How to cheat the ATS ethically…

You may have heard the term Applicant Tracking System or its acronym ATS.  Or, you have no idea what an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is and now wondering why you need to know!  So, what is an applicant tracking system?  It’s an electronic database that can track vacancies and candidates through the recruitment journey.

Technology today has advanced from the old-style Access Database.  Applicant tracking systems are sophisticated software with coding and programming that automates a number of recruitment processes.  It can manage high volumes of applicants and candidates in a fraction of the time it would have taken a human. Including screening CVs against job criteria.

Larger companies will configure their system to manage the vacancy approval process internally. The system will then manage a range of sourcing and selection activities throughout the various recruitment stages. An Applicant Tracking System will also be set up to manage a range of candidate management throughout the various recruitment stages:

Applicant Tracking System configuration

Candidate journey:

  • Cover letters and CV’s sent online to an ATS (database)
  • Acknowledgement letters/emails sent automatically
  • The screening process to narrow the selection to the criteria
  • Invite to interview or rejection
  • Invitation to a second or third interview or rejection after 1st, 2nd or 3rd stage
  • Offer letter and contract sent

Vacancy Management:

  • Approval and authorisation for the vacancy
  • Advertise Internally
  • External advert (Companies may subscribe to a variety of job boards and most can be linked to internal databases)
  • Candidate management activities that can easily be automated (Acknowledgement emails, invites to interview, rejection emails, offer letters and contracts etc.)

Why do you need to know?

ATS are programmed to screen CVs against the job criteria. So, keywords are not just relevant for your LinkedIn account or social media platforms. Keywords are important to include in your CV.  Of course, you need to be able to back up these keywords with experience or knowledge.  And, that’s why we are cheating ethically! 

So, don’t be tempted to throw in some keywords that you cannot explain in an interview. It’s highly likely that at some point in the recruitment process, your CV will be read by a human. However, unless your CV gets through the ATS you will probably receive the automated rejection letter or email.

Here’s an example:

What it says on the CV = What the advert says

  • Able to use LinkedIn proficiently  = Boolean Search Techniques
  • Conducted thousands of interviews = Behavioural Competency Interviews
  • Advanced knowledge of in-house systems = Applicant Tracking Systems ATS
  • HR Software = SAP, Oracle, PeopleSoft
  • IT Literate = Advanced on MS PowerPoint, Word and Excel
  • Building relationships = Stakeholder Management

So, if I stick to my current CV terminology and submit through an applicant tracking system it’s likely it won’t get through the screening process.  Even though I tick all of the requirements. 

That’s why it’s so important to take the time to tailor the entire CV. They may also search for specific sectors and industries or even competitors.  If you haven’t included this on your CV it won’t make the first sift.

When I worked in Corporate Banking in the City a good fit with their model of banking were Lloyds TSB, RBS, Barclays and UBS – they were clearing banks and anyone with previous experience within these banks would have fit in well. We didn’t include this on any job advert or description.

Here’s how to ethically cheat the Applicant Tracking System with Keywords

There is no getting away from keywords. Recruiters are using job-related keywords every single day. In other words, they use keywords on LinkedIn to find candidates for specific vacancies. And, they will be tapping in keywords to the ATS (candidate databases) to find CVs.  Recruiters call this searching process ‘mining’.

[bctt tweet=”There is no getting away from keywords. Recruiters are using job-related keywords every single day to search for you on LinkedIn, searching databases and job boards! Learn to love the algorithms! 🙂 #keywords #LinkedInTips ” username=”InterviewCoachD”]

That’s is why it’s so important to tailor your CV, Cover Letter and application forms to the vacancy.  This is essentially how to “cheat” the ATS by conducting a thorough job analysis and spending quality time tailoring each application to each vacancy.  By spending time ensuring your CV includes the keywords will increase your chances of getting through the ATS screening process and ultimately get invited to interview.

Just an additional note:  I’m a big advocate for the importance of behavioural competencies and you’ll need to bring some specific examples to the interview most definitely.  However, keywords need to be technical or job-related skills, knowledge, qualification or experience. 

Keywords are to essentially find people with a good match to the job requirements and to filter out.  Using behavioural competencies like communication skills or problem-solving skills just won’t be effective when searching on databases or social media.

Your privacy is protected, and your email address will only be used by Your Interview Coach part of DHD Moss Limited to communicate with you about all aspects relating to your career and personal development.  You can cancel your subscription at any time.

If you’re ready to start looking for your next job and your career to take off, then sign up right now.

Just enter your first name and email address above to get your guide. It’s absolutely FREE! 

Let’s give you a couple of other keyword examples:

Health and Safety Advisor

There are Health and safety advisor, consultants and trainers, working in corporate businesses, HR departments, or Facilities Management. 

There are also independent consultants, usually self-employed or working for management consultancies.   

  • IOSH
  • PPE
  • Risk Management and risk assessment
  • Health and safety at work
  • Risk control
  • Legislation and regulation
  • Fire Safety
  • Fire prevention 
  • Audits
  • Hazard assessment
  • Accident and incident reporting and investigation
  • HSE etc.
  • Slips, trips, and falls
  • COVID-19 
  • Safeguarding 


Depending on what type of Lawyer you are there are literally hundreds of keywords associated with each discipline. 

Therefore, do conduct your own research by reviewing some job vacancies on job boards. 

You’ll see the common themes threaded through and then make the decision to add these words to your CV (as long as you have the skills and knowledge).

  • Criminal law
  • Employment law
  • Civil law
  • Legislation
  • Legal and legal aid
  • Documentation
  • Litigation
  • Family law
  • Commercial law
  • Contracts
  • Arbitration
  • Compensation
  • Compromise agreements
  • Clause



There are various accountants, management accountants, financial controllers, product controllers, bookkeepers and many more.


  • Accounts payable and receivable
  • Profit and loss (Gross, net or margin)
  • Balance sheet
  • Cashflow
  • Audit
  • Assets
  • Capital
  • Corporation Tax
  • Debtors and creditors
  • Liabilities
  • Shareholders
  • Accrual’s
  • Turnover
  • CIMA
  • ACCA
  • AAT 
  • Fully Qualified
  • Part-Qualified

HR Advisors or Business Partners 

There are lots of general keywords associated with most job roles in HR.  So, ensure you have as many of these keywords in your CV and on your LinkedIn profile.

  • Talent attraction, acquisition, retention, and strategy
  • Recruitment strategy, campaigns, assessment centres
  • Employment Law, Equality Act, Diversity and Inclusion 
  • HR policies and procedures
  • Employee Relations ER
  • HR strategy, development, planning
  • HR forecasting and planning 
  • Grievances and disciplines
  • Learning and development
  • Training and development
  • Performance management
  • Orientation and onboarding 
  • Pre-employment screening
  • Background referencing and checking 
  • eLearning 
  • Total Rewards
  • Compensation and benefits (Comp & Bens)
  • Coaching and mentoring
  • Applicant Tracking Systems ATS
  • Recruitment sourcing and selection methods
  • Validity and reliability 

In conclusion, the way to cheat the applicant tracking systems (ethically) is to spend the time ensuring the keywords are threaded through your Cover Letters, CVs, and Application Forms. 

Therefore, you’ll most definitely increase your chances of getting invited to interview.  At the moment ATS doesn’t have any common sense (well not yet!), they can only screen CVs in or out with the information the recruiter inputs into the database.  So, for that reason, you do need to know what an applicant tracking system is and how it’s used.

Would you like jobs to find you?  Would you like to network with millions of decision-makers?  Click here for more information.