Resume writing for nurses: How to write a nursing resume that gets you hired
Writing a nursing resume isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be difficult either. The key is to keep in mind the skills and experience you’ve gained over the years and use those to write an effective resume. When applying for nursing jobs, a simple resume isn’t enough to make the cut. You are unique, your experiences are unique and your resume is the best way to portray your skills impressively. In this article, we discuss the tips and tricks to create a perfect resume.
First things first …
Tailoring your new resume for every job that you apply for is a must if you want to increase your chances of being invited to an interview. Sending a generic resume is what most job seekers do, with little or no success. Just as you would tailor a cover letter to suit the position you are applying for, your resume should be laser-focused to the job you’re applying for. Your resume is a career-marketing tool and should be treated as such.
It is important to ensure you have an understanding of who is reading your document in the first place.
Your resume needs to address the three main types of readers – all of whom take different things from it, so it has to be compelling, concise and easy to read for each of these audiences:
HIGH VOLUME / SKIM READERS: such as recruiters who just glance over resumes to check that keywords and selection criteria are addressed.
DETAILED READERS: such as hiring managers and key decision makers who like to drill down into the finer detail of achievements, successes, and value adding a candidate brings, and
APPLICANT TRACKING SYSTEMS (ATS) + PARSING SOFTWARE: the software programs that extract information from your documents to assist in determining if you meet the key criteria for a position, and may determine if you document gets read by a human in the first instance.
Both high-volume readers and ATS are the ‘gatekeepers’ that you need to get through to increase your chances of being shortlisted and invited to interview. And getting through the gatekeepers is the most difficult part of job searching these days. With this in mind, it is also important to ensure that you always view the information contained in your resume through the eyes of a potential employer.
The majority of resumes tend to be overviews of responsibilities, tasks, duties and skills.
Even when top-line summaries are included they rarely do anything but point out that you have the same skills required of all candidates for the targeted position.
Therefore, it is critical to sell your value to an employer, not just your experience. You must rapidly make it clear why they should consider you over the other similarly qualified candidates, so you can stand out from other candidates who have similar qualifications, while you present as offering different value.
The following will help guide you on how to create an interview-winning resume.
DOCUMENT NAMING CONVENTION.
We generally advise that a resume has a naming convention that ensures that it is crystal clear who you are, and what you are applying for, or the position you want.
A simple measure, it is often overlooked, and this is a bit of branding exercise in itself – it sends a message to the reader in the very first instance that you have the skills required for the job before they even open the document. It’s a tiny subliminal message like a positioning statement.
Just as in advertising, you tell someone something a few times in a few different mediums or channels, and they remember it. Not only that, a clear naming convention can help with scoring in an ATS, and can help it be found more easily on a recruiter’s database.
What we know works really well for recruiters is the following:
LASTNAME, Firstname – Insert Advertised or Desired Job Title here – Month 2023.
Wherever possible, we suggest you include hyperlinks in your document to previous employers, your email address, LinkedIn profile or other online sources of information to make reference to or substantiate claims in your resume. This works really well when documents are read on screen as the screener can click directly to the link for further research without having to leave your document. Given that around 50% of recruiters now review resumes on mobile and tablet devices, inserting a hyperlink to your email address or your previous employer’s websites is not only a great way to show how tech-savvy you are, but it makes it really easy for the recruiter to connect with you and learn more about you and your experience, without even having to leave your resume.
First impressions count for a lot. The front page of your resume is really valuable real estate and is the most important part of your resume as this dictates how human readers frame you in their mind, make a mental classification as to your level, and importantly, decide whether to commit to turning over on to the next page and read through the rest of your document.
When you meet someone for the first time, it is said that you have 30 seconds to make a great first impression. With resumes it’s often less, particularly if a recruiter has hundreds of resumes in front of them, a limited time frame to get through all of them, and a ‘Yes’, pile, a ‘No’ pile and a ‘Maybe’ pile to sort them into.
