Getting the Nursing Job: Resume Tips for RNs
Written By: Dawn Papandrea
You’ve taken all of the coursework, put in the clinical hours, and passed the NCLEX exam and have received your license to practice as a Registered Nurse. Now what? It’s time to start the job hunt, and that begins with crafting a solid resume.
The fact that you are a licensed RN, ready to get to work, already puts you in the running for great job opportunities since nursing is a field that is always in need of new professionals. In fact, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of registered nurses is projected to grow 19 percent during the decade of 2012 to 2022, which is faster than the average occupation.
That being said, you are likely competing with many other new nurses for the best positions, so having a strong resume to grab the attention of prospective employers can help you be a “stand-out” job candidate.
Consider this your RN resume prescription so you know the correct dosage of skills and professional credentials to help get you hired.
What should be included on a nursing resume
The most important goal of your nursing resume is to show that you’re credentialed, qualified, and have the competency-based skills to work as an RN. If you have any relevant healthcare experience, that, of course, is a plus and should be noted. You should also include your licensing details, professional affiliations, and education.
If you have any additional expertise that can set you apart from other job candidates – whether it’s a specialty certification or the fact that you’re bilingual – definitely include that on your resume, too.
Your nursing resume should begin with a “summary” that describes your expertise, credentials, and professional goals. Although some people still use an “objective” at the top of a resume, many experts say this technique is dated. In a resume sample from the School of Nursing at Johns Hopkins 1 , the summary states:
“More than 20 years experience in clinical settings providing nursing care to infants, children, and adolescents. Educational experience providing clinical guidance and instruction to nursing students on adolescent med-surg units.”
If you’re just starting out and feel like you don’t have enough to put your resume, think again. All of those clinical hours count, as do your nursing school accomplishments.
For example, Monster.com offers this sample work history for a nursing student:
“Worked under the supervision of an RN providing bedside care, treatment and clinical documentation for patients on cardiac, oncology and medical-surgical floors. Handled medication administration, dressing changes, IVs and all other aspects of nursing care. Facilitated admissions, discharges, and transfers; prepared chart notes and other documentation; and participated on the interdisciplinary team.”
The remainder of your resume should be in reverse chronological order with sections that may include: “Professional Experience,” “Education,” “Professional Organizations,” “Honors and Awards,” “Additional Skills,” etc.
What to leave off of a nursing resume
While it’s perfectly fine to include some non-nursing job experience, it should be kept brief since you want to keep the focus on skills relevant to a nursing position. That being said, if you’re a career changer who has worked in a different field for a number of years previous to pursuing a nursing, you will want to illustrate a track record of strong performance that can be adapted into your nursing job.
For example, you might have experience working in teams, or customer service skills dealing with the public – both of these backgrounds could help you work with health-care staff and patients and their families.
Other things that can be left off are jobs you had more than 10 years ago include volunteer activities (unless they are health-care related), and college accomplishments and activities, unless they are nursing-degree related.
How to send a resume to a potential employer
These days, resumes are most like sent electronically through job boards, social networking sites like LinkedIn, or via the career portals on the websites of healthcare organizations. In other words, you want to make sure your resume doesn’t have any tricky formatting since it could get lost in translation, so to speak.
It’s also a good idea to have different file versions of your resume for easy sending (including PDF, Word doc, and plain text). Of course, you do want to have a nice-looking version that can be printed on good stock paper for in-person meetings, career fairs, or to be sent snail-mail to smaller physician’s offices.
Your resume should always be accompanied by a cover letter that is addressed directly to the person who makes the hiring decisions. Do some sleuthing to get this person’s name if necessary, since it helps to personalize the correspondence.
The letter should give a brief introduction of who you are, why you’re interested in the position and the organization, and your qualifications. If you’re submitting through a job board, you will likely have an area to paste in a note to the recipient, so consider that your cover letter. Even though emails and online forms seem informal, try to maintain the same professional tone as you would on paper.
General resume tips
- A glaring typo can easily send your resume into the circular file, so be sure to proofread and have someone else look it over before you submit it to your dream employer.
- Whenever possible, try to customize your resume, and especially your cover letter, for each position. Carefully look over the job description, and try to match your skills to the qualifications they seek. For example, if a job posting mentions that night shifts need to be covered and you’re willing to do that, mention that you’re available to work nights.
- Also worth noting is that many hiring teams rely on applicant tracking systems that screen resumes for relevant keywords, so use straightforward language.
- Use action verbs throughout your resume, and be specific if you have numbers/statistics to share regarding your job performance.
- Ideally, you should keep your resume to one page, unless you have an extensive, relevant job history to share.
How to follow up on a resume submission
It can be frustrating to send resumes out and then sit back and play the waiting game. For starters, how will you even know if your resume made it into the right hands?
The good news is it’s perfectly acceptable to follow up. Start with email one to two weeks after you originally sent the resume. Be courteous, inquire as to when you might expect to hear back, and reiterate that you’re happy to send along any additional items upon request. You could also try a phone call follow-up, but keep in mind that people might be hard to reach. If you go that route, be ready in case someone does pick up the phone, or you have to leave a voicemail message.
The key with following up is to be persistent, but don’t become a nuisance. Wait at least a week between follow-ups, and after three or four inquiries, it’s probably safe to assume that either the hiring process is tied up, or they selected another candidate.
For more tips on applying for your first job, read our article covering the entire process .
How to utilize a resume during the interview process
The resume should be just used as an introduction – a foot in the door, so to speak. Where you really get the chance to convey your enthusiasm for the profession is during the interview. Especially if you don’t have a lot of nursing experience, you need to convince someone to take a chance on you. Think of ways that you can describe how your personal experiences have prepared you for nursing. Share a couple of key lessons you learned during clinical hours that made an impact on you. Be ready to discuss your values, challenges you have overcome, and what your career goals entail.
It is common now in interviews for you to be asked behavioral questions which ask the interviewee to share as past experience. For example, the question may be, “Think of a time when you had to work with a difficult peer. Please share the experience and any actions you took to a good or bad outcome.” It would be a good idea to research via the internet “behavioral interview questions” and the best way to answer them. One can use the STAR method to answer these questions. S: Situation or T: Task--so describe the situation or task that you are thinking about. A: Action you took in the situation. R: Result--describe the result of the situation and action you took in that particular instance.
Between online resources, the career center of your former nursing school, and/or friends who are in the profession, don’t hesitate to seek guidance when it comes to creating your RN resume. At the same time, don’t stress about it too much. As long as you get across the message that you are licensed, have hands-on experience working with patients, and are passionate about nursing, you should be putting on those scrubs in no time.
And finally, when you show up for your interview, relax, smile, and be yourself. This is always the best start for any interview.
Ready to put your resume to the test?
Dawn Papandrea is a Staten Island, a NY-based freelance writer who specializes in personal finance, parenting, and lifestyle topics. Her work has appeared in Family Circle, WomansDay.com, Parents, CreditCards.com, and more.
Nurse.org's Popular Articles and Resources
Non-Bedside Nursing Jobs
Looking for a change beyond the bedside? Check out our list of the top non-bedside nursing careers
15 Highest Paying Nursing Jobs in 2021
You know all nursing jobs aren’t created (or paid!) equally, but do you know which nurses are making the most money in 2020?
2022's Best Nursing Schools
We've looked at programs nationwide and determined these are our top schools
10 Best Scrubs for Nurses
120,000+ nurses voted on their favorite scrub brands, find out their top picks.