How to write an ATS responsive or Friendly CV in 2019

How to write an ATS responsive or Friendly CV in 2019

To begin with, one may ask whether ATS is worth re-visiting giving the number of articles written on the subject within the last few years.

This is undeniably an important consideration. However, when it comes to Ghana among other countries, ATS has not received the desired attention.

This write-up is an experiential account of a free CV review offer that was put in place by Sobiaonline. In all, 230 CVs were reviewed and this write-up is based on the outcomes of the reviews. 

The key finding from the reviews exposed that job seekers do not pay much attention when ATS is mentioned and are generally not ready to learn more about how they can beat ATS bots.

This finding clearly answers the opening question and this is why you should read on to avoid CV rejections!

What is an ATS compliant CV or resume?

There is a lot of talk about the future of the world of work this 2019 at the heart of which is how to utilize technology in recruitment and selection of candidates. 

When it comes to ATS, one thing we are sure of is the fact that we are already into the future of the world of work.

ATS simply means Applicant Tracking Systems. It is a kind of robot or software that is used to pre-screen job applications before it reaches human hands.

According to the muse careers,

ATS works by scoring CVs for contextual key words and key phrases, mathematically scoring for relevance and sending only the most qualified ones through for humans to review.

Recently, it has been discovered that an estimated 95% of fortune 500 companies employ ATS in their recruitment.

This makes it imperative for job seekers especially those targeting international companies of repute to master these latest ATS tricks detailed in the subsequent sections. 

How do I make ATS friendly resume or cv?

There is no magic bullet regarding how CVs can be designed to beat ATS. I have provided below nine tried and tested tricks that will make your next CV ATS friendly.

1. Use a Good CV file format when applying  for jobs online – Word, PDF or Doc X

There is widespread disagreement among CV writers and career professionals regarding which file format is best suited for ATS. I aim not to meddle in this debate but to simply provide a way forward.

When applying for jobs via job portals you would often see a list of preferred documents formats that can be uploaded.

I recommend that you should always make sure that your file format is in line with what the job portal has recommended. Generally, documents in PDF, Word or Doc X format is good to go with ATS.

2. Use an ATS Responsive or Friendly CV Layout & Design

The layout of every CV is as important as its content. To properly understand CV layout you have to think of these four considerations: outline, arrangement, design, and plan. 

According to our review statistics 93.5% of all CVs reviewed used at least one form of these formats in at least one sectional area of their CVs.

Based on our CV reviews, we recommend that job seekers should avoid text boxes and graphics as much as possible as ATS finds it difficult to read information in these formats.

The second tip on CV layout is the need to put your name on top of the CV. Most ATS systems are automatically set to pick the topmost word or phrase as the candidate name.

These days it is no longer necessary or essential to write boldly “Resume or Curriculum Vitae” at the topmost part of your CV.

The tendency is that this can be picked as your name by some ATS bots and this can negatively affect all the efforts you have put into your CV preparation especially CV rejection!

In like manner, what is kept in the last part of your CV will equally be interpreted as references and hence it is important to always put your references in the last column.

I admit that the issue of references is more complicated then presented and from my point of view I recommend that you can avoid references unless it is expressly stated as a requirement.

I recommend this because in most instances ATS fails to interpret references and this can significantly reduce your average score.

Lastly, I recommend that your CV should be properly aligned. Text alignment allows you to determine the flow and position of your text. The four primary types of text alignment include left-aligned, right-aligned, centered, and justified.

To use this feature highlight the text you want to align, go to home in your word editor and then click on the align type.  Also, make sure you do not leave unnecessary columns.

How to write an ATS responsive or Friendly CV in 2019 1

3. Ensure your CV uses the right skills and keywords per the job description

Some career experts recently tagged ATS as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) for CVs.

Just as google rank web pages on the basis of keywords it contains, so thus ATS rank CVs on the basis of keywords it contains.
To illustrate the powerful effects of keywords to ATS:

A job description in 2010 called for a programmer with 5 years of experience in Apple IOS operating system but the reality is that the app was introduced in 2007. As a result, all the candidates who applied were turned down. This was because they missed the “5 years working experience” mark!

In writing your CV, your key skills must be highlighted based on the job description. Again, If you are conversant with web SEO you would have treated your ATS like google and your key skills as your SEO keywords. It works in the same manner.

Core skills that are not in your job description of interest will seldom add any weight to your CV. One word of caution though is don’t overdo this or try to use all keywords in the job description even if you do not have such requisite skills.

To properly present your core skills you would need to observe the following:

  1. Keywords that are often repeated 3x or more are highly desirable and is important they are captured in your CV and featured in like manner

  2. Differentiate between Hard Skills, Core Skills and other keywords. Hard skills are learned through specialized training and include specialized skills, knowledge of software and tools.