If your front page doesn’t catch their attention, it’s highly likely they just won’t bother turning the page to read into further detail.
It’s no secret that recruiters can spend less than 6 seconds scanning a resume before deciding on whether to move on the next one or not.
Taking this into account, aim to get 70% of the most important information about you, and your relevance to the job you are seeking, onto the front page of your resume.
When used in resumes, acronyms can be confusing for the human reader and ATS, even more so if the person screening your resume in the first place isn’t someone who really understands what you do for a job.
Added to this, one acronym in one sector may mean something very different in another sector, industry or geographic location. We advise that prevent any potential confusion, the very first time you use an acronym, that you spell the words out in full, followed by the acronym in brackets, eg: Training and Development (T&D).
Given the way that resumes are initially read, if you have more than 4 pages in your resume, it may make sense to reduce the numbers of pages in your document.
There is no ‘rule’ with regard to the length of the resume – it needs to be as long as it needs to be to get your story across, but you also want to make it easier to read by making it fewer pages by using the space more efficiently.
HEADERS, FOOTERS + TABLES.
While using headers, footers and tables is a great way to ensure your resume content in presented neatly, some Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) cannot extract information from tables, headers or footers, so any submissions for roles posted online or to employers who use ATS could be compromised, and the field that the ATS is attempting to populate will appear blank at the recipients end.
We suggest that you use tab stops for formatting purposes. While the ATS systems are getting more and more sophisticated, there are some that just cannot extract data from tables, so its best to be on the safe side.
It’s also important to note that if an online application specifically requests that Word documents are uploaded, make sure you only upload word!
Some ATS systems cannot read PDFs, and if ATS is being used by an employer, they will generally ask that Word documents are supplied only.
If in doubt, phone the advertiser and ask what format they want! (The HR department will generally be happy to advise).
NAME + CONTACT DETAILS ON EVERY PAGE.
Is your name on every page? Imagine if your document was printed, and someone has a similar format and layout, and pages were misplaced …? Taking into account the point above about headers and footers, if ATS cannot read your name in the header of footer, there’s no knowing who the pages belong to.
On top of this, as an applicant, you want to make your document as reader-friendly as possible for the recruiter so they don’t have to go shuffling through papers to find your contact information.
And if your document is being read on a mobile or tablet device, it saves the recruiter having to scroll back too far to check for your contact details if they want to reach out to you immediately as they are reading your application.
Every page of the ideal resume should be numbered in the following way: Page 1 of 3, Page 2 of 3 etc. It’s a small thing, but can make a difference for same reasons as stated above, especially if a recruiter scans through your documents, and is wondering if they’ve missed something. Make it easy on the reader by numbering your pages clearly.
These days, we tend not to include full address details on Australian resumes. However, we suggest you include a city and postcode eg: Melbourne 3000, unless of course, proximity to the place of employment is a prerequisite for applicants.
Including full address where it is not, however, can open you up to demographic profiling, and its generally not information that is required at the application stage.
Bottom line: For job applications in Australia for Australian jobs, City and Postcode is sufficient and should be included at a minimum.
TYPEFACE OR FONT TYPES.
Small aspects like typeface can really improve the readability of a resume as well as the overall impression you create. At a minimum, the font used must be universal (i.e. fonts that are installed on every computer irrespective of manufacturer).
Using a font that isn’t universal risks how your neatly formatted document will appear at the recipients end if they don’t have the same font installed.
Research performed by Dr Jim Bright (Professor of Career Education and Development at ACU and columnist on careers in the Sydney Morning Herald) has proved that fonts such as Arial, Helvetica, Verdana and others tend to be favoured over fonts such as new times roman, as they are easy to read for high volume readers. New times roman is considered by many as ‘old fashioned’ (think typewriter font, and you’ll get the picture).
Universal fonts include MS Reference, Century, Calibri. Helvetica, Verdana and Arial.
