As a nurse or nursing student, you are probably more comfortable working at the bedside than writing your résumé – but how do you showcase your skills so you can land a great job?
The key is knowing how to format your résumé and what information to include.
(In my Nurse Résumé Template Bundle, I lay this all out for you in an easy-to-follow, plug-and-play way.)
In this guide, I’ll show you the exact method I teach my students to upgrade their résumés. I’ll walk you through a real résumé to demonstrate how a few small changes can make a big impact on your job search.
Here’s what you can expect in the rest of this post:
- Understand the best layouts for nurse résumés
- Where to include your contact information and credentials
- How to stand out in the “professional summary” section
- What to include in the “education” section
- How to write the “work experience” section
- How to add the finishing touches
Nurse résumé examples: revamp your résumé
Let’s start with an example of a basic nursing résumé. Here’s page 1 of a real résumé from one of my students (used with permission; names and contact info have been changed):
This résumé does many things well.
- The information is clearly presented, including locations and specific dates worked
- The header section draws attention to relevant keywords, including certifications and skills
- Contact information is easy to find (although a few details are missing)
However, there are a few problems with this résumé that can impact job search success. Despite her excellent credentials and glowing recommendations, this nurse was struggling to land an interview after weeks of job hunting.
There are several possible reasons she’s having problems. First, the overall vibe of the résumé is a bit dated. The long blocks of text and lack of white space are hard on the eyes. This nurse is using good keywords, but she hasn’t optimized the layout or phrasing for online submissions.
Let’s see how a few small changes totally re-invigorates this résumé.
The best formats for nurse résumés
There are two main styles of layout that are most popular for nurse résumés.
- An inline or single column layout
- A split, or two-column layout
Should you use a single column or two columns?
Two-column résumés often incorporate more white space. They can look more modern, almost like a webpage, which is great for creative jobs. Take a look at this two-column résumé for a nurse looking to switch to a health-marketing career:
This résumé could work well for a creative career path like freelance health writing, especially since the nurse will likely send her résumé as a PDF directly to potential clients via email rather than through job boards.
However, this format may not work as well for traditional nursing jobs because of the Applicant Tracking System.
The Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is a computer program used by many employers to screen résumés for keywords. More than 90% of employers use the ATS, and more than 75% of résumés are automatically rejected due to formatting issues or lack of appropriate keywords.
Two-column résumés, especially those submitted in .docx or .doc form, are more likely to run into problems with the ATS.
In addition, two-column résumés are also more likely to open in unexpected or corrupted formats.
You might consider using a simplified one-column layout if you plan to apply for jobs through online job boards, hospital career websites, or other traditional application systems.
While they may not look as exciting, basic formats are easier for the ATS to process and may be easier for recruiters to open.
Some nurses keep two copies of their résumé: a simple, one-column or text-only version specifically for submitting online in addition to a jazzed-up, two-column version to share with recruiters directly, either via email as PDF or to print.
Want to learn more about the ATS and how to maximize your résumé for online job submissions? My Nurse Résumé Template Bundle is full of information on the ATS and easy-to-use templates to help your résumé sail through the system.
Where to include your contact information and credentials
After you choose your preferred résumé format, it’s time to start filling in the details.
Many nurses wonder if they should put their credentials after their name. This is really a personal choice.
If you have many credentials, it may be better to simply include your name in the header. This allows you to list your credentials in more detail in another part of the résumé. If you are applying to a job that specifically requires a particular degree, it could be helpful to include that credential after your name.
Many recruiters also like to see the applicant’s city and state in a prominent area. This may prove useful if the recruiter knows of other opportunities in your area, thereby opening doors without any extra work on your part.
Let’s take a look at an updated version of the header of Fatima’s résumé based on these small changes:
The new header already looks more modern and inviting. The contact details are easy to find, and the icons draw attention to relevant information.
In addition to your name, email address, and phone number, it can also be helpful to include your LinkedIn profile.
If you don’t have a LinkedIn profile – make one! Many recruiters check LinkedIn when screening candidates, so it’s important to have a strong online presence.
You can use LinkedIn to go into more detail about past work experience, volunteer work, and educational achievements that don’t fit on your résumé. It’s also a great way to find potential opportunities and connect with recruiters looking for applicants.
Feeling overwhelmed by the job search process? Listen to this podcast episode where I break down exactly the steps you should take during your job search, including a sample daily schedule to keep you on track.
