How to optimise your CV for automated searches



The world of recruitment is changing as advances in AI and machine learning continue to evolve. Many companies and recruiters now use applicant tracking systems and automation software to sift through the hundreds of CVs they receive for specific job applications and those stored on their databases when looking for appropriate candidates for a role.

This can greatly benefit hiring managers, who can save time and money compared to conducting a manual search of applicant data to determine whom to take forward to interview. However, in this technologically advanced age, candidates must ensure that their CV is optimised for the software to identify them as suitable for the role they are looking to secure.

ATS software & Boolean searches

Research suggests that only around 25% of CVs make it through the ATS, with the remaining 75% being automatically rejected long before a human being ever sees them, and according to recent data, around 95% of Fortune 500 companies have adopted this method for the early stages of their recruitment process.

Many companies and recruiters favour Boolean searches, an advanced search string that many ATS platforms and CRM databases employ. Using mathematical operators including AND, OR and NOT, Boolean searches can quickly expand or limit candidate searches delivering a shortlist of CVs or applications which the AI Bots deem suitable.


The downside of this automation is that the technology is still relatively new, and the criteria to inform the search is set by humans, so it can still be open to bias and errors. Sometimes, because of this, a good candidate can be 'filtered out' before a real person ever sees their CV, creating a lose-lose situation for both the applicant, who won't progress to interview, and the employer, who could miss out on recruiting the right individual for the job. Optimising your CV can get you past the software and move you forward in the interview process.

Top 5 optimisation techniques

1. Anticipate variances in search terms - Often, a job may be referred to by multiple titles. Suppose a search has been created with relatively narrow parameters, e.g. the software has been programmed to find a 'developer', but your CV may say that you are a 'programmer'. In that case, you can increase your chances of the ATS identifying your CV as suitable by using a variety of job titles within the content of your CV to give yourself the best chance of showing up as a match. Equally, if you had an unusual job title in a previous role, consider replacing this with a more standard version of the job name, as this is more likely to align with search criteria.

2. Use Keywords – AI bots generally use keywords to decide if a CV is suitable or unsuitable. Try to match the skills and knowledge keywords on your CV with those your potential employer uses. It can be helpful to utilise the job description and candidate specification for the role you are applying to find the company's terminology. You can then ensure that you use these same words in your document. However, be mindful not to clutter your CV with too many keywords, as the technology can also detect this and could flag up your application as suspicious. A good balance is to incorporate a few keywords throughout your recent work history.

3. Keep it Simple – Keep things straightforward by avoiding images, graphics, logos and unusual formatting. Also, it's advisable not to put information in headers or footers. Automated search functionality is very unlikely to recognise any information that isn't in plain text, meaning that some of the crucial details you want to convey could be missed if the AI can't read it.

4. Include SMART Information – Fluffy phrases like 'good team player' or 'strong organisational skills' may be something you want to talk about at interview but, to show up in search results, it is generally advisable to focus on measurable information which can be bench-marked against other candidates, things like; how many people you managed, what size budget you were responsible for or how much you increased profits. Quantifiable data is easy for AI robots to read and can be the search criteria used for filtering out unsuitable applications.

5. Avoid Jargon – much like unusual job titles, industry jargon that may have been exclusive to your previous company or sector should be avoided as the software is unlikely to have been programmed to recognise it. Instead, use plain language, and if you need to include an acronym – such as for a qualification, you may want to consider using both the letters and the complete words, as the AI may have been set to search for one or the other.

While no tech is fail safe and no CV can anticipate every possible search criteria, these optimisation tips can improve the chances of your CV passing the software gatekeepers and on to the interview and the new job you seek.

If you are looking to make your next career move or if you are looking to hire top talent for your team, contact McGregor Boyall today and find out how our expert recruiters can help you.