We advise that you should never go smaller than 10 point (dependent on the font) as we are repeatedly told by hiring managers and recruiters that when they print a document out, they want to be able to read it without squinting over small fonts on documents.
If you think that a visually distinctive resume will not make you stand out positively from the competition, think again.
While you do not want to use fancy formats, drawing attention and standing out through clear and attractive formatting can make all the difference in the world with whether your resume is picked from the stack.
Therefore, generic templates, packed pages with limited white space, unusual fonts, too much bolding or italics, or just blah presentations need to be avoided.
You need to make sure your resume draws positive attention.
SPELLING AND TENSE.
Current experience should always be present tense (eg: I am); previous jobs in past tense (eg: I was).
We would advise that you begin your new document with the inclusion of the title of the role you are seeking or the position you are applying for.
Even if the title of the position on offer is not the same as your current job title, stake a claim on the new job title by including it right up front in your document.
BRANDING + POSITIONING STATEMENTS.
We advise taking an approach that positions you for the job they want, not the job you already have.
Resumes are typically a fairly dry chronological history of your career to date, but you can really make yours stand out from the crowd. Focus on the value-added benefits you bring to the employer, and the successes, accomplishments and results you have achieved.
This is what recruiters and employers are most interested in. To position yourself in the best light possible, include a series of short, sharp branding and introductory statements with definable value propositions right up front in your document.
This may include a brief summary of your career highlights, a summary of your qualifications, and or types of employers or their names – whatever is going to help make your resume stand out from the rest of the applicants. This allows the reader to immediately get a sense of the breadth of experience and your progression to date. The aim of doing this all on your front page is to take the focus off what you’ve done in the past and turn it into what you can do now for an employer.
KEY SKILLS SECTION + KEYWORDS
We find it really helps recruiters to include a key skills section on your front page, based on keywords. This keyword section should comprise a concise list of your hard and (occasionally) some soft skills (if relevant), and areas of expertise. We advise that these are tweaked to suit each position applied for.
These skills sets are the keywords that need to match the roles, market and expectations for your level of experience. Including this on the front page of your document is really important because it helps ATS easily identify if your skills match the job on offer, and also helps the human reader see very quickly that you match the role.
Hard skills (or your areas of expertise) are what you are good at, your proficiencies and what you are competent at. Hard skills are specific, teachable abilities based on fact. They are the ones that help you perform tasks specific to the job you do. Hard skills are performed, and can be measured and tested. These are the skills that need to be included in this section.
WHAT EXACTLY ARE KEYWORDS?
Typically, they are phrases and nouns that have to do with technical and professional areas of job expertise, projects, industry-related jargon, tasks, achievements, job titles, and so on.
An effective combination of nouns, phrases, and verbs is necessary in a resume because while the human eye is attracted to verbs, applicant tracking systems and parsing software—the software used by recruiters to screen applications before they do—are searching for keywords.
Screen the job description thoroughly to identify keywords and phrases used by the employer, and then ensure you mirror those keywords and phrases in your document (ideally on the first page) to communicate that you are the ideal candidate for the role.
Don’t use all the exact same words but certainly use some, and weave in others that have the same or similar meanings.
The keyword section in your resume is important for two reasons.
- It allows the human reader to look at what skills you are offering in one tight condensed area so that get an understanding of your value quickly, and
- It also ensures that if a recruiter is conducting a keyword search on a database, your document has a better chance of being identified.
It can sometimes be helpful to re-arrange the position of keywords in your resume. Because the human eye reads left to right, put those that are most relevant or important to the position you are applying for on the few top lines of the columns, and also in the few last lines of the last column.
MULTIPLE ROLES – SAME ORGANISATION.
It’s not unusual for people to have multiple roles over a period of time with the same employer, gained through promotion or organisational restructuring or other factors, or simply because they’ve turned their hand at other jobs outside of the job description when the opportunity has arisen.
