Looking for a job can be difficult at the best of times, let alone in the middle of a pandemic. The spread of Covid-19 and the resulting lockdown have created a great deal of instability in the jobs market. Redundancies are on the rise, and companies are looking at the various different ways they can save money.

If you’re looking for a job during this time, it’s important to remember that though you can’t control the state of the jobs market, there are a few things you can do to increase your odds at landing an interview for the roles that you do apply for.

One of the main ways to do this, is to know how to beat CV algorithms. So what are CV algorithms, and how could they be standing in the way of your next job opportunity?

What’s a CV Algorithm?

There was a time when it was commonplace to drop off your CV to prospective employers by hand. Nowadays, thanks to technology, a single job posting online receives hundreds of digital CVs in response. So, to narrow down the applications, recruiters use something called computer algorithms.

In a nutshell, algorithms are sets of tasks or rules that a piece of computer software will follow when looking for CVs that are relevant to the role that is being applied for. These algorithms will tell the software which CVs to accept and which to reject.

Thus, if your CV is not written or laid out in a way that an algorithm understands, it may never make it into the hands of a human recruiter. If you’ve ever received a generic-looking rejection email in response to a job application, it was probably sent by an algorithm. Astonishingly, it’s estimated that algorithms reject up to 75% of CVs (The Economist).

5 Tips for Beating the Algorithms

While it can be quite hard to come to terms with the idea that your carefully put together CV might not be making it into the hands of a recruiter at all, there are some things that you can do to increase the likelihood that it will. Here are 5 tips to help you beat the algorithms.

Use Relevant Keywords

To ensure that at least some of the keywords on your CV match up with those that the algorithms will be looking for, it’s a good idea to study the job advert. This usually gives a detailed job description and person specification. It can also offer telltale signs about which keywords algorithms will be looking for.

Another place to look for keywords that will most effectively describe your skills is the company’s website or other industry-related.

Examples of keywords that an algorithm might look for are things like ‘SEO marketing skills’ or ‘Project Management’ (these are hard skills, which have been learned through education or training), or ‘dependability’ or ‘empathy’ (these are soft skills which are intrinsically linked to your character or personality).

Be sure to use these keywords in short, punchy sentences to demonstrate how your skills have contributed to success in the past. This way, when a human recruiter picks up your CV further down the line, they will know that you didn’t just pick out the relevant keywords you thought the algorithms would be looking for, without having used these skills yourself.

For example, you could say, “I have strong empathy skills, which have helped me to care for vulnerable patients across a range of different settings.”

Try to avoid using fluffy language – or language that doesn’t get straight to the point of what you are trying to say. Algorithms are robots, so they can only interpret very straightforward terminology and won’t know what it means if you say something like “I’m great at talking to people…”. Instead try saying, “I have excellent communication skills, which have helped me to… [insert example here]”.

Use Standard Job Titles

It’s important to use widely recognised, standard job titles that algorithms are likely to understand. For example, if your official job title was ‘Brand Evangelist’, then switch it to the more standard ‘Brand Manager’; if it was ‘Head of Growth’, you could change this to ‘Head of Customer Acquisition’.

Try not to assume that just because you know what your job title means, that both algorithms and recruiters further down the chain will too.

Consider the Layout of Your CV

Many people don’t realise that CV algorithms will reject a CV if its layout doesn’t meet certain requirements.

Text boxes, graphics or graphs of any kind, or fancy fonts or colours should all be avoided if you want your CV to make it past the algorithms. You should also avoid using ALL CAPITAL LETTERS unless using them for section headings.

Other tips include:

  • Choose relevant section headings: for example writing ‘Skills and achievements’ rather than the more vague ‘Where I’ve made an impact’.
  • Avoid including any information in the headers and footers of your CV.
  • Try not to use hyperlinks. It’s better to send any important links to a recruiter separately, or to include the website link in its entirety on your CV. This might be relevant to you if you have something like an online portfolio that you want to share.
  • Make sure the algorithm can easily scan your CV from left to right.

Always Submit Your CV in the Right File Format

Recruiters will sometimes specify what sort of file type they would like you to use when you submit your CV. Chances are this will either be a Word document (.doc or .docx) or a PDF.

Word documents are the most popular choice where algorithms are concerned, because they are easier to scan. If a Word document is required, then chances are your CV will be scanned by an algorithm.  

It’s likely that submitting your CV in the wrong file format will get it quickly rejected – so try to make sure that you get this right. If a recruiter doesn’t specify which file format you should use, it’s generally best to submit it as a Word document, because this is the most algorithm-friendly.

Don’t Try to Outsmart the Algorithms

Once you have a better understanding of how algorithms work, it might be tempting to consider the ways in which you might be able to outsmart them. It’s not uncommon for people to try pasting blocks of white keywords onto the bottom of their CV or adding a ‘Keyword’ section in the hopes that this will get their CV past the algorithms.

However, it’s important to remember that even if you do beat the algorithms, a human recruiter will be the next to assess your CV and will quickly be able to suss out what you’ve done. They won’t be impressed to see that you’ve pasted blocks of words onto your CV to get ahead.

Without evidence of how you’ve used these skills and what they’ve helped you to achieve, they will also be likely to question whether you really possess these skills at all. For this reason, it’s better to make sure that anything that you include on your CV is readable by both robots and humans.

CV algorithms can be a real pain, but when you are aware that they exist and are prepared to beat them, you will have a greater chance of making it to the next stage of the application process.

If you’re yet to create your CV, consider downloading a template or looking at the many resources available at RestLess.

What is your experience with CV algorithms? Have you managed to beat the bots? Can you tell when a rejection email is the work of an algorithm? Please share your job hunting experience with our community.

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