By Angelina Walker
With the growing competition for the best nursing jobs, a vague, uninspiring RN resume just won't cut it. The opportunities are vast, employers have diverse needs, and every nurse is unique.
In this ever-changing world of online applications and robotic resume readers, writing a strong nursing resume that portrays your skills and accomplishments in an impressive way can be a daunting task.
This easy-to-follow, step-by-step guide can help you create a targeted and well-written nursing resume that will help you make significant changes to your job search and career!
Part One Define Your Brand
Think of your job search as your own personal marketing campaign. And the product is you! Your resume is essentially an advertisement for your brand. A brand is not simply a logo. It’s the overall impression you give your audience. In this case, your audience is the potential employer.
As with any advertisement, the goal of your resume is to pique your audience’s interest. Your RN resume does not get you the job. It gets you an interview. Once you’ve been invited for an interview, your audience is already partially ‘sold’, but it’s up to you to close the deal.
Just as an advertisement has only a few seconds to capture the attention of an audience, your resume also has limited time to express your value to the reader. Or, in many cases, a resume-reading robot (more on this in Part 3.)
Part TwoDo Your Research
The first and most important step in any marketing campaign is the research phase. Learn about your audience, also known as your potential employers. Take some time to answer the following questions:
- Who are they?
- What is their company culture?
- What are their pain points?
- What qualities do you possess that will compel them to purchase the product or, in this case, invite you for an interview?
The internet has made it fairly easy to hop online and start your research right now from your mobile device. Instead of simply reading a job posting take a few extra steps to:
- Check out their website
- See what they tweet about
- What photos are they posting on Instagram?
- What articles do they share on Facebook?
- Who do you know on Linkedin who works there?
Social platforms will give you an inside glimpse at their culture and values.
Target your specific audience
A good place to start is by targeting 2-3 potential employers and creating a strong resume foundation. Read a few job descriptions to determine industry-specific needs and targeted keywords.
This foundational nurse resume can then be altered slightly for each role you apply to. No need to reinvent the wheel but, never submit a ‘cookie-cutter’ resume to every position.
Taking a few moments to target your resume could lead you to the interview of your dreams. And not targeting it could lead you on the fast-track to nowhere.
Required Vs. Preferred Qualifications
When reading job postings you’ll likely come across the terms ‘Required Qualifications’ and ‘Preferred Qualifications.’ Understanding the difference between these two is key.
Required qualifications. These are just what they say - requirements. Those who do not possess these qualifications will not be considered.
Preferred qualifications. These are the skills that are desired but are not deal-breakers for the employer. You may still be considered even if you do not possess these. If you don’t have all the qualifications listed, don’t sweat it, you could still apply and be considered for the role.
Part ThreeNavigate Online Applications
Do you remember your first resume? If it was over 15 years ago, perhaps your career counselor told you to print it on the highest grade (eh hem, scented) paper and hand deliver it with a cover letter and a little chocolate gift to be followed up with a thank-you card.
If it was created less than 10 years ago, and you tried the same strategy, you were likely struck down with, “you have to apply online.” Raise your hand if you can relate?
As you may realize, the internet has totally transformed the hiring process and affected the entire labor market in a very short time.
We’ll let you in on a little secret, nurse managers and Nurse Recruiters rarely read resumes in detail.
They may skim them for a few seconds, but for the vast majority of healthcare employers, resumes are prescreened and selected by robots - robots that have been programmed to forward only the most qualified candidates to a decision maker.
What Is A Resume-reading Robot?
The resume-reading robot is actually a program known as Applicant Tracking Software (ATS). It is highly technical and individualized, but not nearly as smart as a human. It does what it has been programmed to do.
An employer may enter in specific keywords for the ATS to scan for. They may choose to enter “knockout questions” to quickly eliminate unqualified candidates. Such as, “Do you have an active Washington State Nursing License?”
They could even choose to include “disqualifying statements” to automatically screen candidates out. For example, if an ATS is programmed to screen out all resumes lacking a Bachelor’s Degree, anyone with an Associate’s Degree will automatically be rejected. If you have both, consider listing only your BSN.
Recruiters may also configure the ATS to deliver only resumes that include exact keywords.
How Does ATS Work?
