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Time to Conquer Those Applicant Tracking Systems

You’ve applied for the perfect remote writing positions and submitted your résumé or CV and cover letter, but it’s been weeks since you’ve received any responses. What is the problem?

It’s most likely the infamous ATS.

Perhaps, your résumé or CV fell through the cracks to this pioneering recruitment technology—the one that totally trashes most applications? Or, is it truly the source of the problem with remote writing job applicants?

Should we write it off as a blessing or a curse to remote recruitment?

Let's first explain what ATS is all about, how it impacts your next application, and how you can work the system!


What's an ATS?

Or more importantly—what does ‘ATS’ stand for?

ATS represents ‘Applicant Tracking System’, which is a form of software that helps recruiters filter and screen candidates for their job positions.

These systems enable companies to save tremendous time in the process of reading through résumés or CVs and selecting applicants. No longer must they open dozens of tabs or print out hundreds of résumés/CVs. An ATS will gather and organize the best applications that match the job requirements and pass them on to the human recruiter for a final evaluation.

When a résumé or CV is submitted, it will join the database...with the other hundreds of applicants. The résumé or CV robots and algorithms will then scan and scour all the crucial information and requirements needed for the role. Some applicant tracking software will even use ratings, depending on how accurate your application is according to the job description. Next, it will be scored on a 100-scale.

Recruiters can also take advantage of other notable ATS features such as the ability to post on job boards and integrate email templates to send out to their applicants.


How Does ATS Impact Your Application?

Here's the shocking disappointment. The majority of résumés/CVs are never seen by human eyes. Well, that may not be too shocking for most, but certainly disappointing to all of us. Before your potential remote employer even sees your application, it will be sent to the trash if it doesn’t meet the specific criteria of an ATS.

Now, before we let frustration set in, there's some great news for remote writer applicants. If you successfully structure your résumé or CV, you’ll be able to conquer the ATS and have your application read by your desired project manager or remote company.

Additionally, here's another positive fact:

If you're applying for a remote writing job that allows you to submit an application and/or portfolio through a specific company email address or direct application manager, then it's high unlikely that an ATS is being used. This increases your chance of being reviewed by a human—from the beginning.

Now, How Can I Conquer ATS?

The increasing use of ATS software by companies and organizations requires candidates to improve their résumés/CVs and make them ATS-friendly. Let's highlight some great tips to follow that will help you get past those bots and receive a positive response from your potential remote writing employer.

1. Use Accurate Keywords—Be Exact

An ATS will compare the keywords in the job description to those used in your résumé/CV. If the system notices a match in your skills and experience sections, your résumé/CV will be given the green light and forwarded to an actual human. For example, if the job description asks for a ‘copywriter’ and your résumé/CV includes those exact keywords, then congrats! Your application will proceed and (at least) be rated for human review.

Some ATS are so advanced that they’ll even detect synonyms. Lesser advanced ones, however, might not realize that ‘Microsoft Word’ is the same as ‘MS Word’, for instance.

Aim to use exact keywords for your skills and titles, but also be careful not to overdue it. You might fool the system, but you won’t fool the recruiters once they finally read and review your résumé/CV!


2. Select the Right Font

Some applications do not allow you to attach a résumé/CV. You must type in your experience or copy/paste your skills. In this case, you can skip this tip and proceed to #3.

If you come across an amazing remote writing job that allows you to attach your résumé/CV or change the font when typing, then this tip is for you!

As much as you’d like your résumé/CV to stand out in the crowd or look visually appealing using fancy typefaces, it’s recommended that you use the most basic of fonts. Most ATS can’t even recognize standard fonts such as Times New Roman or Cambria. These serif fonts have marks attached to their characters, making them unreadable by the software.

The key: stay away from script and decorative fonts, period.

There are four main types of fonts:

  • Serif – fonts that use serifs a.k.a. small lines at the ends of characters (examples include Times New Roman and Baskerville)

  • Sans-serifsans is French for ‘without’, meaning they don’t have serifs (examples include Helvetica and Verdana)

  • Script – fonts that mimic modern or historical handwriting styles (examples include Brush Script and Vivaldi)

  • Decorative – these are characterized by unusual features intended to add splash and pizzazz to a design (examples include ITC Matisse and Outlaw)

What should your choose?

