When it comes to landing a job, every nurse must turn themselves into a salesperson. A professional nursing resume is one component of an effective sales pitch. When paired with a cleverly crafted cover letter, a resume makes the perfect combination for hitting your job application out of the ballpark.
Hiring experts generally agree that formatting and content are the most important elements to focus on when crafting a resume. Many healthcare employers are now using applicant tracking systems (ATS) as part of the hiring process, which means up to 75% of resumes are rejected before the hiring manager ever sees them.
An RTS quickly scans resumes and then sorts and ranks them based on qualifications. Optimizing the format of a nursing resume to focus on education and experience can help gain approval from an ATS.
Effective nursing resume tips
Nursing professionals need to make their resumes scream for attention. Here are some helpful techniques nurses can follow to create an attention-grabbing resume:
1. Use the K.I.S.S. method
K.I.S.S., short for Keep It Simple Stupid, may seem basic – and maybe a bit insulting – but it is nonetheless a great system for resumes. Cramming as much information onto every line tends to make resumes difficult to read.
Resumes should be a summary of your education, skills, and work experience, not a novel about your nursing aspirations. Whether being scanned by an ATS or a real live human being, resumes with run-on sentences, unnecessary adjectives, and overly-wordy sentences will be quickly discarded.
2. Less is more
The objective of a nursing resume is not to give a complete auto-biographical accounting of your life story; rather, it is to highlight the education and experience relevant to the position. Seasoned nursing professionals with long work histories may need to get creative with how much history to include in their resumes.
Hiring professionals recommend resumes be no longer than two pages; one page, if possible, is ideal. If it is impossible to detail your complete work history within the recommended length, then prioritize the most relevant elements and present them in a way that does not leave large gaps in your work history.
3. Use a professional summary
This is a “gotcha” section on your resume designed to quickly grab – and hold – a hiring manager’s attention. It should include a few sentences that highlight your strengths and weaknesses.
Here is an effective example: Highly motivated nurse leader and astute learner with a Master’s in Nursing and Organizational Leadership. Experienced in leading a team of 35 nurses and PSA staff in a complex and demanding dermatology practice consisting of numerous stakeholders.
This summary highlights the advanced education and experience of this nursing professional while giving a solid nod to managerial skills and abilities. Alluding to a “complex and demanding” work atmosphere lets prospective employers know this candidate is cool under pressure.
Be sure to customize your summary for each job, rather than using a blanket summary with every application. Highlight the skills, abilities, and experience relevant to the position.
4. Complement the cover letter
A solid nursing resume should complement the cover letter, not compete with it. Make sure your branding flows between the cover letter and the resume. If you describe previous work experience that is relevant to the position for which you are applying in your cover letter, be sure to include it in the work experience section of your resume.
5. Don’t be afraid to stand out
Avoid common nursing attributes, such as “honesty” and “integrity” on resumes and stick with characteristics that boldly set you apart from every other nurse applying for the job. Focus on these personal characteristics and how they are an asset to the prospective employer.
6. Focus on your achievements
Your nursing resume is akin to an album cover featuring your greatest hits. Proudly display your top achievements in a special section on the resume. From special certifications and academic achievements to healthcare-related credentials (like an RN license), toot your horn loudly.
Do not forget to list assets like being bilingual or skilled in American Sign Language. These are attributes to be featured because they are valued by the healthcare industry.
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Common nursing resume mistakes to avoid
Never rush to create a nursing resume. It should be a work of art, not a hastily thrown together, disorganized accounting of your professional qualifications. No matter how important you think it is to get your application completed as quickly as possible, it is not worth risking a major mistake on your cover letter or resume to do it. Rushing to finish is just one of many mistakes nursing professionals make on resumes. Here are some other common errors that can cost you that job.
1. Missing content
Yes, it is important to feature the work history and relevant experience that makes you a top candidate for the job. Do not forget the other important details, such as your contact information. Make sure phone numbers and email addresses are correct and do not contain typos. It is a great idea to have someone proofread your resume to check for spelling, grammar, and other mistakes before sending it.
2. Job history red flags
Frequently changing jobs is a red flag for most healthcare hiring managers. If you are a nursing professional who has changed jobs frequently due to earning advanced certifications or other legitimate reasons, briefly explain that in your job history.
3. Do not overuse keywords
It is a great idea to use keywords relevant to the nursing position in both the cover letter and resume. This can help an ATS approve your resume for a hiring manager’s review, but don’t overdo it. Keyword “stuffing” can have the opposite effect. Use keywords found in the job description no more than 2 to 6 times in a cover letter and resume for the best results.
4. Skip the references
Unless specifically requested by the hiring manager in the job ad, leave references off your resume. Checking references usually is a final step in the hiring process. Prepare a list of professional references to have handy if requested by an employer, but there is no need to crowd your resume with them.
[More: Nursing Career Resources]
Certifications to boost your nursing resume
It can be intimidating to apply for a job if you are relatively new in the nursing field or do not have an advanced nursing degree that helps you stand out in the crowd. There are other ways to gain notoriety and boost your qualifications. Professional nursing certifications are an excellent way to show your commitment to staying relevant in your industry.
Choosing the right certifications is important if you hope to use them to your benefit in the hiring process. It is worth the effort of obtaining relevant certifications if you actively are seeking new employment. Certifications help set you apart from the other candidates in several ways:
They help demonstrate clinical expertise
Certifications are a great way to demonstrate your clinical expertise. Hiring managers prefer candidates with clinical expertise in their specialty. This can be demonstrated in two ways: through years of experience or certification.
Nurses must prove competence in content related to the certification, which generally occurs through testing. Many organizations that support certifications require ongoing contact hours in activities relating to the specialty. Most certifications require renewal every 2 to 5 years.
They show commitment and effort
Nurses work long hours. It is one of the many reasons some do not pursue additional certifications. Taking the time and investing the money into getting certified shows employers you value ongoing learning opportunities. These are qualities that attract hiring managers.
They express specialized knowledge
The beauty of certifications is you can obtain them in any specialty, even ones you currently do not work in. For instance, if you work on a surgical unit but are interested in pursuing a career in an ICU setting, getting certified as a critical care RN gives you an advantage in pursuing your new goal.
Even if you do not pursue certification, nurses can expand their knowledge through free online courses to help boost their resumes.
The bottom line on nursing resumes
Taking the time to craft a detailed resume that speaks to who you are as a nursing professional is the best way to get noticed by hiring professionals. While it might not be the only reason you get an interview, it can certainly give nursing professionals an edge over the competition.