Resume Guide for Nurses

Nurses perform the crucial work of caring for patients and administering medicine, so their professional experience is of utmost importance. A resume is the most universal method for communicating this job experience, and nurses must be sure their resumes offer an accurate and distinctive representation of their skills. A resume often serves as an organization's only introduction to a job applicant, and employers depend on resumes to determine a nurse's competence, experience, and eligibility.

How do you write a nursing resume, and what should be included? Below are proven strategies and tips for how to write a nursing resume, along with some of the common pitfalls to avoid.

How to Write a Nursing Resume

  • Do Your Research: A general description of your skills, a resume should suit each job for which you apply. Research potential employers to determine the type of employees and skills they seek. Once you've discerned that (and whether you'll be a good fit), emphasize those strengths on your resume.

  • Write Down the Key Points: One useful way to begin drafting your resume is to write down all the key points you think it should include. You can then use these points to create an outline that gives you an overall sense of how your resume looks. Consider what type of impression your key points make. Do they play to your own strengths and the organization's desired qualities? Are there weaknesses? If so, how can you de-emphasize them?

  • Format Your Resume: Again, your resume's job is to present your skills, experience, and accomplishments; but employers won't acknowledge your accolades if they're not clearly presented. Take your outline and expand it, filling in complete sentences and adding explanatory headers. It's also worth the time to format your resume so that's it's clean, eye-catching, organized, and easy to read. Employers look through hundreds of resumes, and strong formatting can mean the difference between an interview and a rejection.

Types of Nursing Resumes

Just as there are many ways to tell a story, there are many ways to organize a resume. Depending on your background and circumstances, you may find one organizational format more useful than another, though each has its advantages. Read about three of the most common organizational styles to determine which one works best for you.

  • Reverse-Chronological: This format lists your job experience in reverse-chronological order, or from newest to oldest. It's ideal if you're trying to demonstrate your career progression, but it can create problems if you have gaps in your employment history. Nurses of all experience levels often use this format.

  • Functional: This resume type describes your skills and achievements in the order of their professional relevance. It works well if you want to show off a specific skill set, but it's not useful for students or new nurses who lack experience.

  • Combination: This format mixes elements of the two preceding resume styles, typically beginning with a skills section and then moving into a reverse-chronological list of work experience. Combination resumes typically work best for highly experienced nurses; younger candidates who want to emphasize educational experience should probably avoid this style.

Required vs. Preferred Qualifications

Many job postings include both required and preferred skills that candidates should possess.

A required qualification is just that, and if you lack several of the essentials for which a job listing calls (e.g., certain amount of work experience or a specific level of education), you probably shouldn't waste your time applying. However, if you're only missing a minor qualification or feel you can adequately explain why your experience fulfills required qualifications in a different way, you may still be a competitive applicant.

As their name implies, preferred qualifications are preferred but not necessary, which is to say that having them won't guarantee you a job, while lacking them won't exclude you from consideration. At the same time, if a job calls for several preferred qualifications and you hold none of them, it may be difficult to distinguish yourself from other applicants.

What Should I Include on a Nursing Resume?

Education and Training

This section of your resume should include your higher education and specialized training. Like career experience, you should typically list your education in reverse chronological order, with the most recent degree first. However, it's not always a good idea to include your graduation dates, as this may lead to age discrimination. If you are still enrolled in a degree program, indicate the degree is pending and include your expected graduation date.

Experience

This section is the heart of your resume, as it demonstrates both your overall work experience and your understanding of your strengths. Like education, work experience should be listed in reverse-chronological order, with your most recent job first. Unlike the education section, here it's mandatory to include employment dates, as this allows an organization to see how long you stay at jobs and whether there are any notable gaps in your employment. Typically, you want to be as specific as possible in describing your work experience, e.g. include both facility- and unit-specific information, such as total beds, trauma levels, and patient demographics. This gives employers a sense of your level of responsibility as well as your specialized experience. When describing your duties, use action words that offer positive connotations, such as "directed," "delegated," and "negotiated." These types of words add heft to your experience section and make your resume more engaging overall.

Skills

The skills section offers the opportunity to document any of your unique knowledge that falls outside the realm of nursing. Anything you list should be relevant to the job at hand, so consider what an organization is looking for. For example, being bilingual is a valuable skill for almost any job, but particularly for a healthcare organization that serves a significant non-English-speaking population.

Licensure, Certifications

This section presents another opportunity to showcase your specialized knowledge, this time in the form of professional licensure and certifications. Presenting these credentials shows employers you possess both professional experience and the responsibility to complete the certification process. You should include any relevant certifications here along with license numbers, and be sure to list full certificate names, rather than acronyms.

