Day 2 – Learning how to write an ATS CV, and professional Cover Letter
Getting Your Documents Ready
This day’s lesson is focused at showing you how to create a modern and professional CV and Cover letter while keeping in mind ATS which many struggle with
How to write a great CV
A CV is not just a document you send out in hopes of getting invited for an interview. A CV is a marketing document in which you are marketing yourself, so care needs to go into putting it together! You need to sell your skills, abilities, qualifications and experience to prospective employers. It conveys your personal details and should be done in the way that presents you in the best possible light.
The structure and readability of a CV is incredibly important as some recruiters may spend as little as 45 seconds skimming through your CV before marking it “no”, “maybe” or “yes”. Another thing to consider is, with the use of technology to scan through CVs it is important to choose the right keywords that match your expertise to the role you are applying for, please remember to keep it honest. Keep your professional CV brief and to the point and save the not so important details for the interview.
Most job advertisements receive hundreds of applications and most candidates are perfectly suitable for the job so it is vital that your CV stands out from the crowd. Make it look great, image is important when applying for job and this is not just limited to how you dress for an interview, it extends to your CV as well. Take some time in making it look good, be smart with the use of white space to make it easy on the eye. The use of colour has become common recently but please don’t go crazy with your colours, keep it modest, and keep the role you are applying for and organisation in mind when choosing your colours. Alternatively, use a professional CV writing and design services and let the experts design an outstanding CV for you. There is no single “correct” way to write and present a professional CV but the following general rules apply:
- It should be carefully and clearly laid out: logically ordered, easy to read and not cramped
- It should be informative but concise
- It should be accurate in content, spelling and grammar. If you mention attention to detail as a skill, make sure your spelling and grammar is perfect!
The content of your CV is what actually lets the employer see why you are the best candidate for the job, use this opportunity to match your skills to the employer’s requirements. You can go into more detail on your Cover Letter. Some of the most important aspects of a CV include but are not limited to: Contact Information – Keep it basic: your name, physical address, email address, and phone number, you can include your LinkedIn URL, too if you wish. It is not necessary to include personal details such as your date of birth, marital status, or religion.
This is arguably one of the most important aspects of your CV. It is where you give an overview of who you are and inject a touch of personality. Keep it short, no longer than a few sentences. Cover the following:
- Who you are
- What you do
- What you can offer the company
- Your career goals
5. Previous Work Experience
Your experience should be listed in reverse chronological order. You should state your job title and the dates you worked, followed by your responsibilities. Your current role is the one recruiters will look at with the most attention, your older roles can just be listed and accompanied by a summary of the role. It helps to choose the duties most relevant to the job you are applying for, especially if it is a long list. You can experiment with the format, but in this section, bullet points are useful for clarity and highlighting key skills. Reason for leaving is unnecessary on your CV, remember the main purpose of this document is to sell yourself and secure interviews, you can give this information in the interview if you are asked.
6. Education and Qualifications
Like the Experience section, your education should be listed in reverse chronological order. Include the name of the institutions and the dates you were there, followed by the grades you achieved. If you have a lot of qualifications, there is no need to list them all; just choose the most relevant.
7. Computer Skills
Not only does this section tell employers what computer skills you have, the additional keywords help your resume compete in a resume database.
8. Personal Attributes
This is a great opportunity to display yourself as a good Culture/Team fit. Choose your attributes carefully and highlight the most relevant ones for the role, now is not the time to be modest, do not downplay your capabilities. Again, please do not get “creative”, keep it honest, you do not want to have your integrity questioned.
Your referees should be your previous employers or your educational tutors, but there is no need to list all their details in this section. A person’s Name, Company/Institution, Designation, Contact Number, and Email Address are common things to include. Stating “References available on request” is also acceptable.
Send your CV out in PDF Format (unless otherwise stated by the recruiter), this will help maintain formatting, insuring the recruiter sees your CV the way you intended it to look. It is also the safest format as it can be opened from almost any device. Including a picture on a CV is getting increasingly common but it is ultimately your decision. If you do decide to include a picture, make sure it is a professional headshot.
11. Common Mistakes to avoid
Take care to avoid these common mistakes when writing your professional CV as they could come at a hefty cost:
- Spelling and grammar
- Not tailored to the job
- Poor format
- Poor work history
- Vague or overly complex descriptions
With all that said, your CV is a representation of you so have a CV you are proud to send out.
