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How To Get Past ATS Software In A Resume

Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist)

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

Will using keywords help get past ATS?

Do you want to make sure that human eyes actually see your resume? Read on to learn how to bypass the ATS "robot reader" System.

How To Get Past ATS Software In A Resume

Dear Nurse Beth,

I have been working on my resume using the tips that you provided online and in your book, and I am very pleased with the results.

I have a question about use of keywords from the job description to bypass ATS System. How would I use them in my resume without sounding overly cliché. I listed many examples in work history section of how I used my interpersonal and communication skills, ability to manage multiple tasks and be a team player, but those examples will only be noticed by someone who is actually reading the resume.

To compensate for the lack of keywords I added a very short summary section that lists the following:

  • Proficient in EHR documentation in Epic and Meditech.
  • Able to handle multiple responsibilities and adapt to challenging situation calmly and efficiently.
  • Fluent in English and Russian.
  • Able to apply critical judgement in various aspects of patient care.

Here is a part of job post:

  • Proficiency with Information Technology; such as electronic health records, communications systems, computers and equipment necessary to perform essential functions of the position.
  • Skilled to work with a wide range of staff as part of an interdisciplinary team including physicians, nurses, and ancillary staff.
  • Ability to use independent, critical judgment in all aspects of patient care delivery.
  • Demonstrated interpersonal skills that convey a positive and supportive attitude.
  • Ability to effectively manage multiple responsibilities, urgent responses, and challenging situations.

I am a new grad and don't have much to say in the summary section, so I would like to make it concise and relevant to what the job description is asking but without sounding overly cliché and still bypassing ATS system. What is the best way to do this?

Thank you very much for all the valuable advice.

Dear New Grad,

CONGRATS on graduating!

I'm really glad my book helped you with your resume such as the tip "stories are remembered" while facts are forgotten :).

You Want To Be Memorable.

I always tell applicants that it is better to give an example of being a team player on your cover letter and resume than to write "team player" and it seems you've done so.

In my book, I emphasize avoiding cliche phrases in interviews as well, such as "I'm a perfectionist" when asked "What's your greatest weakness?" and instead give examples of what answers hiring managers are looking for for the behavioral and situational interview questions.

As far as wanting to avoid cliche terms that you include for the sole purpose of making it past the applicant tracking system (ATS), also known as "robot reader", that's a slightly different story. You can be creative to a certain extent, but mirrored terms and words are what the talent acquisition recruiter searches for. ATS scoring does not award points for creativity and does not penalize for cliches. Echo the identified keywords as written.

Applicant Tracking Systems (aka Robot Readers)

ATS software is here to stay. ATS software is used by many large healthcare organizations and designed to source the most qualified applicants. One way it does this is by tracking keywords. Resumes are essentially processed and screened by a computer before ever getting to a human being. So it's essential to understand how they work in relation to keywords.

How do you know which keywords to use?

Some ATS systems compare your resume to the job description (JD). Candidates who predict the most correct keywords in their resume stand a better chance of making the cut. A search by a recruiter can include hard skills and soft skills. The search is much the same as we all use to search Google on any given topic.

To identify keywords from the JD, print it out and use a highlighter. In your example, I bolded some searchable terms the recruiter might search for. In your Summary section, you could write "Proficiency with Information Technology and electronic health records. Experience with Epic and Meditech". The first sentence gets ATS recognition. The second sentence reads well once your resume lands in human hands and if the organization uses Epic or Meditech. Find out ahead of time which platform they use or are migrating to, and just include that one.

