Resume Guide for Nurses
June 3, 2020 | Staff Writers
Whether you are a recent nursing school graduate or an experienced healthcare professional, writing a nursing resume that accurately and persuasively depicts your education, skills, and characteristics is the first step to obtaining an interview. Since this important document is the first thing a hiring manager sees, you must craft a resume that creatively addresses the employer’s requirements and highlights your professional achievements, thereby helping you stand out from the pool of equally qualified applicants.
The nursing field heavily relies on extensive practical training, certification and licensure, and specialization, so it is imperative that your resume quantifies and contextualizes information in practical ways. Even personal qualities should emphasize practical applications (e.g., show how your compassionate nature enables you to connect with patients or how your bilingualism helps you accommodate diverse populations). Ultimately, specificity empowers a job application, transforming it from acceptable to exceptional. Through this guide, you’ll learn how to tailor your nursing resume to an employer’s ideology, mission, and job description.
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How to Write a Nursing Resume
1. Do Your Research
Learning how to write a nursing resume entails dedicated research that allows you to target information to a specific audience: your potential employer. On top of carefully going through the job description, look at the employer’s website and social media platforms to discern their culture and values. Some health facilities emphasize education and certification, while others want nurses with ample clinical experience. Find out what they want in an ideal employee and tailor your application accordingly. Additionally, it is equally important to consider your needs and if the job fits your standards for professional advancement and personal happiness.
2. Write Down Your Key Points
Constructing a nursing resume can seem daunting. Make it easier for yourself by writing down key responses to an employer’s criteria, noting education, certification, and professional experience requirements. Next, create an outline from these points, elaborating where necessary and making sure your overall tone represents a professional who is both confident in their achievements and approachable. This also means admitting weaknesses. Nurses often work in fraught and difficult scenarios, so employers want professionals who understand their shortcomings and work towards improvement.
3. Format Your Resume
Next, expand your outline, turning key points into complete sentences organized through logical headings. Your finished product should be detailed and accessible. Hiring managers take mere seconds to conduct preliminary scans of a candidate’s resume before deciding whether to move them on to the next step of the employment process, or to reject them. Tip the scales by submitting a well-formatted and visually engaging resume, but do not go overboard with font shifts and coloration. Keep it concise and neat.
Types of Nursing Resumes
Ultimately, a resume represents the individual person, their academic standing, professional achievements, personal qualities, and career potential. How do you write a nursing resume that gets all these points across? Picking the right document type helps immensely. Three main resume formats exists, each with their unique structure and distinct purpose: the reverse chronological, the functional, and the combination. Nurses need to use the resume style that best suits their particular skill set and the position they are vying for.
- Reverse Chronological: As the most commonly used resume type, this form benefits nurses who possess extensive and relevant professional experience. Here, employment stands as the most important element and positions are listed in reverse chronological order with the current or most recent job appearing first. However, this reliable resume structure comes with drawbacks, as it highlights gaps in employment, frequent job changes, and the candidate’s age.
- Functional: Also referred to as the skill-based resume, this type highlights awards, accomplishments, and training, making it preferable for recent college graduates and other professionals who lack relevant work history. One of the major drawbacks of the functional resume reflects its form and purpose: it tends to expose a candidate’s scant experience in the nursing field.
- Combination: The most complex resume type, the combination format eschews the either-or structure of the previous forms, enabling professionals to creatively showcase relevant professional experience and skills and training. Experienced nurses, especially those with clinical specializations, benefit most from this resume form. However, versatility also renders it more difficult to construct, as the large amount of information can confuse readers if not conveyed clearly.
Required vs. Preferred Qualifications
Addressing a potential employer’s specifications is the main objective in writing a nursing resume. Because this profession necessitates advanced academic and professional training in addition to licensure and clinical experience, job postings for nurses consist of extensive requirements, including required and preferred criteria. The former reflects qualifications a candidate must possess to warrant consideration, while the latter constitutes a wishlist of additional skills, experiences, and character traits that benefits the position, but are not mandatory. However, professionals guess correctly when they perceive that the more preferred qualifications they demonstrate, the better their chances of getting selected from the applicant pool.
An effective resume details how an applicant fulfills required qualifications and as many of the preferred ones as possible without crowding the page and rendering the information inaccessible. Nurses can take advantage of the cover letter to elaborate and fill in additional qualifications with anecdotal evidence and quantifiable facts. While it is true that some health facilities outright reject applicants who do not possess all their required qualifications, it is equally true that most see the job listing as a guideline and not a checklist. Even if a nurse does not meet all the standards, they should still apply if they can impress during the interview.
