Job Hunter: Pro Tips for Writing a Standout Nurse Resume

Man holding resume in front of laptop

Before we begin, congratulations are in order. You’ve applied to nursing school, been admitted, completed your studies, passed your finals, and obtained your professional certifications. You’ve worked hard to get to this point, and you’re ready for the real work to begin.

Now you’ve got to condense all your hard-earned knowledge, experience, skills, and accomplishments into a single page – and yes, you should keep your resume to one page. If you’re a seasoned nurse seeking to change jobs, you’ve got even more information to distill. And odds are there are a lot of other graduates and candidates hoping to secure the same spot.

So what do employers look for in a nurse resume? Here are some tips, strategies, and need-to-knows to help you write a strong resume that stands out. We’ve included a bit of what not to do in your resume as well, so you can land your first nursing job or advance your healthcare career in a new role.

Resume Rules of Thumb

Let’s start with the basics. We mentioned length (one page), but there are other overall rules of resume writing that you should always follow:

  • Keep your resume to one page (though two pages can be acceptable when strong work experience is included).
  • Follow standard document practices with margins, font, spacing, etc. (e.g., 0.5- to 1-inch margins, 10-12 font size for the body of the resume, 12-14 font size for section titles)
  • Prioritize clarity and legibility and over style.
  • Include both hard skills (e.g., IV insertion, wound care, patient care) and soft skills (e.g., communication, leadership, ability to multitask).
  • Make sure your resume is relevant to the position you’re pursuing and edit accordingly.
  • Ask at least one detail-oriented friend or colleague to proofread for errors.
  • Update or revisit your resume every time your professional accomplishments change.

Anatomy of a Nurse Resume

Resumes in any field typically include much of the same stuff: personal information, objective, work experience, and education. For nurses, there are additional specifics you’ll want to include, like licensure, certifications, clinical rotations, and skills particular to healthcare. Use the example and list below as a model for your resume – but feel free to adjust and move things around (somewhat, don’t put your name at the bottom) to match your unique experience and objectives.

What to Include on Your Nursing Resume (in recommended order):

  • Name and credentials (e.g., “BSN, RN” if you are licensed, or “Student Nurse” if you are not)
  • Contact information
  • Objective (tailored to the applicable position)
  • Education
  • Skills and certifications
  • Clinical rotations
  • Volunteer experience
  • LinkedIn profile
  • Reference availability (optional)

Consider creating more than one version of your resume if you think you will want to highlight different work history and details for different placement opportunities.

Resume Technology: Your Friend and Foe

With now ubiquitous technology, resume writing can be outsourced, in part or whole. A quick online search will yield ads for dozens of resume-building websites.

Resume Templates

Finding an online resume template can save you a lot of time, and it will make your resume look spiffier than one you just type into Word. Many sites offer these templates for free, and they allow you to easily enter your information, populating the template for you.

You’ll have a wealth of options, and this is arguably a downside, because it’s easy to fall into “analysis paralysis” when you want your resume to be perfect. Remember that nursing is a serious profession and you’re looking to highlight substance over style. So, find a clean, efficient layout with space for everything you’ll want to include, and don’t get caught up in elaborate design schemes.

One more word on style: Whether you’re using a template or not, keep your typeface and formatting simple. Choose two fonts (maximum three), and stay away from script typefaces and anything that feels too showy. You wouldn’t wear a concert tee to an interview – make sure your resume is professionally ‘’dressed” as well.

On the other side of the job search, your resume can be automatically vetted before an actual recruiter takes a look. It’s increasingly common for recruiters to use software to auto-sort submissions. A little knowledge about what happens after you send off your CV can help keep you in contention, which lead us to our next point…

Application Tracking Software (ATS)

Recruiters want to save time, too, and that’s why they are increasingly relying on Application Tracking Software (ATS) to find their ideal candidates. ATS is essentially a robot programmed to flag resumes with high match potential, while eliminating those that seem less compatible, using keywords. LinkedIn, for example, uses ATS, and you can reasonably expect large healthcare organizations like hospitals to use it, too, as well as contractor recruiters who pre-screen candidates for smaller offices and clinics.

There are many ATS systems available to recruiters, and some are more sophisticated than others. In fact, research shows that 75% of recruiters use some type of recruiting or applicant tracking system.

What does this mean for you? It means that if you use particular keywords, they could get you noticed, or they could get you eliminated. Unless you’re savvy about ATS, you may never make it into the recruiter’s pile, even if you’re otherwise qualified.

Since recruiters often choose their own keywords to have the ATS scan for, it’s impossible to know exactly what to include or exclude. But you can make educated guesses. If a recruiter is hoping to hire a nurse who speaks Spanish, they’ll likely set the ATS to scan for that word. Similarly, if the job requires an advanced degree, it will probably rule out any resumes that don’t contain “master’s,” “MSN,” or higher. Carefully review the job posted job description, and pull words or even full phrases to integrate into your resume. Your summary is a good spot for this.

The macro takeaway? Be specific. Even if you’re casting a wide net with your nurse job hunt, the best thing for both employer and employee is a good match. If you want to work in acute care, be sure to include “acute care” on your resume. And if you see something in the job description that applies to you but isn’t already listed in your skills, add it to your resume before you submit.

Resume FAQs

Should I include a photo of myself on my resume?

We recommend that you do not include a photo on your resume, as we have found many large healthcare employers prefer resumes without photos. It is, however, a good idea to feature a professional, up-to-date photo of yourself on your LinkedIn profile and include the link on your resume.

Should I list my references?

Reference etiquette is important, and no, don’t list your references’ contact information on your resume. This is both to protect their privacy, and also to make sure they’re only contacted with advance notice from you.

“References available upon request” is a standard inclusion in any resume. Employers will usually only ask for them if you’re a finalist for the job. Once you give out contact information your references, reach and let them know to expect a call. Remember to send a thank you to your reference. (And if you get the job, consider a small gift.)

Should I list my social media?

It is a good idea to list your LinkedIn profile, as this social platform is regularly used by prospective employers to vet candidates. Make sure your profile has a compelling About section, is up to date with your latest academic and professional achievements, includes skills that match with the type of job you’re seeking, and features a professional and current photo of yourself. It’s also a good idea to ensure that your other social profiles (e.g., Instagram, TikTok, Facebook) do not include unflattering or controversial content, as this can be a turn-off to prospective employers who come across them.

If you have a nursing or healthcare blog, be sure to include it. And even if you don’t use social media, Google yourself. If something comes up that is less than flattering, consider taking it down (if you can) or be ready to speak about it.

How do I make my writing sound professional?

You’re applying to be a nurse, not an English professor, but attention to wording will evoke intelligence and sophistication. Scrub your resume for too much repetition. If you’re using the word “experience” over and over, try subbing in alternatives like “strong background” or “seasoned in.”

Be sure to use professional vocabulary, industry-relevant terminology, and powerful action words that highlight your achievements more clearly. For example, instead of simply saying you took patients’ vital signs, you can say you were “recognized by patients for performing vital signs in a fast and efficient manner.”

Above all, have someone else proofread your resume for you, as typos can quickly disqualify you as a candidate. More often than not, your proofreader will catch mistakes you missed, even if you’ve read over your resume 20 times.

Want help getting your career goals on track and your resume in order? West Coast University Career Services offers students workshops, tools, and one-on-one coaching to help you plan professional next steps. If you’re a student, make sure you make use of their services!

And stay tuned for next month’s Nurse Job Hunter post, which will address how to write an effective nurse cover letter.

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.