Not all ATS systems are created equally. They vary greatly in their functionality and behavior. For example, some ATS systems will not be able to differentiate between titles, such as Clinical Nurse II and Registered Nurse.
Other ATS systems may not be able to distinguish between the terms BLS and Basic Life Support.
Bottom line, read the job description and use the exact wording. If you use acronyms and abbreviations, make sure to spell out the entire word followed by the shortened version.
While ATS has streamlined the hiring process for employers, it’s also made job search extremely challenging for the job seeker. In fact, 94% of hiring professionals say that ATS has positively influenced their hiring goals, while 80% of job seekers say that their online job search is stressful.1
What Are The Shortcomings of ATS?
The problem is that ATS does not ‘read’ a resume as a human would - it simply collects data. It doesn’t care about aesthetics either. It is programmed by an employer to search for the right keywords, in the right order, on the right part of the resume.
Most ATS systems are programmed to score resumes according to keywords. However, they can be configured to search and score resumes based on various other criteria.
Also, the system can get confused pretty easily. For example, if the font is too fancy or if it encounters unrecognizable symbols, it may score the resume as ‘unqualified’ and moves on to the next resume. It does what it is configured to do, nothing more and nothing less.
Does Every Employer Use ATS?
It is estimated that 75% of employers now use ATS and that number only continues to grow.1 Still, not every employer uses ATS. In those instances, a human resources professional screens the resumes and invites the most qualified candidates in for an interview.
The problem here is that most employers will receive hundreds of resumes for a single opening. To get through the resumes quickly, the HR professional may resort to a simple scan of the resumes knowing that even qualified applicants may not make it. It’s simply a way to reduce the number of applicants.
In either case, the goal of the modern resume is to ‘sell’ yourself in an organized, targeted manner for a specific role. The best way to design an effective, attention-grabbing resume is by making strong assertions in the beginning followed by supporting evidence.
How Do I Get Past The ATS?
- Target resume to the specific position. Do this by reading job descriptions and selecting keywords noted in the descriptions - competencies, skills sets, education, experience.
- Match individual experiences to keywords/key skill sets found within the job posting.
- Research the employer and target the resume based on the facility values and culture.
- Make strong assertions within the top ⅓ of the resume.
- Follow those assertions with supporting evidence.
- Include a “Professional Summary” if you are an experienced Nurse. (More on this below)
- Only apply to roles that you match 100% of the “Required Qualifications.”
- Use simple fonts such as Times New Roman or Arial, never smaller than 10 point font. See Part 5 for more styling suggestions.
- Use simple black bullet (dots) points not special bullet symbols.
- If using an abbreviation, always spell out the words followed by the abbreviation or acronym. You never know how the abbreviation was entered into the ATS.
- Use standard, simple section headers such as, “Work History” or “Education.” List specific skills, including:
Settings you’ve worked in
- Don’t use the same title as at your current employer if it is different from the title in the job description. Use the title in the job description.
- Don’t overload your resume with keywords. Use them appropriately. Overuse of keywords will flag a resume and could cause the ATS to lower your score. Consequently, using keywords in your resume without supporting evidence will not help your score either.
- Do not put your contact information in the header section because ATS will not see it. See part 6.
- Do not include tables because most ATS can’t read them. Other ATS can only read them if their operator programmed them to do so.
- Do not use creative section headers such, as “Where I’ve Worked” because the ATS likely doesn’t understand what that means.
- Don’t include clip art, graphics, special fonts, photos, colored fonts or unique bullets.
- Do not state, “references available upon request.” It takes up too much space and is unnecessary. If employers want references, they’ll ask.
- Don’t upload PDFs into ATS. While ATS are getting “smarter” and some claim to read PDFs. Remain on the safe side and only upload .doc or .text only documents.
- Don’t place skills at the bottom of the resume. Many ATS systems only scan the top ⅓ of the resume for keywords. If you have important keywords at the bottom it may not see them and could disqualify your resume.
- Don’t use “I” statements, resumes should be written in third person.
- Do not rely on a resume builder or software. Stay in control of your registered nurse resume.
How To Spot An ATS
If you’ve ever visited a job posting and seen an “APPLY NOW” button, you’ve encountered the elusive resume-reading bot. ATS requires candidates to enter data on the front end.
