Nursing Resume Do’s and Don’ts: How to Craft a Strong Resume

Tips to help you get noticed by hiring managers and land your next nursing job.

Nursing resume, on job interivew

If you are a new nurse graduate about to enter the job market for the first time, or an active nurse looking to transition into a different role, you will need your nursing resume to be excellent if you want to give yourself a chance to stand out and compete.

Resume-reading robots, highly-coveted career opportunities, high salaries, increasing demand nationwide, and continuously changing application requirements are just a few factors that influence the highly competitive job market for nurses. With a strong nursing resume, you will be able to communicate all of your skills, expertise, and accomplishments concisely to your employers, helping you put your best foot forward.

This article will help guide you through the resume-building process, including what to do and what not to do, tips and tricks, standard formatting requirements, and much more!

Before delving into the necessary components of an intense nursing resume, it is important to highlight some helpful information, like ATS systems and formatting styles, that you will need to keep in mind and, in some cases, adhere to while crafting your resume.

Table of contents

TLDR

  • Your nursing resume can have a huge impact on your career opportunities; crafty wisely, and adjust each resume to the job description of every job you apply for.
  • Resume-reading software exists that screen applicants, but they come with flaws you need to be aware of so you don’t get DQ’d over a technicality.
  • You will need to be intentional with your wording, and adhere to specifications while crafting your resume.

Nursing Resume Do's and Don'ts: How to Craft a Strong Resume - a picture of a nurse going over her resume

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What is a master resume?

It is wise to begin with a “master resume” that will act as the starting point and base for your other resumes. Your master resume will include all of your essential information; however, you should be able to cut and edit sections while maintaining the resume’s integrity. The idea is to afford yourself the ability to edit sections of your resume that are consistent with the job details of the position for which you are applying.

Using a master resume will allow you to “recycle” and reuse it many times, customizing it for each posted position instead of preparing a new resume each time.

Navigating the online application process

Advancing technologies bring pros and cons to the application process. The days of going door to door handing out resumes to prospective employers are far gone. Now, it is as simple as uploading your resume, finding an employment opportunity, and clicking send.

Resume-reading software (ATS)

It is important to note that many companies now utilize resume-reading robots (really, it is just software) to screen applicants. The software is called Applicant Tracking Software (ATS), and it can be programmed to scan for specific keywords or to include or disclude certain criteria. For example, an employer can ask the ATS to filter candidates with an active nursing license or candidates who have a BSN, disqualifying candidates with only an ADN or whose nursing license is not active.

ATS programs collect data, and the software is only concerned about where a keyword is located and how it is used, not with aesthetics or crafty language. These programs are notorious for confusing abbreviations, fonts, and symbols, so be sure to spell everything out and use a traditional, academic font (see below for more details). The last thing any job seeker wants is to be DQ’d because of technicality.

Our tip: read the job description and use the same exact phrasing from the job listing in your resume for the qualifications and skills section.

When applying for a job online, it could be difficult to distinguish yourself, especially with an ATS! The following are lists of things you must and must not do to give your resume a chance to get past the ATS.

To get past the ATS, do this:

  • Customize your resume to the specific job posting by carefully reading each job description and including essential keywords found in the qualificationsexpertise, and experience sections.
  • Align your skills and abilities with the keywords, qualifications, and requirements outlined in the job posting to demonstrate that you have what it takes for this role.
  • Carefully study the employer and customize your resume to the organization’s principles and culture.
  • Bolster your resume with confident statements within the upper third (1/3) of the document.
  • Strengthen your claims by providing supporting evidence.
  • When applying for a role, make sure you meet all of the “Required Qualifications,” as your experience and skills must be an ideal fit.
  • Choose the most readable fonts, such as Times New Roman, Arial, or Calibri.
  • Font size should be kept between font sizes 10 and 12.
  • Use simple symbols, like black dots for bulleted lists.
  • Save your resume as a .doc, .docx, or .pdf format.
  • To ensure that the abbreviation or acronym is correctly captured in an ATS system, always spell out the words before using them.
  • Use straightforward titles such as “Work Experience” or “Education” for each section.
  • List specific skills, including:
    • Settings in which you’ve worked
    • The patient population you have cared for
    • Healthcare system software in which you are proficient (EMR/EHR)
    • Type of medications administered
    • Equipment used