If you have experienced this, or may in the future, it may be worth considering merging those positions at the same employer to highlight only what is relevant to your next career move, and really laser focus your experience towards future roles.
ACHIEVEMENTS, SUCCESSES, RESULTS.
We always advise that resumes focus more on achievements and successes over responsibilities, and make your successes quantifiable, and qualifiable with weighty facts and figures, so an employer can quickly ascertain your suitability for a position.
We suggest developing an achievements section on the front page of your document and elaborating on these achievements. Achievements are just what recruiters need to see so they can get a quick understanding of your experience, strengths, and areas of expertise. When it comes to achievements though, what recruiters are really looking for is RESULTS and EVIDENCE or proof of those results.
Most people are great at stating their responsibilities and how they do (or did) their jobs but don’t include the detail of what the outcome meant to the employer or the business as a whole.
Employers recruit people who can get results. And the best indicator of what you can do for your next employer is to provide evidence in your resume of what results you have given your previous employers. It’s this detail that really interests employers. Evidence-based resumes get noticed.
This means that if you state you have ‘great communication skills’, a recruiter expects to see evidence of this. Include an example – give the reader the evidence in your document, of where you proved your great communication skills, and what the result of this was.
In order to really make your resume stand out from the rest, it is important to include examples of your achievements and successes to show where you can add value to a potential employer.
Your past successes act as an indicator of your future potential successes with your next employer, and it is vital that you demonstrate this in your resume. What employers really want to see is the RESULT, not just what you did and how you did it, but what the bottom line impact was for the client, employer, business or colleagues. Focus not on what you did, or how you did it, but the outcome (the RESULT).
What Exactly Are Results?
Results, Achievements, Accomplishments … no matter what you call them, there are 2 ways they can be presented.
They can be:
- Quantitative (eg: Exceeded annual revenue goals by 75%), or
- Qualitative (eg: Implemented new filing system that increased productivity and reduced average customer wait time).
Ask yourself: “How is my current employer better off now than when they hired me?” What did you see as the major problem/s when you first started in the role? (Perhaps staff morale was low, or there were high incidences of customer dissatisfaction; maybe a lot of errors). The following questions may help guide you in developing examples.
- What first struck you as needing to be fixed when you first came into this new job?
- Why do you think things were so bad? (previous management/something else?)
- What was the impact on daily operations? (eg customers were annoyed by the errors thereby causing customer dissatisfaction and low morale).
- Keeping in mind those initial challenges, what action did you take to resolve them?
You may have instituted new policies, set up a new system, called meetings to thrash out the problems, dismissed troublemakers, hired new teams, changed the filing style … what did you do to try to fix those issues?
- From those initial challenges you faced, through the actions you took, what was or were the outcome/s?
For example: Perhaps things started working better or faster; perhaps staff stopped leaving and increased their own productivity, perhaps patients were more satisfied or it may be something else entirely.
Can you quantify that as a direct result of the actions you took, something was achieved? If at all possible, try to provide numbers in terms of percentages increased, targets met or surpassed.
- Did you increase or decrease something? If so, by what percentage or amount?
- Did you generate new processes, bring in new systems or forge affiliations with other departments?
- Did you save your employer money? If so, how much and under what circumstances?
- Did you design and/or institute any new system or process? If so, what were the results?
- Did you meet an impossible deadline through extra effort? If so what difference did this make to your team?
- Did you bring a major change quicker than anticipated? If so, how did you make this happen? How was the time you saved used?
- Did you suggest and/or help launch a new program? If so, did you take the lead or provide support? How successful was the effort?
- Did you assume new responsibilities that weren’t part of your job? If so, did you ask for the new projects or were they assigned to you? Why were you selected?
- Did you introduce any new or more effective techniques for increasing productivity? If so, is your approach being used?
- Did you improve communication in your department? If so, with whom and what was the outcome? How did your hospital benefit from your performance?
- What sets you apart from others in your field?
- What are your personal strengths?
