There is no doubt that today’s job market is extremely competitive, and it is toughest for those at the start of their career journey. A recent YouGov poll found that in the age group 18-24, 63% found it fairly or very difficult to get a job. 

To help young people understand the need to develop and showcase their employability skills, we recently ran a workshop on commercial awareness. Specifically, this considered how to embed commercial awareness in future applications, both in their CVs and LinkedIn profiles.  The ability to demonstrate an understanding of how particular businesses and whole sectors operate is increasingly in demand from top employers, together with problem-solving, self-management, people skills and technology capabilities.  See, for example, the ICAEW website.

The workshop introduced boys to the concept of applicant tracking systems (ATS) and their use by employers and recruitment agencies to source staff and filter applications for advertised vacancies. Over the last 10 years, larger companies have increasingly employed this software to allow them to deal with situations where advertised vacancies attract thousands of applications, which means that CVs do not need to be manually reviewed but are instead screened by machine. Effectively the screening is done by algorithms and so it becomes vital to consider the content and format of a CV to render it optimal for a given job application. The same software will trawl through LinkedIn profiles trying to ‘headhunt’ for talent. 

Did you know?

In 2021, 63% of 18-24 year olds said they found it difficult to get a job.

People may already be familiar with ‘search engine optimisation’ (SEO). This involves placing the right keywords through a webpage so that a search engine such as Google is drawn to a particular item or service available through a particular webpage. In exactly the same way, job applicants need to identify the words that will be used by recruiters as they try to fill particular positions sector by sector using ATS software. 

The first step in preparing a CV that is going to be scrutinised by ATS is to carefully study the job advertisement and job specification to include all the key words and phrases that appear.  If a candidate is seeking a particular position, then a necessary step is to look at a number of adverts for the position and pick out the recurring keywords. 

In his excellent book You’re Hired: Total Job Search (2014), Jeremy L’Anson illustrates the process by asking a potential applicant to imagine extracts from two advertisements for sales managers:

Proven track record of finding new accounts and closing deals of £100k+. Experienced at planning marketing campaigns and events.

Excellent communication skills and negotiation skills. Strong organisational and persuasion skills. A good team player with a strong work ethic.

The keywords from these two excerpts are likely to appear in numerous adverts for similar positions. They would include: 

  • Excellent communication skills 
  • Excellent negotiation skills 
  • Strong organisational skills 
  • Strong persuasion skills 
  • Good/exceptional team player 
  • Finding new accounts 
  • Closing deals 
  • Planning marketing campaigns 

The idea is therefore to make sure that these keywords feature prominently in the CV (or LinkedIn profile) in the ‘Key Skills and Experience’ and/or ‘Career Achievements’ sections.  This will maximise the CV’s potential for being recognised and selected by the ATS software. The keywords need to be chosen to reflect relevant skills and experience to a particular sector and role.  L’Anson suggests that one should tailor keywords every time a CV is submitted.