If are done putting together your well written CV and need help making it look outstanding check out Elite CV. Also see the Rewards of having a great CV.
How to write a Cover Letter
A Cover Letter serves a purpose far beyond introducing you to a prospective employer, it puts your CV in context. A lot of attention is paid to compiling a meticulous CV and rightfully so, however, a CV in itself is limited in its ability to articulate your value proposition. Essentially, a great Cover Letter tells a story of how you are the candidate of choice and a CV provides the evidence thereof.
A Cover Letter also summarises your experience and expertise in a single page. More importantly, it is a fantastic opportunity for you to match your skills to the position you are applying for and showcase your suitability.
So how do you put together a superb Cover Letter?
Avoid writing a generic letter as this defeats the purpose of a Cover Letter. When writing, keep the end in mind, what idea do you want the reader to have about you, what message are you trying to articulate? Where possible, address the letter to the intended recipient (i.e. Hiring Manager Company X or Mrs Linda Smith, Human Resources, Company C). There are tons of Cover Letter samples on the internet, resist the temptation to copy and paste. Recruiters and hiring managers see dozens of Cover Letters, and it may discredit you if the reader of your Cover Letter is familiar with the content you are sampling. Also, you don’t want to submit the same Cover Letter as another applicant. Just go through the sample letters for guidance if you are struggling to come up with the right content, but keep your letter authentic.
2. State your interest in the hiring company
Speak to what in particular about the role and company piqued your interest. Use this opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of the position and the organisation. This can only work in your favour as it will show you made an effort and that you are not just applying for the sake of applying.
Your CV will address your abilities in detail so focus on the skills that are most relevant to the position you are applying for. Provide a brief professional background and touch on relevant education and training. On a new paragraph, go into your core competencies and match your skills to the role.
4. Achievements, achievements, achievements!
Everything you say means so much more if you can back it up. Highlight the achievements most relevant to the position you are applying for. Everything you promise to deliver in a new role is far more believable if you can show that you have already achieved similar results in the past.
In closing, emphasise your interest in the role and again highlight your suitability based on your skills and experience. Mention what you will bring to the team if appointed and let the reader see what an incredible candidate they stand to gain if you are selected.
6. Keep it brief
Remember a Cover Letter does not replace your CV and should never be more than a page long. Three-quarters of a page is the ideal length.
7. Proof Read
Read over your Cover Letter out loud several times and look out for spelling and grammatical errors. Even the slightest mistake could make the reader lose interest in you as a potential contender for the role. Before sending out your newly written Cover Letter, ask a friend or trusted colleague to read through it, as a fresh pair of eyes could pick up any errors you may have missed.
8. Bonus Point
Most job adverts do not request a Cover Letter submission and by default, jobseekers assume a CV alone will suffice, perhaps, but a cover letter provides an added advantage. Forbes published a very helpful article titled a Formula For Writing An Attention-Grabbing Cover Letter, it has tips on mistakes to avoid and how to grab the reader with a great opening line.
ATS-Applicant Tracking System
Could ATS be the reason you didn’t get called for that interview?
A couple of years back, I confidently submitted my CV online to apply for a vacancy, just as I have done many times before. I was more than qualified for the job, and I knew that if invited, I would ace the interview. Besides, since the beginning of my career, there was never a time I did not get invited for an interview for any of the jobs I applied for. So needless to say, I was super confident that I’d get that call.
Days turned to weeks and no call, I was really baffled. I could not understand why I didn’t make the shortlist even though I ticked all the boxes for the requirements, it just did not make sense to me at all at the time. Fast forward many years later, I started hearing the word ATS. It sounded like some exotic virus to me, like “Hey Susan, I’m really sorry I could not make it to your party last weekend I caught ATS but don’t worry I’m fine now”.
Little did I know this ATS “virus” is the reason I did not get that interview. Looking back at the CV I submitted and gauging it against job specs for similar roles it now makes complete sense that I didn’t make the cut. Sad thing is, many professionals are yet to discover how this ATS is standing in their way of getting the jobs they want.
