.

There are loads of ATS used by companies across the globe and they are getting better with time. If you wanted to do more research into specific ones, some of the most popular ones are:

  • Taleo – 19% of the ATS market and used by Starbucks, Boeing, Nintendo
  • iCIMS – 7.5% of the ATS market and used by Southwest Airlines, Uber, Amazon
  • Greenhouse – 9% of the ATS market and used by AirBnb, Pinterest, WeWork
  • Brassring 7% of the ATS market and used by Disney, GE, Lockheed Martin
  • Jobvite 5.4% of the ATS market and used by Zillow, Spotify, Logitech

Can you tell if your CV will be screened by an ATS?

Always assume that when you upload your CV online, it will be entering an Applicant Tracking System. If you email your CV to a real person, (rather than upload it online) then a human will read it first.

How to get your CV through an ATS

CV formatting. An ATS reads your CV from left to right. If your CV is fancy, with eye-catching tables, boxes or a quirky/creative layout then an ATS won’t be able to read it and it will be screened out. So, only use a snazzy CV if you’re sending your CV directly to a person.


  • Tables and Text Boxes
  • Logos and graphics
  • Columns
  • Headers and Footers
  • Unusual fonts

OK to use:

  • Bold, italics and underlining
  • Colour
  • Bullet points

Save your CV in the right document type. When you upload your CV there are usually instructions on what format is needed (ie PDF / .docx). If you don’t have Microsoft Word, you can use Google Docs to create your CV and download it in pdf or .docx for free.

Use Key Words. These are super important. The CV bot has been programmed to look for these on your CV. Here’s how to find them:

  • Read the job advert, job description and person specification. Highlight the key skills words used to describe the type of person they are looking for.
  • Look out for the hard skills that are mentioned more than once in a posting or mentioned early on in the advert and job details. Hard skills are things such as languages and computer software.
  • Then look for the ‘soft skills’. These are things such as communication, problem-solving, decision making and organisation.

Include these keywords in your CV – sprinkle them in your profile, skills section and career info. Be clear – for example if they are looking for an experience of using MS Excel, don’t write MS Office and assume the bot knows this includes MS Excel. However, don’t just chuck these keywords onto your CV – try to weave them into your achievements and experience – because recruiters won’t be fooled with just a list of key skills that are an exact replica of the job description.

Adapt your CV every time. You need to do this to make sure all these shiny keywords are in there. Even if you’re applying for similar roles for example Project Manager, each employer will be looking for different skills, knowledge, characteristics, behaviours and experience.

Use standard Headings. Use Skills, rather than ‘Things I am awesome at’. I use straightforward heading headings such as Career, Experience, Work Experience and Education.

Do a reverse chronological CV. ATS is looking for dates to establish how much experience you have. So, write your CV with the most recent experience first then work your way backwards.

Change job titles if you need to. I don’t mean make stuff up! But take a good hard look at your job titles. Sometimes employers dish out job titles that don’t make sense to an ATS (Vice President of Employee Happiness …..) or don’t accurately describe what you do. If this applies to you, can you change it so it more accurately reflects what you do? For example, your title may be ‘Supervisor’ but the post you are applying for is ‘Team Leader’ – it’s the same thing but the ATS will be looking for ‘Team Leader’.

What if your experience or qualifications aren’t a perfect match for the job?

You need to go around the system and approach the employer in a different way. Connect with people who work there, use LinkedIn to help you with this. Phone the organisation, can you speak with the hiring manager? Prepare what you want to say and your aim is to get an email address that you can send them your CV directly.

How to then get your CV past the human screening and to interview

When writing a CV, yes you are writing it to get past an ATS, however, this doesn’t mean your CV needs to be a boring, robotic read. Once you’ve got through the ATS, then a real person will then screen it, so overall, you need to write your CV to appeal to the employer.

To do this, pack your CV with personality, include story-telling and examples to bring it to life as well as skills and experience. The employer needs to feel an emotional connection with you, which is hard to achieve if your CV reads like a bot has written it.

Also, do the things other candidates may not do. Research the company, write a great, enthusiastic cover letter, call them and follow up if you’ve not heard after a week.

Good luck!

Charlotte Eve

Charlotte Eve is an award winning CV Writer, LinkedIn Writer and Interview Coach, helping people internationally to move confidently into new roles. With an HR background, passion for writing and determination to pursue a ‘useful’ career, Charlotte set up C K Futures to support people most at risk in the job market. She is recognised by recruitment agencies, career coaches and back-to-work organisations nationwide as a specialist in helping people affected by redundancy, those seeking career change, individuals with complicated careers, parent returners and those with career gaps. Charlotte has helped more than 20,000 people into new roles, delivers her Masterclass Course to employment organisations and is sought out by businesses for her outplacement services. Also mum to two teenagers, Charlotte supports charities to help young adults and is a Youth Mentor.