The Résumé Rx

ATS Friendly Resumes: Land That Interview (+ Pro Tips)

Bailey Basham

When you hit “send” on an application through a hospital or third-party website, it doesn’t go straight to a recruiter’s inbox. In fact, a real person won’t even see it until a computer program deems it worthy of a coveted place in the recruiter’s stack. Crazy, right? 

Connecting with recruiters and hiring managers used to be one of the first steps of finding a new job. These days, you likely won’t hear from another person until interviews are being scheduled.

Applicant Tracking System (ATS)

Most applications are first reviewed by a computer using an applicant tracking system (ATS). 

(Cue my mother-in-law, complaining about another instance of technology taking jobs away from hard working people.)

Basically, ATS programs are designed to be the first set of “eyes”, scanning a resume and application for keywords and assessing a percentage of compatibility. A lot of companies use these programs — as many as 75 percent of recruiters and hiring managers use ATS programs, according to Capterra

But it makes sense! Some large hospitals get hundreds if not thousands of applicants for a single job posting. Imagine having to review thousands of resumes before finding the perfect candidate. Yikes – I think I’d rather take the NCLEX every day than have that job! 

Unfortunately, a lot of applicants don’t make it past that initial scan — and it’s not because they are unqualified. It’s because their resumes are not formatted to be ATS-friendly. Luckily, making an ATS-friendly resume isn’t too difficult. 

4 Tips on How to Make an ATS-Friendly Résumé

1. ATS Résumé Layout Basics

Applicant tracking systems are not equipped to parse through design elements like logos, layered textboxes, and downloaded fonts. They are built for the basics — so to make sure your resume makes it through the initial review, you should build with the basics in mind as well! 

I know what you’re thinking. “Basic? No way, I want to stand out!” I hear you. And guess what? It’s totally possible to create a visually-appealing resume while still staying within the parameters of what an ATS program can recognize. Win-win! 

Let’s start with layout. 

2. K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple, Sister!)

Use standard headers like “Education” and “Work Experience” to organize the sections of your resume. The ATS knows to look out for those terms, so using standard terms is your best bet. And keep the format consistent!

The ATS program can’t distinguish between varied formatting. When your resume finally does reach the recruiter, you don’t want to send them on a scavenger hunt just to find where you last worked. 

And don’t feel like you need to get fancy or overly-specific. You want to provide broad context to your past experiences. So, instead of including that your unit was 3 South, make it clear that you worked, for example, in the “MICU | Medical Intensive Care Unit.”

When printing or sending your resume over email, the PDF format is best, but when exporting your resume to attach to an application, it’s best to go with either a .doc or .txt format. ATS programs are very familiar with how to review resumes in these formats.

3. Use Exact Keywords in Your ATS-Friendly Résumé

Next, let’s talk about how you crack the ATS code: keywords.

ATS programs are built to scan for keywords, and if your resume includes several of the relevant terms, your application will be flagged as more highly-compatible than one that neglects to include specific words. Often, this can be accomplished by outlining your skills in the professional summary and going into more detail in the work experience section.

The best way to ensure the ATS program registers your resume as compatible is to match the wording on your resume with the wording in the job description. For example, if you’re applying for a position in a specific specialty, include any experience or interest in that specialty.

If the hospital is looking for a candidate with specific hard skills like wound care or cardiac drip management, include any experience you have in those areas. 

4. Spell it Out

When listing your licensures and certifications, it’s best to include both the acronym as well as the actual name of the certification or license. That way, regardless of what the ATS is programmed to pick up on, your application is marked as meeting the criteria. 

And of course, include the basics! Don’t get too caught up in gaming the ATS that you forget to include your contact info or licensure. Trust me…it’s happened!

Hopefully, this post has given you some tips to make sure your résumé is ATS-friendly.

A great tool that I’ve been recommending lately is JobScan – it’s a program where you can upload your résumé and the job description and it will give your document a rating as well as suggestions on where to improve.

Need a new ATS-friendly résumé layout? The Nurse Résumé Template Bundle includes two templates that are specifically designed for the ATS. Plus, a video ATS training as well – learn more here!


  1. vishnu joshi

    Keep up the great work! Thank you so much for sharing a great posts.

  2. Jennifer

    How do you know which type of resume to send? It seems like the ATS resume will make it past the tracking system and also be seen by a recruiter directly but a resume that is not ATS specific (like the templates in the bundles) won’t. So how do you know which one to send when applying?

    • Nadia

      Hi Jennifer,

      Our templates typically pass through ATS with no issues once they are saved as a PDF, and we also include an ATS Friendly Template in our Nurse Résumé Template Bundle in addition to the 6 templates. Inside our bundle, we offer an overview video on how to set up a friendly-ATS resume.

      If you’re concerned about getting past the ATS, we recommend having two versions of your résumé. One version in a nice layout and another in just the basic format that is provided this way you can determine which layout you would like to send in.

      Team Résumé Rx


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