Artificial intelligence is commonly used by organisations to find their interview shortlist. In the recently published Career Guide, brought to you by Barden and Chartered Accountants Ireland, Miriam Magner Flynn explains how you can optimise your CV so it gets noticed by both the software and hiring manager.
When applying online for a role, your CV will probably be passed through an applicant tracker system (ATS) powered by artificial intelligence (AI), which will screen suitability and help determine whether you make the interview shortlist.
Even if you ‘cleverly’ manipulate your CV to ‘beat the tracker’ and make it to the shortlist, at the end of the day, you will be faced by a human. They will dig deeper into your competencies, achievements, and experience. Therefore, it’s important to optimise your CV to make the shortlist rather than attempt to ‘beat the tracker’, irritating the recruiter and setting you up for disappointment.
The three key considerations when optimising your CV are format, word match and impact. Let’s look at each.
When it comes to formatting, keep it simple. Tables and graphics confuse some trackers and cause sections of your CV to be overlooked. Have a crisp, professional layout that is easy to read, maximises space and is not cluttered. The optimum length of a CV (a common question asked of our coaches) is one or two pages. Many ATS use signal-to-noise ratio, which means that pertinent information (signal) is weighted against irrelevant information (noise). So, less text can increase your resume’s relevance.
It sounds obvious, but take the time to match the exact language of the job description when you are listing your skills, education and experience in your CV. Be sure to include a combination of your technical, industry and people skills, as well. For example:
- Technical skills include competencies such as project management, data analysis and report writing. If essential to the role, include your proficiencies with specific systems and tools.
- Industry skills are specific to the function performed within the given industry. For example, in financial services, your function might include taxation. You should list your area of expertise, such as corporation tax, payroll, VAT etc. If yours is a specialised role, like derivatives, list the assets you deal with such as bonds, commodities, currencies, stocks, etc.
- People skills cover interpersonal and relationship skills. Be specific. Don’t rely on the generic ‘communication’ skills. Instead, break it down. Consider your true strengths. Match your strengths to those listed as important in the job specification. This also covers relationship building, stakeholder engagement and managing/leading people. If you manage people, do you cover the full gamut of recruiting, hiring, onboarding, developing, mentoring, coaching, reviewing performance, disciplining, downsizing?
Most ATS use frequency as a factor – the more often a skill or keyword appears, the more important it is deemed – and that is reflected in the match rate. However, don’t overdo it. Think of the human that will read it later.
It can be helpful to create a ‘master’ CV which outlines your proudest achievements and includes all your key skills. When applying for a role, simply ‘tweak’ your master CV to match the language of the job specification.
Finally, ATS will check for occurrences of the job title of which you are applying. If you haven’t held that job title previously (chances are you haven’t – this may well be why you’re applying!), don’t pretend you have. Similarly, don’t include skills on your CV that you are not sufficiently competent in purely to ‘beat the tracker’. Address any gaps in your cover letter or executive summary. These will be passed through the ATS, as well. This is where you can refer to the exact job title, repeat the key skills that make you a great fit for the role, mention skills you may lack, and explain how you intend to address the shortfall. In this way, the job title and your less competent skills are counted in the word match. You will not only be seen as honest, but you will have presented your willingness to develop.
AI, as the ‘I’ suggests, is a lot more intelligent than a simple word count. It tracks impact or ‘measured’ results. Listing your skills highlights what you can do. Listing your achievements, including the scale of your responsibility and quantifying your results, highlights the impact you’ve made. For example, if you lead a team, how many people? If you recommended a process improvement, what was the effect? If you influenced a change in strategy, what was the consequence? If there is a tangible result, be proud, own it and include it. To optimise your CV, focus on quantifying (using numbers) and qualifying (using keywords like ‘increased’, ‘reduced’, and ‘saved’) your achievements rather than listing your duties and responsibilities.
- Create a ‘master’ CV that outlines your proudest achievements and includes all of your key skills. When applying for a role, simply tweak your master CV to match the language of the job specification.
- Consider professional help from an expert who can help you shine. At Career Decisions, for example, all career transition coaching programmes include access to the PowerMyCareer career portal. This portal includes tools to analyse your CV, score alignment for specific job postings, and help you optimise your keywords for search engine visibility.
Miriam Magner Flynn is Managing Director of Career Decisions, an award-winning coaching firm that specialises in career transition coaching, also known as outplacement. Miriam is a leadership, career and change strategy expert who has led some of Ireland’s largest career transition and executive coaching programmes.
You can read this article and others in Career Guide 2021/2022.