Do NOT do this – ATS will likely disqualify you

  • Use the title in the job description; do not include your title from your previous employer if it is different from the title of the position for which you are applying. 
  • Do not overdo the keywords. Overuse could trigger the ATS system to grade your resume lower – and using keywords without context will not help you either.
  • To ensure your contact information is seen, refrain from placing it in the header section, as ATS may not be able to detect it.
  • Do not include tables because many ATS systems cannot read the table unless programmed.
  • Keep header titles basic and simple.
  • Do not include headshots, photos, special fonts, graphics, etc.
  • Do not include “references available upon request.”
  • Most ATS only scan the top 1/3 of a resume for keywords – therefore, do not put any important keywords at the bottom of your resume.
  • Resumes should be written in the third person, and avoid using “I” statements.
  • Do not rely on a resume builder; they are not dependable.

Nursing Resume Do's and Don'ts: How to Craft a Strong Resume - a picture of a nurse interviewing for a job.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Examples of nursing resumes

Before you create your resume, it is essential to determine which type of nursing template or format would be the most suitable for your needs. There are many nursing resume templates, and although the reverse-chronological structure is considered ideal for nursing professionals, it ultimately comes down to what works best for you.

The three most popular nursing resume templates

1. Reverse chronological format

Most healthcare professionals should consider using the reverse chronological format for their resumes, as this example of a nursing resume prioritizes career history and lists roles in sequential order. This format is ideal for:

  • New nursing school graduates
  • Nurses with less than 5-7 years of experience
  • Travel nurses
  • Nurses attempting to show career progression

Reverse_Chronological_Resume_Example_

Reverse Chronological Resume Example PDF

2. Functional format

Although this format highlights your skills and downplays work experience, it does not pass well in automated ATS systems. Also, most hiring managers prefer something other than this layout too. Many strongly advise against using this design for a majority of nurses’ resumes; those who opt to use it tend to be:

  • Transitioning to a new career
  • Experiencing prolonged periods of unemployment
  • Experienced in the role that they are applying for

Functional_Resume_Example_

Functional Resume Template Example PDF

3. Combination layout template

If you are a nursing professional with a unique background, objectives, and challenges to overcome, this layout is the perfect combination of a reverse chronological and functional resume. It emphasizes your essential skill sets, capacities, and accomplishments while displaying pertinent work history.

  • Nurses with multiple specialties
  • Veteran nurses
  • Nurses who have experienced brief periods of unemployment
  • Nurses who want to change careers

Combination Layout Template PDF

Nursing resume specifications

To guarantee your resume passes an ATS, it must be crafted thoughtfully nd formatted according to the guidelines. Here are some features that can help you in this endeavor:

Margins 

For optimum readability and aesthetic balance, we suggest setting the top margin to 1”, with side margins at .63”. This is a widely-accepted practice endorsed by many professionals in the industry who believe it creates an ideal ratio between text and blank space.

Alignment

Left alignment is the commonly accepted choice since it’s how we (and machines) usually read. Although justified formatting may look neater, this could leave large spaces between words and make your text more challenging to comprehend.

Length

The recommended length is 1-2 pages. But do not fixate on the number of pages too much. Even if it is slightly more than the recommended page count, you can still make adjustments, like changing margins and fonts or rewriting sentences to bring it back into that range. The most important thing is ensuring your resume looks visually pleasing and includes industry keywords in the right places.