Tips To Stand Out With ATS Systems

  • Use the same tense and exact wording found in the job description. If the JD says "demonstrated" then use "demonstrated" and not "demonstrates" to be safe. Some systems recognize variations and synonyms, some do not.
  • ATS systems cannot recognize certain formatting, such as unusual font. Use a standard sans serif font such as Arial or Calibri. If the system cannot recognize a field, it will turn up as blank.
  • Keyword density: Use the important keywords as many times as it's used in the job description (JD). If the word "critical judgement" is used twice in the JD, use it twice in your resume, but don't try to "stuff" (overuse) your resume with keywords, it can backfire. You can use the same keyword in different sections, such as in Professional Profile, Summary, Skills, Employment History.
  • Spell out acronyms at least once. Instead of IT, write Information Technology (IT). Mirror the language used in the JD.
  • See how well your resume performs using Jobscan website, where you can compare your resume against the JD, and get a score. You want to score at least 80%.
  • Individualize your resume, cover letter and interview to each organization. Read each organization's website, mission statement, publicly reported HCAHPS scores, mission statement.
  • Consider including an organization's keywords on your LinkedIn profile if you are targeting one specific employer.

I hope this helps and best of luck!

Additional Reading

Please....Resume Help Needed!

Hi! Nice to meet you! I love helping new nurses in all my various roles. I work in a hospital in Staff Development, and am a blogger and author.

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1 Comment(s)

I want to echo the "Congratulations!", I wish you all the best in your career. I've worked as an in-house recruiter (not a staffing company, I work directly for the hospital) for over 10 years in different Health Systems and there are a few more things going on with your application & resume. 

I've worked for health systems ranging from 2,000 to 60,000 employees and have never seen us use automated screening for RN positions. There are many misunderstandings with ATSs but that's a story for another day. Almost without exception we are expected to review the resume of any RN that applies. 

That being said, there are several common scenarios as to why you are being rejected. Some of this applies to new grads, some to experienced nurses, or both. 

1. New Grad - You're applying for a Staff Nurse job posting and unbeknownst to you, the position is really only for Nurses with at least a year of experience. I see this happen 10 times a day during certain times of the year. So in that case, I have to reject the application. However, I always email the candidate and inform them that we have a separate job post for new grads and invite them to apply. Of course not all recruiters do this, so you may need to go about it another route.

2. Let's say I have 5 openings for a Staff Nurse in the step-down unit. You apply for one of the postings but so does another great candidate. And again, unbeknownst to you, we are already in the interview/offer process with that other candidate. She accepts the offer and everyone else who applied to that one particular job posting will get a rejection email. The recruiter SHOULD contact those other candidates and explain/invite them to apply for the positions that are still posted. Actually, a great recruiter will have a strong relationship with the nurse managers and a proven history to deliver, and therefore, should call you, go through a few questions, and schedule an interview with the manager. But I realize that doesn't help you today. 

3. If you're a former employee of the hospital, even if you weren't a nurse, and left under negative terms, you could be listed an "do not rehire". Each facility is a little different in this regard, and it likely will depend on how long ago you worked there. 

What can you do? 

1. Don't worry if you get system generated rejection emails. Apply for various departments, but don't over do it. Most ATSs will allow you to apply for up to 10 positions.  

2. If you're a new grad, scour the career page for info on new grad programs. Call HR and let them know you're a nurse, and ask for a nurse recruiter. If you don't have the number for HR just call the main line for the hospital and ask for HR. 

3. Create a LinkedIn profile and download the app. Make sure your current job title is "Registered Nurse", even if you're a new grad and not actually working as an RN yet. Start connecting with people who work at the hospital(s) you are applying to. Specifically, try to connect with Nurse Mangers and recruiters. Many Recruiters are actually called Talent Acquisition Specialist, because titles. Message the Recruiters and Nurse Managers "hey, I'm a new grad RN and would love to work at xyz hospital. I applied but keep getting rejected. Is there something else I need to do, or someone I need to speak with? My phone number is -_ and my email is --Thanks, etc". If no one responds, try connecting with the CNO or VP Patient Care, some sort of nurse executive. And send them a similar message. The CNO will probably email the VP-HR and you'll have a recruiter calling you right away. 

In the last 10 years I will say the approach towards candidates has greatly improved, but there's a lot that HR needs to do better. Getting through the process can be difficult, it's not your fault, but you still have to work around it.