Awards, Accomplishments, Affiliations

This section calls attention to any unique professional achievements you possess -- awards, special recognition, or commendations. Be sure to include only accolades relevant to nursing as this section needs to work as a listing of achievements rather than just boasting. This is also the place to include any membership to relevant professional nursing organizations, indicating your commitment to the nursing community and professional reputability.

Volunteer Work

The volunteer section offers one last opportunity to trumpet your accomplishments, but again, be sure to include volunteer experience relevant to nursing. Reading to children or running a soup kitchen are important tasks, but only mention these experiences if you can draw a compelling connection to your nursing practice.

What Should I Put on My Nursing Resume If I Don't Have Any Experience?

If you're fresh out of school, you might be wondering how to write a resume when you don't have much experience as a professional nurse. In reality, you probably have plenty of relevant experience; you just have to present it correctly. The best strategy is to focus on the experience you do have -- education, professional qualifications, licenses and certificates, and specialized skills. Present these before your work history, since they're all likely to be more relevant to a nursing job.

When listing past work experiences, list each job's duties to draw connections to your current work. What type of skills did you employ that might be applicable to your current nursing practice? Supervising large groups, working with diverse populations, delegating tasks, navigating conflict with clients -- these and other generalized skills all play a role in nursing, so try to think about how to frame your past experiences in the context of your current work. If you have any significant volunteer experience, you can also list this in a separate section. Volunteer work, particularly in the healthcare field, can often make up for a lack of professional experience.

What Is A Resume-Reading Robot?

What Is ATS?

In the age of technology, a recruiter often isn't the first person to look at your resume. This job may belong to an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), a computer program that combs through the text of resumes looking for key words and phrases. Companies of all sizes use these systems to sift through thousands of resumes, narrowing the applicant pool to employees who match their desired qualifications. Understanding how the ATS works helps you tailor your resume to maximize your chances of appearing in an organization's search results, which gives you a better shot at landing an interview.

Tips for Outsmarting an ATS

Simple Headers: Use straightforward language to designate the different sections of your resume, like "education" and "professional experience." This makes it as easy for the ATS to find the information it's looking for.


Clean Format: Avoid elaborate layouts and graphics: a computer won't notice these, so including them is a waste of time.


Keywords/Phrases: Use phrases that healthcare organizations are likely to be searching for, such as "clinical rotations." Professional language makes your resume more like to appear in search results.


Industry-Specific Jargon: Using other nursing-specific terminology both indicates your professionalism and increases your chances of coming up in search results when employers are seeking a certain type of experience.

Resume Writing Tips for Nurses

  • Tailor Your Resume: Once more, consider what an organization is looking for, and adjust your resume accordingly. This shows you've read their job description closely and aren't just sending out applications indiscriminately.

  • Save Your Resume Under a Professional Name: This makes it as easy as possible for potential employers to identify your resume. Try using a format similar to this: "Firstlast_specialty_resume.doc."

  • Make It Easy to Read: Use a conventional font, and don't include any extraneous designs or images. A good resume distinguishes itself with word choice, not colors or pictures.

  • Include a Cover Letter: A cover letter offers an introduction to your resume and shows employers you're interested in their positions specifically. It's also a chance for you add a slightly more descriptive touch.

  • Keep It to One Page: Make it a rule to keep your resume to under a page. This makes it easier for employers to read and forces you to be as concise as possible.

Common Mistakes Nurses Make on Their Resumes

  • Typos: Triple-check your resume for typos and other stylistic blunders. Employers look for any excuse to eliminate a candidate, and typos indicate a lack of professionalism.

  • Including Personal Information: Many experts now suggest removing your personal address from your resume, as employers may be less inclined to consider your application if they see you have a significant commute to work.

  • Including Salary Information: Unless specifically requested by a potential employer, don't include salary information for your previous jobs, as this can seem presumptuous or indicate a lack of experience.

  • Using Nicknames: Always use your full name on a resume, even if you prefer to go by another name at work. The resume should present your most professional front.

  • Using an Unprofessional Email Address: Ideally, your email address should be your first and last name at a reputable email provider, such as Gmail. If you normally use a more casual email address, make a new one for job applications.

  • First-Person Pronouns: Avoid first-person pronouns, as resumes typically use a unique style that simply lists your accomplishments without any sentence subject (such as "Delegated tasks to more than a dozen employees.").

  • Unprofessional Voicemail: Always include your phone number on your resume, and make sure it links to a simple, professional voicemail that states your full name.