Font style

To optimize the ATS’s functionality, you should use Times New Roman or Arial fonts. Ultimately, though, this is your decision to make. Just be aware that selecting a font size lower than 11pt for Times New Roman can become hard to read. If you are aiming for an eye-catching resume on paper without overdoing it with design elements – there are options available. However, remember that varying font styles can take up different amounts of space, even when adjusted to the same size. Also, always use black ink. 

Nursing Resume Do's and Don'ts: How to Craft a Strong Resume - a picture of a student working at her computer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nursing resume overview – section breakdown

You now understand that ATS systems scan resumes for specific information in a specific order. Keep this knowledge in mind when restructuring or creating your resume because many employers use it. Incorporate the following categories and section headers into your resume to maximize your chances of passing through an ATS.

Contact info

Start your resume off strong by placing your name as the focal point. Make sure it is the most prominent and largest font on the page, making it easy to find for recruiters. There are multiple ways to format this section, but we advocate a classic version that adheres with these suggestions:

  • Name: For an optimal display, we suggest formatting the name in a bolded font size of 18-22. If you go by another alias or nickname, include both versions on your resume for clarity and visibility.
  • Nursing credentials: The American Nurses Credentialing Center (AACN) recommended order is: Highest academic degree attained, Professional license obtained, National certification held.
  • City/State: We highly recommend omitting your street address as a security measure, though it is ultimately up to you. But certainly, do not omit this information since that could lead to the ATS rejecting your resume.
  • Phone number: For potential employers, texting is a great way to communicate with job candidates. Ensure that you have made clear whether your contact number is for either a cell phone or a home phone; furthermore, ensure that your voicemail is professional and contains your full name. 
  • Email address: To avoid age discrimination in your job search, it is strongly recommended that you have a professional email address that does not divulge any personal information, such as your birth year. A great option would be to create an email with a variation of your name and some numbers if needed. You can create an entirely new account and use it exclusively for job hunting.
  • LinkedIn profile: If you already have a LinkedIn profile, include it. If you still need to, take advantage of the many possibilities this platform can open up for you. Now is the time to create one, and in your settings, you can quickly generate a concise URL without all of those pesky numbers and letters.

A note regarding social media: Prospective employers will most likely investigate you online, and recruiters have expressed that they often start by examining candidates on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and Twitter. So, it is essential to ensure that everything posted is something you would be comfortable with an employer seeing or reading. However, your online presence could benefit you – if you have accomplished a successful online blog, website, Youtube channel, etc., and it relates to the job that you are applying for, then by all means, include it in your resume!

Professional summary

Do not leave your employer or ATS in the dark; make it clear from the beginning why you are indisputably the best candidate for this role.

This is your chance to make the most of your resume and appeal to automated tracking systems (ATS) and potential employers. Take some time fine-tuning your professional summary so that you can truly showcase your qualifications and achievements in a way that stands out amongst other applicants.

When deciding how to present your resume, a professional summary over an objective statement is highly recommended. The summary can either be presented as a brief paragraph or in bullet-point form and should effectively communicate your qualifications and career experience in one succinct snapshot.

Crafting a professional summary unique to you and applicable to the role listed is essential, just like you would with a customized cover letter. It is scientifically proven that this precision increases your chances of success.

Nursing skills and areas of expertise

Relegating your skills section to the bottom portion of a resume could cost you an interview. This is particularly relevant for individuals like nurses with specialized positions, where particular abilities are mandated and presented within the top ⅓ area of your nurse resume.

Ensure that every skill listed (bulleted lists are fine) on your resume directly correlates with what is in the job description; this way, employers will recognize how suitable you are for their role.

Licensure

While nurse resumes often include their licensure titles, they may neglect to mention two very important details – whether the license is active and valid and its expiration date. Not listing this information can leave employers in the dark when determining a nurse’s qualifications for employment. 

This information is important because it tells employers that you can start immediately or that they would have to wait for the licensing process to finish before hiring you.