Sans serif fonts (like Calibri) are the best fonts to help give your résumé/CV the shortlist appeal and readability by these tracking systems.

Another minor (yet totally major) factor to consider is your use of bullet points. The circular-shaped bullets are more easily read by an ATS compared to diamond or arrow-shaped ones.


3. Use the Proper Format

Many résumés/CVs don't pass the ATS stage simply because of their format.

Avoid using PDF, HTML, Open Office and Apple Pages, as these will likely not be read by the system.

ATSs are more compatible with Microsoft Word documents.

Matter of fact, it’s generally advised that you create your résumés/CVs in Word, convert it to a TXT file and then back to Word—this ensures that your file will be ultra-tidy and readable by the system.

If you are simply showcasing your portfolio and not submitting your application through an ATS, then a PDF or HTML is no problem at all.

No matter what, always read the instructions for submitting an application in the job description. This is vital to your application's success.


4. Avoid Headers and Footers

Many candidates like to place their contact details, address, and photo in the header and footer areas of their résumé/CV. While this may look visually appealing, unfortunately, it won’t be read by an ATS.

Avoid placing important information in the header and footer of your document and, instead, position it in the body of the résumé/CV. It’s best to leave the header and footer area empty so as not to confuse the system.


5. Structure is Key—Align to the Left & Segment Correctly

Once again, as fancy or elegant as you’d like your résumé/CV to look, if you suspect that an ATS will read it, make sure its content is aligned to the left.

Right alignment may make you different, but it will also send you to the trash pile by the system.

It’s also a great idea to structure your résumé/CV into specific sections, such as ‘Summary’, ‘Work Experience’, and ‘Education’. ATSs are made to detect and categorize these segments, so aim to include them when creating your document (just don’t ramble too much, and consider the ideal length for each particular job application...some job ads will provide these instructions, so read job ads carefully).

The software will read your résumé/CV correctly, as long as it’s structured in the most appropriate way.


6. Ditch the Visuals—Remove Images and Icons

It can be tempting to make your résumé/CV eye-catching, especially if you’re applying for a remote writing role that's looking for someone with creativity or previous graphics experience. In the case of applicant tracking systems, it’s best that visuals are left for your portfolio or a video interview.

Unfortunately, an ATS won’t be able to translate tables, graphs, images, or icons—it’s only able to read text, so ensure to save the creativity for a later stage.


7. Avoid Slang, Acronyms, and Spelling Errors

Think of the ATS as a dictionary. It only recognizes formal, professional, and recognizable words rather than slang and acronyms. The ATS might not detect words like ‘hustle’ or ‘pro’, neither will it associate ‘UofP’ with ‘University of Phoenix’.

So, always ensure that you use proper terminology and buzzwords in your document. Spell words correctly and in full. Yes, an ATS will skip any words that are not spelled correctly, but don’t make the common résumé/CV mistake of not running it by spellcheck before you apply for your next remote writing job!


Large organizations and recruiters alike are saving time and money through the advancement of tech. This is a good thing. However, we—as applicants and virtual employers—must evolve our strategies...especially if artificial intelligence continues to place its digital foot in the mix of future employment processes.

In conclusion, make sure you have an ATS-friendly résumé or CV on hand at all times and keep it relevant to each remote job post. You just never know which system might be scanning your next job application document!



Resources That May Help You Better Understand ATS and What to Look Out For When Applying for Remote Writing Jobs

(1) Top ATS Software Used By Employers: Next time you apply for a remote writing job, check out the website for the actually application you are entering your information. (For example: if you click the 'Apply" button for any job, does the next page show which software is powering that application?) iCims is a popular one, alongside BambooHR. Again, pay attention to the application screen (left or right-hand corner for clues to find which software a company is using).

(2) Examples of ATS-friendly Résumés and CVs: Explore the internet for ATS-friendly CVs by doing a simple web search. Don't forget to create your document in Microsoft Word for the best results.



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