How to Create a Winning Nursing Resume

Discover how to stand out from the competition with a nursing resume that showcases your strengths and highlights your skills.

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Last Updated: 10/08/2021
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The moment you’ve waited for is finally here. You’ve graduated nursing school, passed the NLCEX, and now it’s time to land your first job in the field you’ve dreamt about. With more than 155,000 registered nursing students graduating each year, job competition can be stiff. You want to make a good first impression and to do so, you know that your resume needs to stand out. But how can you create an impactful resume without any professional nursing experience under your belt?

Luckily, building a strong resume doesn’t require decades of work experience. With the right techniques, strategies, and a little bit of creativity, even a newly graduated nursing student can look good on paper. Learn what you can do to make your nursing resume shine with step-by-step instructions and find out which mistakes to avoid when building your new resume.

Ask Yourself the Right Questions

Effective resume-building starts way before you create a new document in your favorite word processing program. Asking yourself the right questions in advance gives you a solid idea of what you’re looking for and helps you prioritize your goals and qualifications. Consider these questions as you begin brainstorming your nursing resume.

What’s my ideal career?

Nursing is a broad field that often encompasses allied health professions as well as other technical positions. Where do you want to land? Consider your long-term career goals now so you can begin to envision a path and frame your resume as a handy roadmap.

Maybe you plan to work as an RN or LVN/LPN, or maybe you want to pursue a role that requires more training, such as an advanced nurse practitioner. You don’t need to have all the details ironed out just yet, but understanding the big picture up front can help you build a resume that supports your goals.

What do I have that others don’t?

Consider the qualifications that set you apart but aren’t easy to quantify. Employers and hiring managers sometimes refer to these as soft skills, i.e., the traits or attitudes that help you navigate your work environment and effectively engage with other people.

These include communication skills, social and emotional intelligence, and other capacities that may not directly relate to nursing at large but make you a more valued and well-rounded nurse. Keep a running list of these in a master document so you can draw from them when needed.

What are my strengths and weaknesses?

Narrow your focus and think about specific nursing proficiencies. Where do you thrive and what do you need to improve? Maybe you have a natural affinity for working with older adults but struggle with children and families; or maybe you enjoy health informatics but feel overwhelmed by the administrative side of nursing. Awareness of your strengths and weaknesses gives you a leg up on the competition because you’ll have a better sense of what to emphasize on your resume.

What do I really want out of my career?

The ability to clearly explain what you want out of your career and what you hope to gain not only provides clarity and purpose, but it can also persuade potential employers and the hiring managers who read your resume that you’re the one for the job. Depending on which resume format you choose—more on that below—you may want to mention your career goals explicitly or just let your goals guide what you choose to include in each section.

Why nursing?

This question almost seems too easy, but its simplicity is worth probing further. What is it about being a nurse that really interests you or suits your personality? Try to clarify what brought you to nursing in the first place and what compels you to continue in the profession. You’ll be in a much better position to deliver a successful resume that conveys enthusiasm and commitment while detailing your specific qualifications.

Research Your Potential Employers

Thinking through your career goals and aspirations is only the first step. Now that you’ve asked the right questions and know what you’re looking for, it’s time to start researching potential employers. That research not only gives you a deeper sense of the nursing job market, but it also helps you better understand what hiring managers are looking for in new candidates. Optimizing your resume in light of those findings could make all the difference. Here are some tips to help you get started.

How to Research Employers

Maybe you already have potential employers in mind, or maybe you’re interested in discovering different employers—this is where preliminary research comes in. If you already have an employer in mind, exploring the company’s website is one of the best places to start. Plan to do this with other nursing employers you find as well. A company’s website will give you a good sense of the organization’s mission, scope, and culture—key elements to consider as you think about where you fit in and what value you bring.

Sites like LinkedIn and Indeed are also a great place to start. Browsing current nursing job ads, even for employers that don’t necessarily interest you, helps you acclimate to the process. If you’re a student or recent graduate, odds are you’ve built solid in-person professional networks during school. Those networks can be a great resource for learning more about employers and new opportunities.

Tailoring Your Resume

One of the worst things you can do as a nursing candidate is to submit a generic resume with each job application. Going the extra mile by tailoring your resume not only shows initiative, but it could also be the key to getting you a second look from the hiring manager (or making it past the automated resume bots—more on that below).

