Beating the machine: How to write an AI-proof CV

Written by Adrienne Juhasz

Writing a good CV is no easy job. It takes some time to gather all the information you want to list on your curriculum vitae (CV), but it takes even longer to decide how to phrase each point - and then we haven’t even mentioned the design! Should you stick to simple black and white? Include a photo? How many pages is too many?

While considering all of this is challenging enough, you also need to ask yourself: who will read my résumé? Most people don’t consider this aspect, thinking ‘well, recruiters, of course!’ However, as we hit the era of machine learning, we can’t be so sure.

There are a handful of cases when an actual human being will be checking your CV. For example, maybe a friend agreed to give your CV to their aunt who runs her own business. Or you know for a fact that only 2-3 people applied for a position you’re interested in, so the recruiter can handle reading the CVs one by one. However, this is not always the case! With the current highly competitive job market, many recruiters are absolutely overwhelmed by the number of applicants they receive for certain positions Therefore, they’ve joined forces with tech companies to make their screening processes easier, lighter. But what does this look like in practice?

Searching the database

While recruiters these days may not read all CVs one by one, they still need to match a vast number of applicants with specific job descriptions. A lot of recruitment firms or departments have a heavy database of CVs made up of past and current applicants’ data, so recruiters use various search engines to look through these piles of information. They type in specific keywords and keyword combinations and the search engine displays those candidates that match the search criteria.

For instance, imagine a recruiter who wants to hire a junior, Spanish speaking copywriter. She could search for something like this: languages: Spanish + experience: 0-2 years + job titles: copywriter, writer, content writer. This is a very basic example but it reflects the idea that recruiters are searching based on very specific, simplified criteria.

Now imagine you are actually a bi-lingual marketing professional who enjoys copywriting, have 1.5 years of experience as a marketing assistant, and speak English, Spanish, and German. You would be great for this job! However, your CV is very brief and since you are bilingual, you accidentally wrote ‘Español’ under languages, even though this is your English language CV. Since the search engine is looking for the word "Spanish", it will not recognize you as a Spanish-speaker and it will keep on searching for the right candidate in the database, sending you an automated rejection email and leaving you wondering why you were not chosen.

The new role of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

Realizing how much time they have to spend on teaching recruiters the right way of using their search engines, some companies started taking advantage of machine learning solutions. These days there is software that is able to recognize various abbreviations and work in multiple languages at the same time. So going back to our previous example, the new AI search engine would know that you spoke Spanish even if you wrote ‘Español’ on your CV.

This new method saves a lot of time for recruiters and also gives a better chance for applicants whose profiles are stored in massive databases.

OK, but what should I do?

Now that you understand how recruiters go through virtual piles of CVs, you can also be more mindful of using specific keywords when creating your own CV. You want to make sure that an automatic screening by a machine does not disqualify you, while also making sure that the CV is readable and attractive once it does reach human eyes.

Here are a few tips on how you can make your CV perfect both for people and machines:

  1. Use the right keywords
    Machines only look for words and numbers. Be sure to include all important details of your past work and study experience, including years, job titles, and main responsibilities.
    It might also be worth checking for common ways of describing certain tasks. For instance, you should definitely write ‘organizing yearly company retreats’ instead of ‘chief of office parties’ - it might mean the same thing, but the wording shows something very different!
  2. Adapt your CV to the job description
    Job descriptions can be very helpful when you are choosing which keywords to include in your CV. Scan the job's requirement list for things that you are able to do but might be worded differently or missing in your CV. Match how you would describe yourself with the keywords used in the job description.
  3. Make it easy to read
    While it is important to include keywords in your CV, it should not become a long list of possible phrases recruiters search for. The ultimate aim is still to make it attractive to recruiters themselves so make sure you use bullet points, have clear sections, and use correct grammar!
  4. Use the right format
    This might go without saying, but using the right document format is crucial. When you are asked to upload your CV to an application platform, you may have no choice but to upload your CV as a PDF or Word document. However, some recruiters will ask for your CV via email. In this case, you may decide to send your CV as a picture file or as a text file, for whatever reason. If the recruiter later on wants to add these to her database and search for them, she will not be able to - so stick to the standard options of PDF or Word or ask for the preferred format if it’s not specified in the application form.
  5. Dare to question the system
    If you receive an automated email within an hour of applying for a job online, you may become suspicious that a machine screened your application and decided to reject you straight away. At the same time, you know for a fact that you qualify for the job and deserve at least an interview. In this case, do not be shy to reach out to the recruiter/company and share your concern! They also know that these systems are not flawless and might agree to manually check your application instead.

Do you need more help with your CV?

If you are still uncertain about how to write the most AI-proof CV, check our other blog posts for more CV tips. If you would rather speak to someone to tackle this question or any other obstacles related to your unemployment or career development, then please contact us at Empower Amsterdam. We are here to help you get back to work!