5 Tips on optimizing keywords in your CV

04 Aug, 2022

The aim of this is not to scare you, but rather to shed some light on all the background action that happens after you have submitted that CV.

The digital age has made it possible for anyone to apply for any job, whether qualified or not, resulting in thousands of applications, thousands of CV’s to sift through and a lot of people to manage. The aim of this is not to scare you, but rather to shed some light on all the background action that happens after you have submitted that CV. Recruiters use an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) to manage applications, filter candidates and track each individual application’s status in the process. Recruiters don’t ready every CV line by line, they take a cursory glance and only dig deeper if titles and skills pique their interest. Part of ATS software’s job is to filter CV’s in response to advertisements by the means of trawling CV’s for certain keywords. Job boards use the same software to be able to filter and return results for searches of relevant candidates based on uploaded CV’s. So, needless to say, it is important to make sure your CV is not filtered out by software early on in the process. ATS systems use keyword and phrase recognition to filter CV’s and most of them gives a CV a match rate to the keywords it is looking for. Here are 5 tips to optimise your CV with relevant keywords and phrases to your industry or for a specific job.
  • Research: Read the job descriptions of your target jobs and jot down the keywords and phrases that you pick up consistently. You should try and align your headings, description of your skills and your job titles to the most commonly used and understood industry terms. There will always be outlier terms and phrases that forms part of the company’s jargon, don’t stress too much about that. We adjust job specs to include the most commonly used industry terms and single out those keywords in the backend of our ATS, so if your keywords are commonly used, we will get to see your application.
  • Adjust your job title if you must: Some companies get really creative with their job titles. If you are called the Senior Codeling of your organisation or a Guru or Rockstar of some sort, that’s fun and great for morale! However, calling yourself a Codeling instead of a Software Developer on your CV, is not going to get your CV in front of a Recruiter. Rather make that change. There is nothing wrong with changing your job titles as time goes on. All you are doing is editing the title to what it would be in today’s relevant terms. Say for instance that you worked as a Software Developer for 6 years in a company that does not differentiate between experience levels in their official titles, however, after 6 years, you have progressed to a Senior experience level developer, then that is what you should call yourself and pursue. This is about recontextualising your work experience rather than giving yourself a promotion that you think you deserved.
  • Check your spelling: Spelling errors in your keywords completely defeats the purpose
  • Keep it plain: Most ATS systems can’t read tables, pictures and fancy fonts, so keep it plain and simple with commonly used fonts and avoid tables. Also make sure your contact details are at the start of the CV but not within a header or a table.
  • Don’t give in to keyword stuffing: Filling up your CV with every keyword you can think of will flag your CV as suspicious and filter it out. Internet software is always on the lookout for robots so stay human, write your CV naturally and then just focus on related keywords specifically within your Job Titles and Skills sections.
  ATS is only the start of the process, after the ATS system highlights your CV to a recruiter, it is still read by an actual human. It is crucial to follow the same best practices of CV writing. It is essential that your CV looks professional, targeted and reads like a CV and not a bunch of keywords in a row. Check back really soon as we're working on a SA specific document of keywords per industry.

Now, you go get that job!

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