The “professional summary” section
The top of your résumé is prime real estate. It’s the perfect place to highlight your best accomplishments and achievements, especially those that might not fit easily under other categories.
The professional summary section is the equivalent of your elevator pitch. In this section, your goal is to show the prospective employer how well you will fit into their organization.
- What do you bring to the organization?
- What are your specialties?
- Why are you worth hiring?
- What will it be like to work with you?
This is a tall order for a 2-3 sentence section. That’s why I usually recommend my clients write this section last. That allows you to review the rest of your résumé and zero in on the specific accomplishments, skills, and experience that make you a great candidate for a particular position.
Let’s see how Fatima updated her professional summary section for a position in the ER:
Unlike the previous version of her résumé, the updated “professional profile” section is now laser-focused. This profile highlights her relevant certifications and draws attention to the skills she brings to the table, namely her language skills and emergency nursing credentials.
The updated summary also shows that Fatima is dedicated to her patients and hospital improvement. It suggests she’s a leader who is willing to get involved above and beyond the bedside.
For more tips on how to write your Professional Summary, check out this post on the ResumeRX blog!
What to include in the “education” section
What to include in the “education” section will depend on whether you are a new grad nurse or a more experienced nurse.
In her original résumé, Fatima included a detailed education section, complete with GPAs and educational achievements, likely a hold-over from her new grad nursing résumé.
Now that she is more advanced in her career, it’s time to pare this section down to create space for recent work experience.
If you are a new graduate nurse, you may choose to include education and nursing school clinical rotations in more detail. However, more experienced nurses are better served using this space for items like:
- Certifications and credentials
- Professional memberships
- Volunteer experience
- Awards and achievements
- Clinical specialties
If you are an experienced nurse, it’s okay to only list the basics: degree, area of specialty, institution name, and date of graduation. This will allow more room for recent work experience.
How to write the “work experience” section
Now it’s time to work on the meat of the résumé: the “work experience” section.
There are three things to keep in mind when working on this part of your résumé:
- Start each line with a verb
- Include measurable achievements when possible
- Include the hard and soft skills that you utilized in that position
In her original résumé, Fatima included many details that are a routine part of the nursing care process. This uses valuable space and really isn’t necessary.
If you are a Registered Nurse, recruiters will assume that you assess, administer medications, and document thoroughly. There’s no need to list these tasks on your résumé.
Instead, use the “work experience” section to highlight how you stand out from other nurse applicants. Where did you go above and beyond? Do you have a particular area of expertise? What about hospital committees or volunteer work?
If you are a new nurse or recent grad, you can be specific about the skills and medications that you are familiar with. Take a look at the job description and include any particular skills that you have mastered. This can help recruiters feel like you will “hit the ground running.”
You can use bullets, short paragraphs, or a combination to describe your previous work experience. Take a look at how Fatima updated her work experience:
The updated version of this résumé is more succinct, which allows more room for past experience and volunteer work. She has also included specific medications and technical skills from the job description to demonstrate how she would be an immediate asset to her new team.
The finishing touches
Let’s take a look at Fatima’s upgraded résumé as a whole:
Her résumé does a much better job highlighting her relevant skills, including her leadership and advanced certifications.
Fatima is now ready to send her résumé to recruiters. When possible, it’s helpful to submit résumés as a PDF since this ensures that formatting won’t be lost.
Some online job boards, especially those that use the ATS, will specify that files should be sent as a .doc file instead. Make sure to follow these instructions so the ATS can correctly read your résumé.
Great job updating your résumé! But don’t forget to work on your cover letter, too.
Ready to upgrade your résumé?
Writing a great résumé is an art, not a science. An outstanding résumé provides a complete and accurate picture of your work and educational experience while also navigating hurdles like the ATS.
How you write your own résumé will depend on whether you’re a new grad nurse, a travel nurse or nurse practitioner, a nurse who has been away from the bedside for an extended period, or a nurse who is switching to remote work.
If you’re ready to take your résumé to the next level, I can help. Check out my Résumé Template Bundle for quick and easy templates that can refresh the look and feel of your current résumé.
The Résumé Makeover Pro course is perfect for nurses looking for a step-by-step guide to maximizing every square inch of their résumé. I’ll show you exactly how to format, design, and write every section of your résumé to help you get through the ATS software, wow recruiters, and land your next interview.
What’s your biggest resume challenge? Let me know in the comments below or talk to me on instagram!