    Hard skills are the most sought after by recruiters and the more you match up the hard skills the better.

    Once again focus your attention to skills that appear most often in the job description which are mostly the hard skills.

    Soft skills are skills obtained without much specialized training such as attention to detail, team player.

    They are quite difficult to assess compared to the hard skills and are less prioritized by recruiters. As mentioned earlier your focus should be on the hard skills.

    Finally, the other skills are simply buzzwords, industry lingo or company specific jargon and are weighed less in the match rate.

  3. Once you identify these 3 skill sets it is important to prioritize which ones to emphasize. Typically hard skills comes first, followed by soft skills and then lastly other skills. 

4. Use ATS Responsive Dates and Job Titles

One important consideration which must be born in mind in making your CV ATS friendly is choosing the right job titles and using a responsive date format.

Once there is a good fit between a candidate’s job title and that of a job description the CV will be scored higher by ATS.

Career experts often recommend that your job title can be slightly changed to meet a job description if you performed very similar roles.

For instance, Marketing Manager, Head of Marketing, and Senior Marketing Executive can all mean the same thing and may have similar job descriptions in some instances and each can be modified as and when necessary to suite a job description.

One note of caution though is that you would need to notify your referees of the change before it blows things out of proportion.

In writing ATS friendly dates, always make sure that you include the month and years of all events and ensure consistency.

When it comes to the current position it becomes more tricky than usual. we recommend that you would need to put your current month or year instead of indicating present or to date as these phrases will not be read by most ATS.

5. Use an ATS Responsive Profile Summary/Career Objective

There is an ongoing debate regarding whether a Career Objective is necessary or not. Here, I offer you the way out.

My recommendation is to present a concise profile summary using the keywords in the job description.

Another alternative is to avoid the profile summary altogether and rather place your core skills based on the job description.

A review of sampled CVs by Sobiaonline revealed the following:

Wide gaps were found in candidates profile summaries vis-a-vis the main body of their CVs.

 Most CVs content failed to match the job descriptions they are applying for in any way.

Thus job seeker’s inability to write ATS responsive summaries and profile summaries, in general, is largely influenced by a candidate’s ability to include what is relevant based on job descriptions.

6. Make your work experience section ATS responsive.  

In this section, I will not touch on how to present your work experience but rather how to make your experience section ATS friendly.

For detail information on how to present your work experience please read our next article on how to write your next winning CV using achievements. 

As a job seeker, you would need to work on your greatest achievements and commit it to the job description. According to Victor Mc Lean, a certified advanced resume writer:

A good CV is all about highlighting and presentation of objective achievements alongside optimizing keywords. In senior level positions demonstrating potential, motivation and commitment is essential

One important point worth mentioning is the need to make sure you utilize the job description keywords as much as possible in detailing your achievements. 

7. Write an ATS responsive Qualifications

Make sure that you relate all your qualifications to the job description. State the full version of your qualification in sentence form. 

8. Format Your CV to make it ATS friendly

There are various attractive CVs displayed out there in the name of helping candidates but how many of these CVs are actually ATS friendly?

The key here is to make sure that your content will be easily read by the CV/Resume bots. Use these tried and tested tricks and it will make your CV ATS proof.


  • Use simple bullet points and make sure each phrase or word makes meaning standing alone. 

  • Avoid graphs and symbols as ATS finds it hard to read them. Also avoid tables as much as possible

  • Most companies do not entertain candidate’s pictures as it is believed to have been causing discrimination.

  • Use similar key words in both your main CV and profile summary.

  • Use the right fonts. Arial, Times New Roman and Courier which are mostly recommended.

  • Use Traditional headings such as Education, Experience, Skills, among others. Avoid naming subsections with words that are less commonly used

  • Repeat important skills 2-3 times only.


9. Use ATS software: ” It Takes a Thief to Catch a Thief!”

Once you observe all these I believe your CV should be ATS friendly. However, I still recommend that you utilize relevant software to scan your CV before forwarding your job applications.

I have provided a list of 18 ATS software you can use to pre-scan your CV before submitting your application

    1. BambooHR

    2. Zoho Recruit

    3. ClearCompany

    4. iCIMS Talent Acquisition

    5. Oracle Taleo Cloud Service

    6. Jobvite

    7. SmartRecruiters

    8. Lever

    9. Recruiterbox

    10. Greenhouse

    11. Sage People

    12. Recruitee

    13. ApplicantStack

    14. Workable

    15. JazzHR

    16. Softgarden

    17. employAstar

    18. VidCruiter


What do you think about ATS? What are your tricks when it comes to ATS? Comment below or meet Adam on Sobiatribe


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