Nursing employers want to hire qualified candidates who fit the job description; they’ll quickly discard resumes that use vague boilerplate language, fail to set themselves apart, and don’t line up with the open position. If you want to increase your chances of standing out, you’ll need to tailor your resume for each nursing job you pursue.

That doesn’t mean you need to start from scratch every time, but it does mean you’ll need to tweak some things. One effective approach is to keep a master resume containing all your skills, qualifications, and achievements. Say you have experience as an RN in both physician’s offices and emergency rooms, but you’re applying for an RN position with a local doctor. You wouldn’t want to list only the skills and achievements gained in the ER. By starting with a master resume, you’ll have a comprehensive list of skills and experiences to draw from, helping you craft an impactful resume tailored to each job description.

Decide on a Resume Design & Format

Asking yourself the right questions and researching possible employers helps you determine what to include on your resume, but what about the document itself? How should it be organized? What formatting should you use and what design choices should you make? Use these tips to craft an informative, visually appealing resume.

3 Nursing Resume Formats to Consider

Most job seekers rely on one of three different resume formats, with each offering its own unique advantages. Keep reading to learn more about those formats and find out which one works for you.

The Functional Resume

The functional resume focuses on transferable nursing skills rather than a linear work history. It accommodates a wider range of career paths, making it ideal for job changers, those with gaps in employment, those who have worked in multiple nursing fields, or those who are new grads. Instead of listing each position in order, this layout highlights a list of skills, a recent position, and some of the competencies you gained in the position.

JANE SMITH

Chino, CA 90011

H: (555) 555-5555

Professional Summary

Enim praesent elementum facilisis leo vel fringilla. Faucibus vitae aliquet nec ullamcorper sit amet risus nullam. Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper. Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.

Accomplishments
  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
  • Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.
  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
Skills
  • Nursing Team Leadership
  • Project Management
  • Staff Training
  • Nursing Team Leadership
  • Project Management
  • Staff Training
Experience

Perioperative PACU Registered Nurse – Lead 02/2015 to 12/2015

Martin Luther King Medical Center – San Diego, CA

  • Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.
  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
  • Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.

Registered Nurse/Charge, 10/2013 to 02/2015

Telemetry Unit Mission Community Hospital – Santa Theresa, CA

  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
  • Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.
Education

Bachelor of Science: Nursing, Jan 2017

University of Texas – Austin

Associate of Science: Nursing, Jan 2005

State University – New York

Credentials
  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
  • Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.
The Chronological (or Reverse Chronological) Resume

This format lists your nursing education and job history in chronological or reverse chronological order. It emphasizes how you’ve gained experience and built qualifications over time, culminating with your current position. It’s one of the most common formats, but may not be as effective if you have an unconventional employment history or if you’re fresh out of school.

JANE SMITH

Chino, CA 90011 – H: (555) 555-5555 – [email protected]

Professional Summary

Enim praesent elementum facilisis leo vel fringilla. Faucibus vitae aliquet nec ullamcorper sit amet risus nullam. Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper. Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.

Accomplishments
  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
  • Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.
  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
Skills
  • Nursing Team Leadership
  • Project Management
  • Staff Training
  • Nursing Team Leadership
  • Project Management
  • Staff Training
Experience

Perioperative PACU Registered Nurse – Lead 02/2015 to 12/2015

Martin Luther King Medical Center – San Diego, CA

  • Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.
  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
  • Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.

Registered Nurse/Charge, 10/2013 to 02/2015

Telemetry Unit Mission Community Hospital – Santa Theresa, CA

  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
  • Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.
Education

Bachelor of Science: Nursing, Jan 2017

University of Texas – Austin

Associate of Science: Nursing, Jan 2005

State University – New York

Credentials
  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
  • Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.
Functional/Chronological Combination

The combination-style resume incorporates elements from the functional and chronological formats. The result is a resume that equally emphasizes skills and work experience. Like the functional format, it works well if you’ve taken a winding path to nursing. It’s also suitable for experienced nurses looking to advance—a feature it shares with chronological formats. For new nurses, this format might be a good one if you want to showcase a top-tier practicum or experience as a student nurse that perfectly matches the job you’re applying for.