What Should I Include on a Nursing Resume?
- Education and Training: Because nurse education and training entails such an extensive process, the American Nurses Credentialing Center provides a standardized way of listing all your credentials. The preferred sectional order is education, licensure, state designations, certification, awards and honors, and additional certification. Start with your highest degree, then work backwards. You do not need to include high school information (because it is irrelevant to employers) or graduation dates (to avoid age discrimination). If you are currently working on a degree, state that completion is pending or in progress. Whether or not you relay GPA is up to you. Generally, it is only worthwhile if you graduated in the last three years and earned a 3.5 or better.
- Experience: Display professional nursing experience in reverse chronological order starting with your current or most recent position. If you have gaps in employment, stand prepared to address them. The go-to structure for laying out nursing experience starts with job title and specialty, then facility name and employment dates. After that, list facility- and unit-specific information, including total beds, trauma levels, and patient demographics. Again, specificity when writing a nursing resume elevates it from good to great. For example, while both positions require a great deal of stamina, a nursing home nurse does not fulfill the same responsibilities as an urgent care nurse. By framing professional experience through a personal lense, your resume stands out among the rest. What conditions or diseases do you treat? What types of medication can you administer, and how? How about types of therapy and equipment? When describing duties, use action verbs (supervised, administered, collaborated) and positive adjectives (resilient, compassionate, observant) that reflect your dedication to patient care and organizational success.
- Skills: Out of the all the resume sections, this one benefits from keyword utilization the most. You can usually discern what skills an employer wants by analyzing the job description. Tailor this section to specifically meet those needs. You may want to work in categories like basic care, technical, administrative, and computer skills. Again, be strategic and specific. Instead of “defibrillation insertions,” list “automatic implantable cardioverter-defibrillator (AICD) insertions.” Finally, do not neglect soft skills like reliability and adaptability or special skills like a foreign or sign language. These details set you apart from other applicants.
- Licensure, Certifications: To become a registered nurse, you earned state-specific license. And because the profession consists of diverse and advanced specializations, you may have also pursued certification exams and post-degree training in areas like gerontology or cardiac-vascular nursing. List them in their entirety, avoiding acronyms. For licenses, use this order: license type, licensing state/body, license name and number, nurse license compact, and expiration date. For certifications, start with the name, followed by conferring organization, expiration, and certification number, if applicable.
- Awards, Accomplishments, Affiliations: Celebrate all relevant achievements, but do it honestly and in a way that reflects your ongoing commitment to nursing and capacity for high performance in the new position. These achievements may include academic recognition; official awards; and competitive scholarships, fellowships, grants, and internships. Also display membership in professional organizations such as the American Nurses Association or Sigma Theta Tau, the international honor society of nursing. As an experienced professional, you may find that you possess an abundance of awards and accomplishments. In these instances, narrow them down to those most prestigious, current, and applicable to the job you are applying for.
- Volunteer Work: Unpaid positions let prospective employers know that you understand the importance of community education, outreach, and engagement. Only include volunteer work that relates to nursing or the health services field. As always when writing a nursing resume, furnish specific details that showcase your skills in action (e.g., you managed a 10-person team to canvas a neighborhood about HIV/AIDS prevention).
What Should I Put on My Nursing Resume If I Don’t Have Any Experience?
For recent college graduates, professionals switching careers, and those with limited clinical experience, learning how to write a resume for a nursing job may seem overwhelming. You can make up for inexperience by using a functional hybrid resume format that places academic credentials, qualifications, and skills above the employment section. Additionally, you completed extensive training as a student and perhaps even continuing education, so highlight state licensure, optional certification, and organizational membership to further bolster your resume.
Start with a personal introduction that states more than just the obvious (that you want the job), but also speaks to your professional values as a nurse and the training and education you possess. The lack of contextualization can represent a major pitfall of the functional resume. Avoid this by making your skills applicable to actual work scenarios that relate to a nurse’s duties. Hospital managers seek employees who display skills like critical thinking, safe practice, customer service, and interpersonal communication. As a nursing student, you completed hours of clinical training; use these experiences to show employers your skills in action, framing them in terms of achievements. Finally, take full advantage of volunteer positions, giving them their own section, to show that you not only display the practical qualifications for the job, but also care passionately about the well-being of patients and healthcare equitability for all communities.
What Is a Resume-Reading Robot?
What Is ATS?