Certifications and credentials

ATS systems may not be programmed to pick up acronyms or abbreviations, so you must list and spell  of your certifications and credentials. You will want to include the accrediting body, credential/certificate number, and when the license expires.

For example, Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), American Red Cross, expires 2/10/25, instead of just “PALS Certified”.

Work history

Employers need to understand what you can bring to the organization. Nurse recruiters look for tangible evidence in this portion of your resume that supports statements made in your professional summary – strong proof is key! Employers require quantifiable facts and figures that vouch for your professional accomplishments.

Arrange your relevant experience in reverse chronological order. 

This will show employers your most recent role and responsibilities and how long you were in that role. For each role, include the following information:

  • Facility name
  • Employment dates
  • Unit-specific information (patient demographics, total unit beds, EMR/EHR, awards or designations, etc.)
  • Primary duties/responsibilities included within the role

Showcase your best nursing duties, achievements, and accomplishments on a bulleted list of no more than six points. Being specific regarding your role’s responsibilities will be far more beneficial than being ambiguous or simply repeating a few generic duties. Utilize the space wisely on your resume so potential employers can learn about you and your skillset and experience.

Here is a list of a few prompts to help you brainstorm specific details for the primary role/responsibility section of your resume: 

  1. What medical issues do you specialize in treating?
  2. What illnesses or injuries do you work on?
  3. What medications can you administer?
  4. What treatments/therapies/interventions can you perform?
  5. What equipment are you proficient in using?
  6. What is your greatest accomplishment in each role you have held?
  7. Have you been publically acknowledged for an achievement? If so, what was it?
  8. Are there any statistics or data that support the impact you have?

Important note:

When listing your primary responsibilities, start the sentence with a strong verb, and include quantifiable data or information regarding a specific and relevant responsibility.

List of resume action verbs for accomplishments:

  1. Achieved
  2. Amplified
  3. Attained
  4. Capitalized
  5. Chaired
  6. Consolidated
  7. Deciphered
  8. Decreased
  9. Discerned
  10. Drove
  11. Enacted
  12. Endeavored
  13. Established
  14. Exceeded
  15. Founded
  16. Pioneered
  17. Outperformed
  18. Overhauled
  19. Sharpened
  20. Shattered
  21. Sparked
  22. Spearheaded
  23. Steered
  24. Stimulated
  25. Streamlined
  26. Strengthened
  27. Supervised
  28. Surpassed

Source: Indeed

Action verbs to bolster the responsibilities section

  1. Accelerated
  2. Accomplished
  3. Analyzed
  4. Assembled
  5. Built
  6. Charted
  7. Created
  8. Constructed
  9. Coordinated
  10. Delivered
  11. Developed
  12. Executed
  13. Expanded
  14. Facilitated
  15. Finalized
  16. Forged
  17. Guided
  18. Handled
  19. Headed
  20. Improved
  21. Increased
  22. Initiated
  23. Implemented
  24. Instituted
  25. Operated
  26. Organized
  27. Produced
  28. Reached
  29. Simplified
  30. Volunteered

Source: Indeed

Strong, positive adjectives for your nursing resume

  1. Productive
  2. Attentive
  3. Hard-working
  4. Professional
  5. Balanced
  6. Honest
  7. Qualified
  8. Broad-minded
  9. Independent
  10. Realistic
  11. Cheerful
  12. Inventive
  13. Reliable
  14. Committed
  15. Knowledgeable
  16. Resourceful
  17. Compassionate
  18. Mature
  19. Responsible
  20. Conscientious
  21. Motivated
  22. Consistent
  23. Objective
  24. Tenacious
  25. Creative
  26. Patient
  27. Persistent
  28. Trustworthy
  29. Dynamic
  30. Proactive 

Source: Nurse.org

Education

For nurses, the importance of education and training cannot be overstated. If you have experience in the field, this section can simply list your qualifications chronologically. Showcase any academic achievements that you have acquired throughout your career to show potential employers your commitment to professional development and growth.

