The Best Resume Guide for Nurses 2021

by NurseJournal Staff
• 6 min read

Throughout this guide, you will learn how to tailor your nursing resume to an employer's ideology, mission, and job description.

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 getting an interview.

Since this important document is the initial impression you will make on a hiring manager, you must craft a resume that creatively addresses the employer's requirements and highlights your professional achievements, helping you stand out from other qualified applicants.

The nursing field heavily relies on extensive practical training, certification and licensure, and specialization, so it is imperative your resume quantifies and contextualizes your qualifications. 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 resume, transforming it from acceptable to exceptional. Through this guide, you can learn how to tailor your nursing resume to an employer's ideology, mission, and job description.

Featured Online Programs

How to Write a Nursing Resume


1. Do Your Research

Learning how to write a nursing resume requires dedicated research that allows you to target information to 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 healthcare 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. 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

Write 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

Expand your outline by turning key points into complete sentences organized by 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 to the next step of the application 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.

For more details and examples, see our tips for writing a nursing resume.

Addressing Required vs. Preferred Qualifications

Addressing a potential employer's specifications is the main objective in writing a nursing resume. But before writing, it's important to identify required vs. preferred job qualifications.

Because this profession necessitates advanced academic and professional training in addition to licensure and clinical experience, job postings for nurses comprise 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 benefit the position but are not mandatory.

An effective resume details how an applicant fulfills required qualifications and as many of the preferred qualifications as possible without crowding the page and rendering the information inaccessible. Nurses can take advantage of a cover letter to elaborate and fill in additional qualifications with anecdotal evidence and quantifiable facts.

While some healthcare facilities outright reject applicants who do not possess all their required qualifications, 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.

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? Choose the proper formatting.

There are three main resume formats, 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

The most commonly used resume type, this form benefits nurses who possess extensive and relevant professional experience. Here, past employment is the most important element, with positions listed in reverse chronological order. 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 format 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 is that it can 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 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.


What Should I Include on a Nursing Resume?


Education and Training

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 or graduation dates. If you are currently working on a degree, state that completion is pending or in progress. Whether you relay GPA information 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, prepare to address them. Consider listing facility- and unit-specific information, including total beds, trauma levels, and patient demographics. 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 lens, your resume stands out among the rest.

Skills

Out of 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 meet those needs. Work in categories, such as basic care, technical, administrative, and computer skills.

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

As a registered nurse, you've earned a state-specific license. And because the profession consists of diverse and advanced specializations, you also may have pursued certification exams and post-degree training in areas like gerontology or cardiac-vascular nursing. List them in their entirety and avoid 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 the most prestigious, current, and applicable to the job you are applying for.

Volunteer Work

Unpaid positions let prospective employers know 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 have completed extensive training as a student and perhaps 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, such as 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/ATS?

To deal with a 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 automated process reduces an employer's manual workload and theoretically vets resumes with a large amount of filler content, an indication of unqualified applicants.

However, the ATS may also unnecessarily reject qualified 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, such as "skills," "professional experience," and "education." 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 glean relevant keywords from the job description. If not, conduct some research into phrases commonly found in the nursing field, such as "patient care," "clinical research," and "community outreach." Avoid abbreviations in all cases.
  • Industry-Specific Jargon: ATS keywords reveal a candidate's relevant skills and experiences. The more specific a keyword is to the particular position you are applying for, the better. When in doubt, use the hiring employer's phrases first, industry standards second, and your current or previous employer's terminology third.

In Summary

  • Choose the nursing resume type that best highlights your experience, personality, and qualifications.
  • Be specific; specificity helps your resume stand out from the rest.
  • Format your resume using headers and keywords that make it easy to read — whether by a person or an applicant tracking system.

NurseJournal.org is an advertising-supported site. Featured or trusted partner programs and all school search, finder, or match results are for schools that compensate us. This compensation does not influence our school rankings, resource guides, or other editorially-independent information published on this site.

Are you ready to earn your online nursing degree?

Whether you’re looking to get your pre-licensure degree or taking the next step in your career, the education you need could be more affordable than you think. Find the right nursing program for you.

Popular Nursing Resources

Resources and articles written by professionals and other nurses like you.