- What have you achieved? What are the things that you feel are your greatest accomplishments in the workplace/school/community?
APPLY ONE OF THE resume ACHIEVEMENTS FORMULAS
The good news is there are plenty of formulas you can use to write about results – the trick is ensuring that you write about every single one of one of your accomplishments – whether its quantitative, or qualitative – by using at least one of the following formulas.
FORMULA 1: Accomplished [X] as measured by [Y] by doing [Z]
In other words, start with an active verb, numerically measure what you accomplished, provide a baseline for comparison, and detail what you did to achieve your goal. Consider the following two descriptions of the same work, and ask yourself which would look better on a resume:
- A) Studied the financial performance of companies and made investment recommendations
- B) Improved portfolio performance by 12% ($1.2M) over one year by refining cost of capital calculations for information-poor markets and re-weighting portfolio based on resulting valuations.
The addition of the “12% improvement” makes the statement more powerful. Adding “($1.2M)” anticipates the reviewer’s question about whether 12% is a big deal or not. If you improved investment results by 12%, but that meant going from $100 to $112, that’s not too impressive. But adding $1.2M to the starting portfolio value of $10 million is huge. Explaining how you did it adds credibility and gives insight into your strengths.
FORMULA 2: CAR
C = Challenge (think of a challenge you faced or problem you had to resolve; why was it a challenge; why was it so difficult?)
A = Action (what action did you take?)
R = Result (What was the outcome? Include figures wherever possible. For example: sales increased by 10%; 100 new customers were acquired; program was adopted by 30 people; saved $20K on budget etc.).
- What were the problems you faced when you first started in your job? (That was the challenge)
- What did you do to overcome these problems? (That was the action you took)
- How did things get better? (That is the result)
Ideally, include as many examples as possible, and a minimum of 5 examples (but more is better!) of your successes and achievements for your 2 – 3 most recent roles.
FORMULA 3: SOAR
You could also think about your achievements in the context of the following acronym:
S = the SITUATION in which you found yourself on day one of the job
O = OPPORTUNITIES you identified to help the business.
A = ACTION plan or strategy you implemented to reach that goal.
R = RESULTS of your actions.
FORMULA 4: STAR
S = Situation – Explain the background. Had something gone wrong? Had an opportunity arisen? Were you at a critical point in your career? What was happening and what issue needed resolving?
T = Task – What were you trying to achieve? What were you and your team required to do? Keep the focus on the tasks you did personally, in the context of any teamwork.
A = Action – What steps did you take to achieve your goal? What action was actually taken? Were there any unexpected challenges?
R = Result – What were the results? (Be specific about money earned / saved, measurable increases in customer satisfaction, product performance, etc …) What happened as a result of your actions? Was the situation resolved or improved? Were the outcomes met? Would you do anything differently next time?
FORMULA 5: SAO
S = Situation – Where and when did you do it?
A = Action – What did you do and how did you do it?
O = Outcome – What was the result of your actions?
FORMULA 6: WHO
W = What – What you did at work, a volunteer activity, or school-related activities.
H = How – How you did the work, and what skills you used.
O = Outcome – What the OUTCOME was. If you struggle to quantify or qualify results, think about what you learnt from the experience, what you contributed, or what was gained by doing the work or helping.
QUESTIONS TO ASK WHEN PREPARING ACHIEVEMENTS EXAMPLES
If you’re having trouble with examples, it can sometimes help to work backwards, and start with the result.
- For example, can you write about a time you saved your employer or customers money?
- How much did you save? (This was the result).
- Now describe the action that you took to get that result, and so on.
Describe briefly and with precise examples the ways in which you have delivered impact to the organisation, your colleagues, or your patients; the ways in which you tackled difficult challenges, and managed projects.
- Did you deliver results unit or connect people across functions or departments?
- Have you achieved unexpected results? Or perhaps you’ve done something that others thought was impossible?
- Can you demonstrate that you have taken responsibility for your career and for helping others achieve their potential?