Maybe you’ve gone through the steps to create a login, complete the application and upload your resume. Perhaps you didn’t realize at the time that you were entering your information into an applicant tracking system.
Raise your hand if you never heard back from an employer after applying online? Raise your other hand if you received an automated response, “thanking” you for your interest and never heard back!
Now, put your hands down and read on. ATS is not going away but, job seekers are getting savvy, finding tools, and educating themselves on the mysterious world of applicant tracking systems.
Part FourChoose A Nurse Resume Format
Prior to ever typing words onto your resume, it’s important to first decide on a resume format. There are three types of resume layouts. While we highly recommend the reverse-chronological layout for most nursing professionals, we’d encourage you to make the best choice for yourself.
Here’s a breakdown of the three most popular types of resume layouts:
1. Reverse Chronological
This layout focuses on career history and lists jobs in reverse chronological order. We recommend this type for the majority of healthcare professionals and will focus details of this article on the format. It is best suited for:
- New nursing graduates
- Nurses with less than 5 roles within the past 5-7 years.
- Travel Nurses with <10 completed assignments
- Nurses with experience in only 1-2 specialties
- Nurses applying for a similar role
- Nurses wanting to show vertical career progression
This layout places the emphasis on skills and deemphasizes work history. However, it does not pass the ATS test well and hiring managers overall do not prefer it. We recommend against this layout for the majority of nursing professionals. Typically, people who use this format are:
- Changing careers
- Have large gaps in employment
- Do have years of experience in the role in which they are applying
This layout is a mixture of the reverse chronological and the functional resume. While it places emphasis on skill sets, abilities, and accomplishments, it also highlights applicable work history. We recommend this type for nursing professionals with the following background, goals, and barriers:
- Nurses with experience in multiple specialties and/or medical professions
- Seasoned travel nurses with >10 completed assignments
- Nurses with multiple small gaps in employment
- Nurses looking to change specialties
- Nurses interested in changing careers
Part FiveUse the Right Formatting and Design
As mentioned, modern resumes need to be formatted to pass an ATS. This includes designing it in a comprehensive way that will not confuse the ATS. We recommend the following design and formatting features:
We recommend the top margin to be set at 1”, side margins set to .63”. Many experts believe this strikes the perfect balance of text to white space.
Left alignment is standard since that’s how most people (and robots) read. You may think a justified alignment looks tidier, but it can leave uneven gaps between words and ultimately make text harder to read.
In the nursing profession, length should not be the focus of the resume. While we recommend 1-2 pages, some nurses may have resumes with 3 (or more) pages. Don’t stress over it too much. If the resume is slightly over the page amount by a few lines try changing the margin, font style, font size or shortening statements. Bottom line is, it should look visually appealing and should include keywords.
We recommend Times New Roman or Arial to best utilize the functionality of the ATS. However, this is your personal preference. Take note that Times New Roman can be difficult to read if it is smaller than 11pt.
Notice how the two following statements look vastly different with different font style (both at 11pt):
Experienced Travel Nurse with 8 years experience in critical care nursing.
Experienced Travel Nursing with 8 years experience in critical care nursing.
Throughout the resume, there should be different sized fonts. We recommend the following for each section:
|Text Type||Font Size|
|Name||18 - 22 point|
|Contact Info||10-11 point|
|Section Headers||12-14 point|
It’s important to note that 10 point font should be the smallest size on the resume.
While some ATS systems claim to read colors, we encourage you to simply use black.
We recommend keeping the resume very simple. Basic bullet points (black dot) may be used when desired. Simple lines are acceptable as well.
Design Features Not to Use
The following design features are best left off the resume:
- Clip Art
- Multiple font styles
- Special characters
Part SixDetailed Section Breakdown
As you’ve learned, ATS skims resumes and locates specific information in the correct order. We’d suggest using the following categories and section headers to optimize your resume for ATS scoring.
This is the first section on the resume and does not require a title. Your name should be front and center. Don’t make the recruiter search for it. Make sure it’s the largest font on the page. While there are varying opinions on the exact placement of the name, we recommend a simple classic version in the following format:
Name: We suggest setting your name to a size 18-22 font, the name should also be bolded. If you go by a different name make sure to list both names on the resume.