JANE SMITH

Chino, CA 90011 – H: (555) 555-5555 – [email protected]

Professional Summary

Enim praesent elementum facilisis leo vel fringilla. Faucibus vitae aliquet nec ullamcorper sit amet risus nullam. Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper. Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.

Accomplishments
  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
  • Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.
  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
Skills
  • Nursing Team Leadership
  • Project Management
  • Staff Training
  • Nursing Team Leadership
  • Project Management
  • Staff Training
Experience

Perioperative PACU Registered Nurse – Lead 02/2015 to 12/2015

Martin Luther King Medical Center – San Diego, CA

  • Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.
  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
  • Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.

Registered Nurse/Charge, 10/2013 to 02/2015

Telemetry Unit Mission Community Hospital – Santa Theresa, CA

  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
  • Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.
Education

Bachelor of Science: Nursing, Jan 2017

University of Texas – Austin

Associate of Science: Nursing, Jan 2005

State University – New York

Credentials
  • Nunc sed id semper risus in hendrerit gravida. Aliquam sem fringilla ut morbi tincidunt.
  • Viverra nam libero justo laoreet sit. Mauris vitae ultricies leo integer. Massa tincidunt nunc pulvinar sapien et ligula ullamcorper.

5 Principles of Design for a Winning Resume

Crafting an effective nursing resume is more than just typing up your job history or filling in the blanks for one of the formats above. The best nursing resumes incorporate good design sense, which makes your document visually appealing in addition to detailing your unique qualifications. Try these tips for a resume that looks eye-catching and professional.

  1. Select the right font

Overused fonts like Comic Sans have become a running joke, so you’ll want to take your resume’s typeface seriously. Choose a professional, readable, and attractive font to detail your qualifications with style and elegance. Keep the typeface uniform throughout the document and try to stick with standard sizes—10- to 12-point type in most cases.

  1. Make it easily digestible

Your resume should be easy to read and understand. Remember, you’re offering a high-level distillation of your nursing background and qualifications, not writing a term paper. This means avoiding long walls of text and using clear section headings to organize information. Use bullet points instead of paragraphs when appropriate, and preserve white space wherever you can.

  1. Add an infographic

If you have a graphic design background or some proficiency with illustration tools, you may want to consider adding an infographic. Tasteful and crisp infographics can depict your professional qualifications in a compelling way while also showcasing your individual creativity. Canva, a free design tool, offers several templates to help you get started.

  1. Keep it simple (and brief)

Concise and clear nursing resumes deliver the best results. You won’t be able to cover everything, and that’s okay—it leaves some material for the interview. To land an interview you need to submit a simple, compelling resume that informs, not overwhelms. If in doubt, keep things brief and leave your reader wanting more.

  1. Use multiple file format

Saving your resume as a PDF will preserve your formatting and design choices across platforms, but it may not be acceptable in some cases and could give you problems with ATS bots (more on those below). Microsoft Word formats (.doc, .docx) are nearly ubiquitous and almost always acceptable. When in doubt, keep multiple versions for different situations.

Get to Know the Resume Reading Robots

These days even small employers and healthcare facilities may receive hundreds of applications for a single position. Online job ads and electronic application submissions make it easy for job-seekers to put themselves out there, and in response many organizations have turned to automated technologies to streamline the vetting process.

Known collectively as applicant tracking systems (ATSs), these software tools help recruiters process and categorize materials according to their needs. Many ATS packages include resume bots designed to easily identify unqualified candidates and weed out incomplete applications.

ATS resume bots may streamline things from an employer’s perspective, but they aren’t perfect. According to a recent CNBC report, nearly 43% of job candidates have submitted materials flagged as incompatible by these tools regardless of their qualifications. Resume bots can certainly work against you, especially if you’re unfamiliar with what they do and how they work. Use these tips to optimize your nursing resume for an ATS.

How can I spot a resume reading robot?

Larger organizations with wider applicant pools are generally more likely to rely on ATS resume bots than others. However, the safest approach is to assume that your resume will be vetted by an ATS or a similar screening tool. These automated bots continue to grow in popularity, and if your potential employer is using a third party to handle their applications—platforms like Jobvite, Workday, or even Indeed—then odds are they’re relying on ATSs.

Which employers use ATS robots?