Regardless of size, health facilities receive hundreds of responses to a single job listing due to the convenience of online applications. To deal with this flood of candidates, many employers use an applicant tracking system (ATS). Like a hiring manager quickly scanning for standouts among the group, the ATS ranks and categorizes nursing resumes by how many designated keywords they contain. This streamlined process reduces an employer’s manual workload and theoretically vets out resumes with a large amount of filler content, an indication of unqualified applicants. However, the ATS may also unnecessarily reject suitable nurses as part of automated software processes. To avoid this unfair outcome, learning how to write a nurse resume requires working within and overcoming the ATS framework.
Tips for Outsmarting an ATS
- Simple Headers: To accommodate the ATS, use header terms common enough to show up in keyword searches, like “skills,” “professional experience,” and “education”. And do not neglect to include city, state, and, if living outside the U.S., country, because employers generally vet candidates by location.
- Clean Format: Engaging visuals are useless if they make your resume difficult to read. Use a simple format that contains no graphics or unusual fonts because the standard ATS cannot process such information, resulting in an automatic rejection. In general, Verdana, Tahoma, and Arial fonts at the 10.5 point size or above are acceptable.
- Keywords/Phrases: You can usually garner relevant keywords from the job description. If not, conduct some research into phrases commonly found in the nursing field, such as “nurse practitioner,” “clinical research,” and “community outreach.” Avoid abbreviations in all cases.
- Industry-Specific Jargon: ATS keywords are meant to reveal a candidate’s relevant skills and experiences. To this end, the more specific a keyword is to the particular position you are applying for, the better. When in doubt, use the hiring employer phrases first, industry standards second, and your current or previous employer’s terminology third.
Resume Writing Tips for Nurses
- Tailor Your Resume: Writing a nursing resume effectively requires taking your prospective employer’s requirements into careful consideration. Every hospital operates with its own culture and philosophy; it’s best to consult the organization’s website and social media presence to discover these details.
- Save Your Resume Under a Professional Name: Remember that useful specificity is the goal. Instead of attaching a document entitled “resume.doc” or something else vague, name your nursing resume in a way that employers can easily distinguish and retrieve, like “Firstlast_specialty_resume.doc”
- Make It Easy to Read: Although interesting fonts and attractive colors can make a nursing resume more exciting, they can also detract from the information it contains. Employers may also perceive excessive formatting as you trying to overcompensate for lack of qualifications. You should strive, first and foremost, for accessibility through logical placement and uniformity.
- Include a Cover Letter: Employers recognize that you cannot fit all your credentials and qualifications into a resume without it becoming incomprehensible. A cover letter offers applicants the chance to discuss their skills and achievements in greater detail.
- Keep It to One Page: Nurses, particularly those with less than 10 years of relevant professional experience, do not need more than one page to effectively respond to a job listing. Abstain from wordiness, relying instead on economical usage of resume structure, including margin manipulations and concise usage of action-oriented descriptions.
Common Mistakes Nurses Make on Their Resumes
- Typos: Easy to fix but often overlooked, these mistakes can easily cost you an interview. Most employers see typos as a candidate’s lack of professionalism and competency. Edit your writing for errors and inconsistencies.
- Including Personal Information: Include your full name, phone number, and professional email. You do not need to supply a full home address; city, state, and if residing outside the U.S., country suffice. Additionally, presenting nursing license type and number from the start helps employers differentiate you from unqualified candidates.
- Including Salary Information: Unless the employer penalizes former salary omission, do not include a salary. This may distract from your qualifications and impede you during interview and subsequent negotiations. If pushed, speak in terms of benefits and professional goals, ensuring the employer that you are flexible.
- Using Nicknames: Standard usage allows the shortened version of a name (Bill instead of William) or a middle name as a first name as long as you are consistent, and especially if this nickname appears on official documents, such as state identification.
- Using an Unprofessional Email Address: Another red flag for employers, you can easily avoid this misstep by applying for your own domain name. While a Gmail address with a variation on “firstname.lastname” is marginally acceptable, some employers still see it as unprofessional.
- First Person Pronouns: Do not waste valuable resume space by repeating “I.” The reader understands that you speak through the narrative voice, so first person pronouns are, at best, redundant. Structure your sentences in declarative, action-oriented statements that reflect your professional character and achievements.
- Unprofessional Voicemail: An effective voicemail must be concise (under 25 seconds) and courteous in tone. In addition to your name and a welcome statement, let the caller know when they can expect a response from you.
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