- Has there been a time when you, or what you implemented, increased productivity?
- What did you do?
- How did you do it?
- How much was productivity increased as a result?
Remember, facts and figures wherever possible will make for a strong example.
Can’t think of an example?
- How about the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome?
- What was the obstacle, how did you deal with it, what action did you take, what was the outcome?
- Has there been a time when you increased business?
- Has there been a time when you achieved great client or customer satisfaction results, secured, developed, or established a company first, or when your superiors selected you over your peers to handle any difficult challenges?
When thinking about your achievements, they need to be in the context of the role you are pursuing and your experience to date. The following should guide you in determining the types of activities you should aim to provide examples and evidence of in your resume.
However you choose to frame it, it’s essential that when you’re writing about achievements you make them specific and wherever possible, quantifiable. Avoid vague statements and try to put your results in context by explaining what the outcome meant for the organisation as a whole. Think measurable results!
Be prepared to explain how you achieved your results, how an award was decided, etc. For example, numbers in particular give more credibility to your statements but only use them if you can explain how they were measured.
Some quick and easy examples to help get you started:
1) Saved X amount of time by making Y improvement.
2) Finished project X amount of time ahead of schedule, which enabled Y to resourced, saving $Z.
3) Increased customer satisfaction rating by X%, up Y% on previous year.
4) Slashed X [name of item] costs by [$Y or Y% amount] by [how? doing what?].
5) Increased efficiency by [Y%] by [how? doing what?] which enabled [what happened as a result? What was the outcome?]
6) Performed analysis on [X business units / suppliers], identified[the opportunity to save money, time, increase productivity etc] and [what happened as a result? What was the outcome?]
7) Managed company/department annual/quarterly budget of X (large) amount.
8) Stayed under budget for X quarters/years.
9) Directed a team/group/organization (something difficult to manage)
10) Managed a project spanning X countries/continents/employees
11) Placed X employees at Y companies over Z time with X% attrition.
12) Grew customer base by X amount or % in Y time.
13) Met X national/global/industry standard within Y amount of time
14) Finished in the top X percentile of your class/course
15) Reached X objective(s) every quarter for Y quarters in a row
AWARDS AND HONOURS.
Have you received any? Past performance is considered by employers to be a pretty good indicator of future performance, so if you’ve been recognised in your community or by previous employers by awards or honours, make a statement about it on the last page of your document at least, or if it’s something really significant, on the front page as well.
QUALIFICATIONS AND EDUCATION.
Qualifications are a must to include and are ideally placed on the last page of your document (unless you are a student, or recent graduate seeking an entry-level role, in which case it should be listed as EDUCATION and placed on the front page of your resume).
If you are a student, include your partially completed qualification on the front page of your document, followed by details of the month and year of your anticipated completion or graduation.
If you have qualifications, it’s a good idea to add your short form post-nominals to your contact information on your front page. For example: Jane Doe | BN, DipNursing.
CERTICATIONS AND ACCREDITATIONS.
You may have a Senior First Aid Certificate, or be an accredited Project Management Professional. These should be listed if they add value to your candidacy for a role.
PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING.
Employers love to see that you are engaged enough in your work to seek further development, so a section dedicated to current and relevant professional development should be included on the final page too.
While it’s a given that you will be tech-literate, many jobs have specific programs and industry-specific software that are linked to them. If you have specific competencies, they should be included, and noted as to whether your skills are Advanced, Intermediate or Elementary.
Fluency in a language other than English can be a huge benefit for job seekers, and your level of fluency should be indicated using the following as a guide:
- Native or Bilingual Level Fluency
- Professional Working Proficiency
- Working Proficiency
- Limited Working Proficiency
- Elementary Proficiency
Does a job you wish to apply for require a full Drivers Licence? Perhaps a role requests that Residency Status or Citizenship is listed. If so, these can be listed in the final section of your resume under the heading of ‘Other’.