According to CNBC, nearly 99% of Fortune 500 companies use resume bots in their hiring process. That said, applying for a nursing role with your local hospital doesn’t automatically put you in the clear. As Business Insider points out, ATS tools are increasingly being used by small businesses and regional employers to help manage the influx of applications.

Because healthcare is a large industry, you should prepare application materials ready to contend with these new tools. The next section shows you how to do just that.

Getting Past Resume Robots: Do’s & Don’ts

Use this list of do’s and don’ts as a guide so you can create an effective, ATS-friendly resume with impact.

Do’s
  • Keep your resume format simple and clean, and label each section accurately
  • Consistently include specific keywords that represent required hard and soft skills
  • Specify your location and put that information in a clean, easy-to-read section near the top
  • Spell out all abbreviations and other shortened titles the first time you use them
  • Use the role description and other information from the job posting or the employer’s website as a guide
Don’ts
  • Overcomplicate things with embedded charts/images or use wordy section titles
  • Use indistinct or generic language that doesn’t fit the job description
  • Include vague identifying information or embed that information in a header or footer that automated tools could easily miss
  • Use undefined acronyms or abbreviations for organizations or institutions
  • Write your resume completely from scratch without considering the employer’s mission, aims, or stated needs for the role

Perfect Each Section of Your Resume

Each section of your resume will contain important information that shows your value and worth as a potential employee. It’s important to make sure that you not only provide the right information, but that you also convey that information in a compelling way. Here’s a breakdown of each section with some points to consider as you build things out.

Contact Information

Contact information may seem like a given, but sometimes in the rush to submit an application these details can be overlooked. How can recruiters or hiring managers most easily contact you? Including multiple modes of contact is the best rule of thumb and will maximize your chances for a potential interview or follow-up. Your nursing resume should include the following items:

  • Your current mailing address (this also verifies that you’re local)
  • A professional email address that ideally contains your name
  • A working phone number that you regularly answer

You could also include additional modes of communication, like LinkedIn, but keep it professional. You don’t need to include links to your personal social media accounts.

Key to Success

Provide multiple ways for recruiters to contact you and place this information prominently at the top of your resume, under your name, so it’s easy to identify and act upon. Do this regardless of your resume format and keep the information you present professional and to the point.

Resume Objective

Whether you plan to use a chronological layout, a functional format, or some combination of the two, the most effective nursing resumes begin with a clear objective. This is often the first thing hiring managers read.

Consider the examples in the format section above. Each starts with a concise professional summary offering a high-level overview of skills and experience in the nursing field. You don’t need to go into much detail here, but you do want to convey the breadth and depth of your qualifications. Try to keep this section to four or five lines or around 100 words max.

Key to Success

Place an objective or professional summary paragraph near the top of your resume under your contact information. This section will likely be read first, so put some additional thought into what you include. Cast the net wide and strive to paint a holistic picture of your value and worth as a nursing candidate.

Work History

This section delves into your work background and often lists your key duties or responsibilities with each position, along with locations and dates of employment. How you go about organizing that information will vary depending on your chosen resume format. Remember, it’s best to stick with relevant nursing or healthcare-related positions.

Unless you earned a special credential or acquired a new skill, recruiters probably don’t care about the odd jobs you worked during college or high school. The only exception to that rule is if you’re a recent graduate, in which case you probably want to highlight nursing-related education and internship experiences.

Key to Success

List relevant positions that directly relate to your qualifications as a nursing candidate. If you use a chronological format, list those positions in order with dates to show how you’ve built experience over time. If you plan to use a functional layout, consider featuring a recent or current role that highlights your qualifications.

Education Section

Because nursing positions require certain degrees or diplomas, many employers hold the education and work history sections of your resume in equal regard. Hiring managers will be looking for the proper qualifications for the role you’re seeking—associate degree, BSN, MSN, etc.—so be sure that you provide accurate information.

Most nursing resumes list educational experiences in reverse chronological order, beginning with your most recent degree. You’ll need to list the name of each institution, the degree you earned (along with any honors, etc.), and your dates of study.

Key to Success

Be sure to provide accurate information, including full degree titles (especially when applying for more advanced roles) and dates for the duration of each program. Stick with postsecondary experiences unless you have a special circumstance.