We suggest listing your degree or certificate before the institution in which you received it. For example:

Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), Aspen University

It is up to you whether to include your graduation year, but remember, age discrimination is real. So, if you graduated more than 10-15 years ago, you may want to leave out that information. The same goes for GPA; it is optional to include, and you can list it if you feel it will give you a competitive edge.

Also, it is optional to include degrees or certifications unrelated to nursing, should you possess one. However, some nurses who make a career transition will include this information if it brings value.

Lastly, if you are currently in higher education to advance your nursing career, it should be listed on your resume as either pending or in progress. However, if you began a graduate program but do not plan on finishing – or never did – then there is no need to include that information.

Awards, accomplishments, and affiliations

While this area is not mandatory, it is a great idea to include any awards and accomplishments related to nursing in your application. This will provide the employer with more evidence regarding who you are as a nurse and demonstrate your commitment and dedication to the profession.

  • Awards and recognitions from the facility where you work, like Employee of the Month or Nursing Excellence Award.
  • Memberships to professional organizations relating to nursing/healthcare 
  • Volunteering (make sure it relates to nursing) 

Saving and naming your nursing resume

Saving your resume and properly naming it is essential – it saves time for employers who must screen multiple resumes from various applicants. Make sure to indicate which document contains your resume. This way, you will easily stand out in their inbox and ensure they can quickly find what matters most: your qualifications!

Many recruiters prefer to classify these documents by specialty, so we suggest saving and naming your file as: FirstandLastName_Specialty_resume.doc – so it reads like, FlorenceNightingale_NICU_resume.doc

Nursing Resume Do's and Don'ts: How to Craft a Strong Resume - a picture of a person handing over a resume to another person.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Common nursing resume mistakes

  • Misspellings and grammar
  • Revealing age/birthday
  • Including salary details
  • Including personal information such as religion, marital status, kids, etc.
  • Using ONLY a nickname
  • Outdated information
  • Including first-person pronouns
  • Contact information in the header (ATS will not register this)
  • Unprofessional email address
  • Inappropriate voicemail greetings
  • Misnaming a resume document

FAQs

1. What should be included in a nursing resume?

When it comes to crafting a great nursing resume, there are certain key elements you must include. Most importantly, list your certifications and qualifications as a nurse so that recruiters know you have the necessary skills and knowledge for the job. You should also list any specializations such as geriatrics or pediatrics, as well as relevant experience in health administration, patient care management, and other areas of specialization. Additionally, include your education history and make sure to highlight accomplishments such as awards or recognition you have received. Lastly, don’t forget to add in any additional skills that could set you apart from other candidates. 

2. Does every employer use ATS? 

Understanding the use of applicant tracking systems (ATS) is an important part of job hunting. However, not all employers utilize them as part of their recruitment process. Some employers still prefer to evaluate resumes and review candidates manually, while others have embraced technology and use ATS technology to streamline their recruitment processes. Before applying for a job it can be beneficial to ask potential employers whether they make use of an ATS or other automated technology in order to make sure your resume reaches the right person. Even if you don’t land a job with them, networking can still provide valuable opportunities for future endeavors.

3. How to spot an ATS?

One of the best ways to spot an Applicant Tracking System (ATS) is by understanding how employers may use them. When you apply for a job online, your application is typically routed through an ATS. In many cases, it’s nearly impossible to identify that your information has been processed by an ATS unless the employer lets you know. However, if you are sent a computer-generated email or get an automated response after submitting your application, there’s a good chance that they are using an ATS. Another indicator might be if paying attention to the language used in the job description or even the website – if it feels too robotic and lacks personality, then there’s likely some automation at play. Knowing how to spot an ATS can help inform when, where and how to craft applications that will have the highest chance of success.

