At first glance, you might struggle to find much of an intersection between search engine optimization (SEO) and CV writing. As a matter of fact, there didn’t use to be one until just a few years ago. However, the march of AI technology has given HR a powerful tool for sorting through job applications – the applicant tracking system (ATS).
Applicant tracking systems are AI-based software solutions that can be programmed with a set of criteria to look for in all incoming CVs. The bot takes the text of a CV, processes it, checks to see if said CV meets the requirements input by HR, then proceeds to either pass it along to a recruiter or not. This additional “sieve” is a great help for any HR department because it can save much of the time and effort required to look through every single application.
Even though an ATS is not exactly a search engine algorithm per se, the parallels between the two systems are undeniable. Search engines perform a remarkably similar function, only instead of throwing your CV out, they decide whether or not your content will be displayed to users.
This puts job applicants in a rather difficult position, where they have to satisfy the application-sorting bot before they even get a chance to impress a recruiter. The best way to do so is to use tried and true SEO techniques, combined with top-notch CV writing practices.
Create an exhaustive “master CV” for each industry you plan on seeking a job in. Put all even remotely relevant experience in there – all your qualifications, experience, education, freelance jobs, skills, personal projects, hobbies and soft skills. Additionally, make sure you sprinkle each individual “master CV” with industry-specific terms and phrases that make it clear you’re familiar with the nomenclature.
Bear in mind that these particular CVs are not meant to be sent out – but they will provide the groundwork of all your other CV-writing efforts. Every time you need to send out a CV, you can cut the big “master CV” down to size, customize it to suit your current needs and send that reworked version out. This practice will save you a lot of time and effort in the long run.
An ATS and a search engine operate on the same general principle – they look for keywords in your text and give you favorable treatment if they find said keywords. Therefore, you need to make sure that you use the keywords that the ATS is likely to look for in your CV.
The difference between finding a way to bypass an ATS and doing keyword research for SEO is that SEO keywords can be hard to figure out. When it comes to ATS, they get handed to you on a silver platter, in the very same job ad to which you are replying.
Take extra care to look at the job ad, then carefully read through it once more. Use the second read to collect all the keywords that you think will be crucial to include in your own CV writing efforts, and research others that may be useful. Look for skills, education requirements, certificates or experience, and use all of this information to customize your CV to the specifications of the ATS and the recruiter.
Once you have extracted all the relevant keywords from the job ad, it’s time to put them into your CV. This part may be a little bit tricky at times, as you just can’t use them throughout your text at random – they need to fit in naturally in the content of your CV. Remember: Keyword inclusion is mandatory to pass the ATS test, but once the AI is satisfied with you, you still need to impress the flesh-and-blood recruiter.
Customizing your CV in this manner is more important than it might appear at a glance, as nearly a third of employers are prone to just throwing out CVs that don’t seem tailored to the position.
Presentation is everything when it comes to CV writing – so make sure you polish yours and make it as impressive as possible.
It would probably be accurate to describe your work experience to date as a sum of “responsibility,” “professionalism” and “efficiency.” However, describing it in those terms guarantees that you will not stand out from the crowd.
What you need to do to optimize your CV to stand out is to use high-energy verbs that make you sound dynamic and proactive – words like “won,” “introduced,” “increased,” “saved,” “created,” “oversaw,” “reduced.” Using this type of animated language makes a far better impression than just describing yourself with tired old phrases, such as a “results-focused” and “go-getter.”
The need to impress in order to be picked out by a recruiter often pushes applicants to use extravagant language when writing their CVs.
Although using inventive phrasing can indeed impress HR on occasion, generally it is a terrible idea to use flowery language in your CV nowadays. Describing yourself as a “brandsmith” may well get you the approval of a few recruiters but the chances of an ATS knowing that it means “marketing manager” are virtually zero.
What you need to use instead is succinct, impactful one-liners that paint you as an invaluable employee that will fit the position well.
There is a good reason why this section is a prominent part of all modern CV templates. Listing all your talents may seem self-indulgent and boastful, but keep in mind that this section is actually important for employers. So much so, in fact, that nearly a third of all employers tend to just throw out CVs where it feels particularly lackluster or is empty altogether.
You must consider what you list in that section very carefully if you want to have the best chances of landing a job. Putting too few points in it makes you seem like you couldn’t even be bothered to list all your positive traits. Making it too long could create the impression that you are desperate or insincere.
For the best effect, you will need to strike a balance between the two extremes, and make sure you tailor the list according to the employer’s needs. This is where familiarizing yourself with the job ad and doing keyword research beforehand comes in handy.
Make sure you include the skills that the employer says they’d need and value – but don’t list them verbatim. Shuffle the list from the job ad around a bit, put in a few additions of your own and sprinkle the mix with a generous dose of keywords that you picked up from the said ad. Do all of this and you should have the recipe for success.
Since your first step towards landing a job is going to be to pass an algorithm test, it’s crucial for you to make sure your resume is actually AI-friendly.
The first thing you need to do to achieve this is to pay close attention to the job ad. If it gives any instructions on what your CV’s formatting needs to be, follow those to the letter, as the ATS may have trouble with other types of files or even unusual layouts.
Keep in mind that although ATS technology is a powerful tool, the AI driving it has its limitations. As an applicant, you need to be aware of those limitations to even have a chance of passing the ATS test.
Infographics are striking, impressive and memorable, which is why they are a preferred education and presentation tool. However, while visuals may impress a living recruiter, a bot will not be able to understand them and will probably throw out your CV if it encounters something of the sort.
To prevent any such mess-ups, stick to the basics. Choose a standard CV format, arrange your text using a standard template and write everything in a standard font. Don’t put anything fancy in your CV – avoid fancy fonts, unusual symbols and unnecessary graphics. Don’t use headers or footers, and always align your text to the left. Doing this will dramatically reduce the chances of an ATS miss-reading your CV and just throwing it out with the rest of the chaff.
Once you’re happy with the CV you’ve written, take the time to check it for typos, spelling errors and anything else that might need improvement. Doing this extra bit of work is totally justified for a few reasons. An ATS may be set to look for typos and bad spelling and directly eliminate applications based on that.
Furthermore, even if the ATS dealing with your CV is not set to judge you on your grammar, the recruiters that review any resumes approved by the AI tend not to be so lenient. More than half of HR specialists consider typos and similar errors in a CV to be an unacceptable lapse on the part of an applicant and will throw away such applications without hesitation.