Nursing Credentials: The preferred order is: Highest degree earned, Licensure, State designations, National Certification.
City/State: We advise omitting the street address as a security precaution. However, this is a personal decision. Don’t leave your location off altogether as this could lead to the lowest ranking in ATS.
Phone/texting number: Oh, technology! Yes, some employers will actually text their candidates. Make sure to indicate if you receive texts and whether the phone number is a cell phone or home phone. Do you have Britney Spears as your ringtone or a silly voicemail greeting? Delete, delete, delete!
Email address: [email protected] could send the wrong message to a potential employer (plus, age discrimination is real and listing your birth year anywhere can trigger it!). Make sure you have an appropriate email address. Better yet, create a totally separate email account and use it only for your job search. Bingo!
Linkedin profile: If you have a LinkedIn profile definitely include it. If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile, you could be missing out on opportunities. Now is the time to create one!
Social media and online presence, side note. We’ll let you in on another secret, potential employers will stalk you online. It’s true. Many Recruiters tell us that looking a candidate up on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter are one of the first things they do. So, make sure everything you post online is what you would want an employer to see.
Additionally, online behavior can benefit you. Do you have a nursing related website or blog? Are you an Instagram celebrity? Maybe you created a successful YouTube channel when you were a newbie nurse? Include all this on your resume if it relates to nursing. This is all part of your unique brand!
How to List Nursing Credentials
According to the American Nurses Credentialing Center (AACN) the preferred order is: Highest degree earned, Licensure, State designations, National Certification.
- Educational degrees include doctoral degrees (PhD, DrPH, DNS, EdD, DNP), master’s degrees (MSN, MS, MA), bachelor’s degrees (BS, BSN, BA), and associate degrees (AD, ADN).
- Licensure credentials include RN, LPN and CNA.
- State designations or requirements recognize authority to practice at a more advanced level in that state and include APRN (Advanced Practice Registered Nurse), NP (Nurse Practitioner), and CNS (Clinical Nurse Specialist).
- National certification, which is occasionally voluntary, is awarded through accredited certifying bodies such as the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC), includes RNBC (Registered Nurse-Board Certified) and FNP-BC (Family Nurse Practitioner-Board Certified).
You may also choose to include the following award and honors though, it is voluntary:
- Outstanding achievements in nursing such as FAAN (Fellow of the American Academy of Nursing).
- Other certifications that recognize additional skills such as the EMT-Basic/EMT, awarded by the National Registry of Emergency Medical Technician.
Don’t make an employer (or ATS) search your entire resume for reasons to invite you to interview. Tell them right off top exactly why you are the best candidate for the role.
Every position is unique and this is your first opportunity to optimize the resume for ATS and to also catch the employer’s eye. Spend a little time to target it and to let your qualifications and accomplishments shine.
While there is some debate about how to introduce your resume, we suggest using a professional summary as opposed to a career objective. The professional summary can be formatted in either a short paragraph or a bulleted list asserting qualifications and providing a concise career snapshot.
Think of your resume summary as an “Elevator Speech” - a quick, attention-grabbing, loaded statement that entices the reader to want to continue on. Your professional summary is unique to you and should be targeted to a specific role just like the cover letters career counselors used to tell us about.
However, it could definitely include the following information:
- Number of years of experience in a specialty
- Keywords (List: common keywords found in nursing job descriptions, i.e, excellent patient care, acute care, family education, compassionate.)
- Facility designations or info about facilities
- Supervisory experience + # of subordinates
- Special certifications or awards
- Language abilities
- Soft skills such as patience, compassion, and a cooperative spirit
Here’s an example:
4+ years nursing experience with strong clinical background in critical care (CCU) and intermediate care nursing (IMCU). Proactively streamlines operations, initiating tasks and supporting healthcare team, while prioritizing excellent patient care. Champions patient and family education by providing compassionate, inclusive care that encourages self-sufficiency. Recipient of the Daisy Award.