Credentials

Depending on the role you’re seeking, extra credentials or industry certifications could be just as important as your education. In this section list these in chronological or reverse chronological order. Be sure to provide dates for each credential, along with the title and institution or provider that granted it.

As with other sections, it may make sense to showcase the most relevant credentials first, ensuring that recruiters notice them. If you’re applying for an APRN role in gerontology, for example, include your post-graduate certificate in gerontology first—that way you’re highlighting your most relevant qualifications up front.

Key to Success

List any nursing-related credentials or certificates you may have starting with the most relevant or the most recent, depending on the role. Remember that the goal is to position yourself as the most qualified candidate, so provide any additional details that fit the job description.

Skills Section

This is the place to include any additional skills—technical, vocational, or otherwise—not included elsewhere on your resume. The idea here is to give employers a greater sense of the added value you would bring to their organization, so you don’t need to go into a lot of detail for each skill; a list of bullet points will suffice.

Start with any additional healthcare or nursing skills not covered in the employment, education, and credentials sections (medical coding and billing, health informatics, etc.). Then branch out to include broader competencies or soft skills that position you as a well-rounded job candidate.

Key to Success

Use this space to include additional skills or areas of proficiency that speak to your value and versatility as a prospective nurse. Remember that you want your resume to be succinct, so avoid redundancies. If a skill is already listed in another section, you don’t need to list it again here.

References

It’s commonplace to provide two or three references on your nursing resume, typically near the end. Some employers may even require them. If they do, be sure to closely follow their instructions. If they don’t, including trusted references can help corroborate your skills, experience, and value.

Who counts as a qualified reference? Be selective and strategic. A former boss who supervised you in a nursing position can speak to your qualifications much better than a friend or colleague. So can a former instructor from your nursing school. Pick those with clout in the nursing community and be sure to get their consent ahead of time.

Key to Success

Choose references who will provide a favorable recommendation and who can speak directly to your value and growth as a nurse. Reach out to those people in advance to discuss your goals and request their permission. Prioritize former teachers and supervisors with nursing experience.

Avoid Common Resume Mistakes

Finally, it’s important to avoid common mistakes that can easily put you out of contention for a dream nursing job. ATS bots typically weed out resumes with avoidable errors, and most hiring managers do an initial skim to detect mistakes and narrow down the candidate pool. Here are some common mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #1

Providing vague details

Filling in each section with general information or filler material may seem easy, but the most effective resume is a specific one. Avoid vague or superficial details. Instead, explain what sets you apart and makes you a top candidate. This includes precise employment dates, achievements for each job, and clear details about each position or title you’ve held. For example, instead of mentioning that you work as an APRN in a large hospital, offer details about your role and accomplishments.

Mistake #2

Including irrelevant work experience

The work experience you list should be relevant to the role you’re seeking and should demonstrate how your qualifications for that role developed over time. You don’t need to provide an exhaustive work history that details every job you’ve ever had; remember, you’re crafting a nursing resume not an autobiography. Less is more. Include the nursing or healthcare-related positions that have direct bearing on your prospective employer’s stated needs.

Mistake #3

Grammatical mistakes and typos

This is a big one, and probably the most noticeable. No one likes to read a document full of avoidable misspellings and other grammatical mistakes. The easiest way to not land an interview is to submit a nursing resume with noticeable typos. You can avoid this through diligent proofreading to ensure accuracy. Consider reading the document aloud to catch easy errors. You could even have a friend or trusted nursing colleague check your resume before you submit it.

Mistake #4

Listing responsibilities rather than achievements

One common pitfall applicants fall into is to include a laundry list of responsibilities for each job instead of spotlighting the accomplishments gained along the way. Rather than simply stating that you carried out direct patient care, for example, quantify the experience by noting that you carried out direct care to 100+ patients. This clarifies the value you bring and will make you stand out as a desirable candidate.

Mistake #5

Choosing weak-sounding language

Weak-sounding language can make your resume feel lifeless and inert. Choose strong, active language instead. What does this mean? Consider your work history. When offering detail, select descriptive verbs that convey the work you completed. For example, saying that you implemented innovative information management tools as an APRN is much more effective and descriptive than simply stating that you used information management tools. Yale University’s School of Nursing offers a useful guide with a list of action verbs to use if you feel stumped for the right words to bring your resume to life.