4. How far back should a resume go?

The length of a resume should be tailored to the type of job you are applying for. Most resumes for entry-level positions should include the last 10 years of experience, whereas executive resumes need to list 20+ years of employment history because those roles often require specialized and extensive experience. Additionally, think about what specific experiences you want to highlight on your resume – it should include enough information that demonstrates your career progression without becoming too long or overwhelming. A well-organized and focused resume will clearly outline your qualifications in a manner that impresses potential employers while still not going too far back in time.

5. How long should a nurse’s resume be?

When it comes to resumes, length matters. A resume that is too long can overwhelm employers, while one that is too short can underwhelm them or give the impression that you don’t have much to offer. The best approach is to keep your resume concise and focused; sticking to one page unless absolutely necessary. When in doubt, edit out any unnecessary words or information and focus on the experiences and skills you possess that relate most closely to the job you’re applying for. By doing this, you’ll make sure employers get everything they need from your resume, without wasting their time on irrelevant details.

6. What does a resume-building service do? 

A resume-building service can provide invaluable assistance in outlining a job seeker’s experiences, qualifications, and skills in a concise and effective way. They specialize in making sure your resume is up to date and formatted correctly for the position you’re applying for. It’s more than writing; it’s creating a professional profile tailored to your specific industry. A resume-building service can help you stand out from the competition by drawing attention to accomplishments, strengths, and other elements that hiring managers are looking for when reviewing resumes. In addition, they can identify words or phrases that need to be included to appeal to potential employers, as well as suggest sections that need refinement. For those who wish to customize their own resumes, these services offer advice on what content should be included while giving useful tips on how each section should look. With a resume-building service at your side, you can have confidence knowing your resume will represent the best version of yourself!

7. Is it worth paying for a resume-building service?

When considering whether or not to invest in a resume-building service, it’s important to consider the potential benefits of such an investment. Not only will a professional resume impress potential employers and help you stand out from other applicants, but these services often also offer comprehensive support throughout the hiring process, such as providing interview advice and feedback on how to make your application stronger. Additionally, many of these programs bolster confidence by helping job seekers think more strategically about their experiences, abilities and qualifications. With all this in mind, for those considering investing in a resume-building service, it may be an invaluable job-hunting tool that can enhance the effectiveness of your materials and potentially make landing a dream job more achievable!

Conclusion

Now that you have all the information necessary to craft a strong resume, remember to update it when you apply for other jobs. You always want to customize your resume for the position you are applying for, which may include changing your keywords or adding relevant accomplishments or clinical rotations. 

Your resume is your chance to market yourself and stand out from other applicants. Use this as an opportunity to highlight what you have to offer. Leverage your resume to do more than just reiterate job descriptions. Use it to sell yourself. And if you have limited nursing experience, focus on the clinical skills that will benefit your new role. 

Next steps

Once you get past the application process and land your first (or next) job interview, here are some common nursing interview questions to consider in your preparation. 

If you want to expand your resume further, consider Aspen University’s online RN to BSNMSN, and DNP programs to help you advance your nursing career.

Resources for nursing resumes

  • Resume tools and guidance at TopResume.com
  • More resume help, including samples, at Indeed.com
  • Career consulting and resume building at TopStack.com 
  • ResumeSpice offers LinkedIn advice, and a la carte resume services to compliment their comprehensive packages which include a phone consultation, an attention-grabbing resume format, optimization of relevant keywords, one personalized draft, two rounds of revisions based on your feedback, and finalized versions in both Microsoft Word and PDF formats.

Find Your Program
Find Your Program
Tell Us About Yourself
Request Your Information

By clicking the Submit button above, I represent that I am 18+ years of age, that I have read and agreed to the Terms and Conditions and Privacy Policy and agree to receive email marketing and phone calls from Aspen University. I understand that my consent is not required to apply for online degree enrollment. To speak with a representative without providing consent, please call 1-800-373-7814.

Thank You for Your Interest

An Enrollment Advisor will contact you shortly to introduce you to Aspen University and help you understand the programs and payment options available.

You can also start the free application right now.

Chat