Nursing Skills and Areas of Expertise
It is a common mistake to list hard skills last on a resume. With the popularity of ATS this mistake could cost you an interview. This is especially true in nursing as the profession requires very specific skills. List skills within the top ⅓ of the resume. Your hard skills should be directly targeted to the role as it is expressed in the job description.
Is the employer asking for a specific EMR that you are experienced with? List it! Are you an expert at starting IVs because of your five years of experience in the emergency room? List it!
This should not be a generic list of skills, but a specific list that is as quantified as much as possible.
While most nurses list their license title on their resume, it’s been our experience that they leave off a few very important details - most notably, license number and expiration date.
Why is this important? Including this information lets potential employers know that you are ready to start work ASAP. They don’t have to wait for the licensing process. It also saves them time because they don’t have to look up your license. This is all public information and can be looked up by anyone. By including these details, you are setting yourself apart.
Here’s an example of how to list your licensure:
Registered Nurse - California, #RN00101, expires: 4/17/2022.
Certifications and Credentials
This is another key section where some important details are typically missing on the nursing resumes we’ve seen. While most nurses list their credentials, it’s important to list them in a specific manner.
Don’t simply list acronyms, as some ATS systems may not be programmed to read shortened versions. Make sure to list the accrediting body, credential/certification number (where applicable) and the expiration date.
Here’s an example:
Basic Life Support (BLS), American Heart Association, expires: 12/1/2021
Employers want to know what you can do for them, period. Nurse Recruiters we’ve talked to will zero in on this section. What are they looking for? Evidence, facts, quantifiable points - proof to support the assertions made in your resume summary.
Vague work histories are particularly frustrating to employers. Especially copied and pasted job descriptions. Don’t do that. Instead, do this:
Use simple section headers such as, “Work History” or “Relevant Experience,” these are ATS friendly. “What I’ve Done” is not.
List experience in reverse chronological order. Take note, if you have a lengthy employment history, you may consider only including the most recent 15 years experience. This will shorten your resume and also limit the chances that you’ll encounter age discrimination. Looking at the big picture experience from 25 years ago doesn’t necessarily speak to your recent nursing experience. Employers care about what you can do for them now.
List job title first followed by your specialty. This is a controversial subject but, we believe employers care more about what you’ve done than who you’ve worked for. Use the job title as it is listed in the job posting or use a more industry-wide job title. Registered Nurse as opposed to Clinical Nurse II.
Facility name is self-explanatory and will come next.
Employment Dates. These are important and can be listed a number of ways. However, it’s been our experience that specific dates are not necessary for a resume. On an application, yes, on a resume, not so much. You can simply list the months and years (mm/yy - present).
Facility-specific and unit-specific information. This information is helpful and important to employers but, is left off the majority of resumes we’ve seen, it includes:
- Trauma level: level I, II, III
- Facility Designations
- Total Hospital beds
- Total unit beds
- Patient demographics
Primary duties look best in a bulleted list of no more than six points including duties, noteworthy accomplishments, and achievements. It’s important to emphasize specific duties and not be too vague.
Wondering what specifics to include? Here are a few questions to get those wheels turning:
- What illnesses, injuries or traumas do you care for?
- What cases do you work on?
- What type of medications do you administer and how?
- What therapies do you perform?
- What equipment do you use?
- How have you improved processes?
- When have I been first or best?
- No. 1 achievement in each position?
- Which achievements have the most impressive numbers?
- When have I been publicly recognized?
Wondering how to order your bullets and what to include? Try this: start with a verb leading to quantifiable data or a specific point and include a relevant duty.
Here are a couple of resume examples:
Supervised staff of 15 Registered Nurses, 8 Certified Nursing Assistants and 7 Paramedics while multitasking excellent patient care.
Cared for up to 4 patients per shift with acute neurological disorders including: strokes, spinal cord injuries and head trauma.
Education and Training
In the nursing profession, education and training are of utmost importance. If you have work experience, this section can be fairly brief. You should list your relevant degree in chronological order.
There are varying opinions regarding the specific ordering of education. However, we believe that the degree or certification title should be listed first. Employers care firstly that you have the education requirement they need and secondarily where you obtained the requirement.
