6 keys to a perfect nursing resume

A guide to writing the perfect nursing resume. Learn what recruiters, hiring managers and applicant tracking systems look for in a resume.

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Whether you’re a new nursing graduate or an experienced nurse searching for a new position, crafting an excellent nursing resume is your first step towards getting a new job. When you sit down to type up your resume, think about the job you want and your future co-workers.

Your nursing resume is not just a list of your accomplishments, but also a way to communicate with your future coworkers. In addition to being read by a recruiter or hiring manager, your resume may be circulated to other staff nurses participating in the interview process. This is your first opportunity to make the right impression on your new potential colleagues. Tailor your details by researching your desired job and highlighting the most applicable parts of your experience. If you’re transitioning into a new specialty, consider the overlaps between your current field and the one you want to be in. Overall, make it look neat, sound strong and tell a story to the reader. 

Nursing resumes are different from resumes for other professions because they emphasize hard nursing skills as opposed to accomplishments. However, many of the strategies and tactics to communicate your accomplishments and get past screeners are the same. Here are six must-haves for every nurse resume. 

1. Introduce yourself: Name, degree, licensure, and certifications.

Underneath your name, you should include contact information: phone number, city/state and e-mail address. You want a recruiter or hiring manager to know who you are and how they can contact you. 

Example: Jen Smith, BSN, RN, CPN

Consider adding an elevator-pitch summary statement. These statements give a recruiter a quick glimpse into who you are and why they should want to hire you. Spotlight what sets you apart. This is a more modernized replacement of the older  “Objective Statement” of the past. Instead of saying what you want, as in an objective, you are saying what you have to offer. 

Example: Certified pediatric nurse with 8 years of specialized experience in in-patient pediatrics and pediatric intensive care unit (PICU). Has led shared governance committees to create evidence-based infection control policy. Advocate for compassionate, developmentally appropriate care. Bilingual in Spanish.

Once you click submit on that job application, where does it go? 40 percent of employers use technology to help screen applicants by creating filters for important keywords, skills and certifications. If the job posting lists specific must-have skills, try integrating them throughout. Using the right words will help the right people see your resume, giving you a better chance to get hired.

2. Write for both computers and humans

Many hiring managers use software to screen prospective candidates. One way to ensure that your resume is not accidentally rejected is by spelling out your licensure and certifications in full words rather than abbreviations. Consider including license numbers, specialized certifications and CPR certifications along with expiration dates for each. These details will make it easier for hiring managers or recruiters to find your information in nursing board databases. They want this information easily accessible. 

Once your resume passes automated screening, recruiters, hiring managers and staff all likely prefer easy-to-read fonts (e.g. Times New Roman, Arial, Garamond) in 10-12pt most of the text of the resume. Your name should be centered at the top in 16-18pt font. Use clear, concise headings: Work History, Education, Skills, etc. Headings should be bolded and underlined so a fast moving eye can see that your resume is well-organized and easy to understand. Keep in mind, it’s better to have a two-page resume with plenty of white space than a crowded one-page resume. 

3. Showcase your skills the right way for your career.

There are two main options for highlighting nursing skills:  

Option one: Use a separate section labeled “Nursing Skills” to list nursing skills and abilities as short bullet points. You may include technology, complex equipment, specialty training, and computer system experience here. if you used specialized software transferrable to the new position, mention it. If you’re a travel nurse,  have a background in informatics or just have a lot of computer skills, consider adding “Computer Skills” as its own section towards the bottom of the resume. Comfort with technology is important to recruiters.

Option two: Show your skills through the content of other sections (Work History, Education) in the declarative statement mentioned below.

Ultimately, the choice is yours on how best to highlight your expertise. Consider what skills are important to the job to which you’re applying and make sure to highlight them. This will look different for an ICU-nurse vs. a Med/Surg nurse or an experienced nurse vs. a newly graduated nurse. View your skills as a representation of yourself to the people reading your resume. 

Newly graduated nurses, don’t make the mistake in thinking you don’t have skills. You do. Think about your final clinical hours. What skills did you learn in those hours spent with your preceptor? Highlight your “on-the-job” student experience as if it were a job underneath the education section or in its own skills section. If you were a nursing assistant or patient care technician, those skills count too. 

4. Go backwards in time with work experience.

List your jobs in reverse chronological order, starting with the most recent. Include your title, the unit and institution, along with dates employed. Show your duties in a few well-crafted, declarative statements. You may want to highlight aspects of your previous employment relevant to the job for which you are currently applying. If you are moving into a new field, there will always be some overlapping experience. Ask yourself what is most relevant to this job and what best communicates your expertise. Hiring managers are evaluating your potential as a new team member; show the value you will add through these statements.

Examples: 

  • Selected to be a member of an infection control task force creating a strategy to lower central line infection rates among post-operative patients.
  • Cared for Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) patients and precepted others to care for ECMO patients.


5. Education matters.

Include your degrees with the schools you attended in reverse chronological order. If you had a fantastic GPA, consider including it. Newly graduated nurses may choose to list their education before work experience and add additional information about specific clinical experiences or research projects.  

6. Stand out by adding your volunteer work and awards.

You may choose to add sections like Awards and Recognitions or Volunteer Work. For example, Awards and recognitions highlight the qualities setting you apart from the rest. Listing volunteer experience or community involvement may help the recruiter see you as a person beyond the page making them more likely to request an interview. 

Finally, find one more set of eyes.

Before you send your resume into the world, get another person to read it. Also, try reading it aloud or backwards to catch typos and errors. 

Bottom line

You’ve worked hard for your nursing career. Your resume should be both an accurate representation of the career you’ve had and a tool to get the job you want. Include the above must-haves to create a document showcasing what you have to offer a potential employer.