Thanks to google, we all know that ATS is an acronym for Applicant Tracking System, but how many people really understand how it works and how it affects the job application process? When job boards came into the picture in the late 90’s, electronic recruitment systems or applicant tracking systems were not far behind.
It made sense as it became far easier to apply for a job so, each post got a lot more applicants and having a person or people vet every individual CV was a mundane task not to mention time-consuming. ATS is similar to CRMs, it does more than shortlist candidates, it also offers features like interview scheduling and manages contact with the candidates; overall, it provides companies with end-to-end recruitment automation.
The most commonly used (and the largest) ATS globally is Taleo, and it is owned by Oracle. It is very important to be familiar with ATS requirements as 90% of medium and large companies use applicant tracking systems, and only an average of 25% of CVs pass the ATS screening stage. This does not mean that the 25% represents the most qualified candidates, it just means they have the most ATS optimised CVs. Seeing that 75% of CVs get rejected before reaching human eyes, makes optimising your CV a basic necessity and not a bonus.
Mistakes to avoid when optimising your CV for ATS
Some applicant tracking systems use sophisticated algorithms that will pick up irregularities on your CV, such as an abnormally high keyword match. If the CV makes it though in cases where companies still use dated ATS, the HR personnel or recruiter will definitely pick this up when your CV makes it to them.
Specialised, experienced, detail-oriented, motivated, team player, leader are some of the most overused buzzwords on CVs. You want your CV to stand out, so try avoiding using common buzzwords because you don’t want to pass ATS filtering only to have your CV chucked by the first person that reviews it. Another consideration is that there is a recommended CV length, and you don’t want to make your CV unnecessarily lengthy by adding meaningless phrases. The Balance wrote a great article on Top 10 CV buzzwords – and how to avoid them
Cheating the system:
There is a lot of bad advice out there on how to get around ATS or bluntly put, how to cheat your way through ATS. The most common one making the rounds is how you should copy and paste the job spec at the bottom of your CV, make the text super small and white so it is not visible to human eyes. Please don’t do this, it is a terrible idea, if you came across this information, it is unreasonable to think recruiters are not aware of this “trick”. Think of what it does to your credibility when you get caught, it is extremely easy to pick this up. It’s not all doom and gloom, there are things you can to optimise your CV for ATS by using techniques similar to those used in search engine optimisation (SEO). The most important thing to remember is to stay completely truthful, if you get caught lying on your CV, you could get blacklisted and lose out on future opportunities within that organisation.
Tips for an ATS compatible CV
Start with a job spec:
If you know what the role requirements are you are better equipped to understand what proficiencies to focus on. This may mean tailoring your CV for each of the different roles you apply for. Skills you may deem unimportant to mention may be just the skills that will help your CV rate high when scanned.
Make a list:
Listing all the keywords on the job spec that are applicable to you is a great starting point when writing your CV, it provides direction and will help you not to undersell yourself by leaving out required skills you are in possession of.
Keyword match tastefully:
Don’t just randomly throw keywords all over or make a lengthy list of every keyword. Work the important keywords into your summary then have a list of skills and a list of attributes or soft skills. Another great place to use for keyword matching is under career history, as you summarise each role keep the job spec in mind and highlight relevant skills and experience.
Education is important:
The advantage of your CV being shortlisted by a human is that humans are able to determine your role suitability in the absence of required qualifications based on the amount of relevant experience you have. ATS on the other hand is not so forgiving, if the role requires a bachelor’s degree or higher and you don’t have it, you may not get past the ATS. When adding your education, use both long-form and acronym version, example “Master of Business Administration (MBA)”.
Use standard headings:
ATS will look for specific words on your CV so do not get creative with your headings. Use standard/common headings such as Work History/Career History/Work Experience.
Use the correct format:
Use consistent formatting for dates throughout your CV. Though visually appealing, adding graphs to your CV is not useful as ATS won’t be able to read them so save the space and don’t include them. Rather have your achievements in bullet point. Best file formats to use is .pdf or .docx.
Your CV must pass both robot and human eyes. Don’t focus so much on ATS optimisation that you end up with a CV that fails to impress a human. Always write your CV with the recruiter and hiring manager in mind, then optimise that CV for ATS, do not try and do it the other way around it will be more difficult. Christmas is around the corner and the best gift for any occasion is a Rubik’s Cube that you can easily solve with this cube puzzle tutorial.