We suggest the following format: Degree or Certification Title (acronym), Institution Name
Here’s an example:
Bachelor Degree in Nursing (BSN), University of Washington
Did you notice that we omitted the graduation date? Age discrimination is alive and well in the United States. In fact, it is the top form of employment discrimination. It affects all age groups. It’s fairly easy to guess (or assume) an individual’s age or generation and pass judgment merely by their high school or college graduation date alone. This is a personal decision for you to make and is not required to be listed on a resume.
We also did not include a GPA. This is another personal decision. If you are particularly proud of your GPA, by all means, include it! However, it is not required. If you graduated with honors that you are proud of, you can definitely include that as well. Again the resume is a unique snapshot of you!
If you possess other degrees not related to nursing, it is not necessary to include those on your nursing resume.
If you are currently enrolled in higher education to advance your studies within the nursing field that should be listed on your resume and stated that the degree is pending. However, if you started a graduate degree program, never finished and do not plan on finishing, it is unnecessary to include on the resume.
Lastly, nurses do not need to include their high school diploma on their resume. The nursing profession requires completion of higher education and therefore, your higher degree trumps your diploma.
Awards, Accomplishments, Affiliations
Though this section is not required, we encourage including awards and accomplishments that are relevant to the nursing profession. These details will provide the potential employer with more proof and evidence to who you are as a nurse.
In this section, you can include:
- Awards and recognitions that are specific to the hospital or facility where you work. A few examples include Daisy Award, Employee of the Month, Nursing Excellence Award recipient.
- Professional memberships and affiliations relating to nursing and/or healthcare.
- Volunteer work, if it relates to nursing.
We suggest the following format: Title, organization, year
Here are a couple of examples:
Recipient, Nursing Excellence Award, Washington Medical Center
Volunteer, American Red Cross - Haiti - 2012
Saving the Resume
One last thing, saving! Don’t just give your resume any old name! Hiring professionals sometimes receive multiple documents from candidates and they don’t want to waste time sorting through every document to find the resume. Some prefer to organize resumes by specialty. Tell them exactly which document is your resume.
We suggest the following format: firstlast_specialty_resume.doc
Here’s an example:
Part SevenCommon Resume Mistakes
We’ve seen a lot of resumes over the years, and you might be surprised by the amount of strange information people have included on resumes. So, here are the top mistakes we’ve seen:
- Typos. This should be a no-brainer but, make sure to proofread and even have another set of eyes proofread for you.
- Birthday or age. Huge red flag for age discrimination.
- Including salary information. An employer could assume your salary is too high or too low, so just don’t list it.
- Including personal information. Don’t include things like photos, religious affiliations, Social Security Numbers, marital status, kids.
- Using only a nickname.If you go by a different name, include both your legal name (the one on your license) and your nickname. For example:
Nicole “Michelle” Nursington
- Outdated resumes. Make sure your resume includes your most current and relevant positions.
- Using first-person pronouns. Avoid using pronouns such as “I” statements. A resume should be in the third person.
- Contact information in the header. An ATS will not see it there.
- Unprofessional email addresses. An appropriate email address is: [email protected] but not [email protected]
- Inappropriate voicemail greetings and ringtones. No need to be fancy, a simple ring is fine and a professional greeting is great!
- Misnaming a resume document. Recruiters go through hundreds of resumes a day, so keeping track of all those files can be difficult. Make it easy for them.
Part EightNursing Resume Templates
Woot! If you’ve made it this far you should have an excellent understanding of how to write a great nursing resume. We know it’s a lot of information right now and we hope that you’ll use the information to advance your career.
For a little more help, try using our free resume templates. And when you’ve landed your next interview, check out the next part in this series, The Complete Guide to Nursing Job Interviews.
1. “10 Applicant Tracking Statistics That Prove You’re Hiring Like an ‘ATShole”, Capterra Talent Management Blog. Capterra, Inc. 3 Sep 2015. Web. Accessed 28 Jul 2017.
Angelina Gibson is a former Nurse Recruitment Manager with 9 total years experience in recruiting. She has hired both staff and agency nurses. Angelina is also a trained Employment Specialist and Resume Writer through the United States Department of Labor. In addition to her professional experience, Angelina runs the popular YouTube Channel, Travel Nursing Insider, Instagram @TravelNursingInsider and nursing career blog www.travelscrubshub.com