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Brush up your professional nursing résumé

Jilk, Erin M. MSN, RN; Crawford, Cecelia L. DNP, RN; Kawar, Lina Najib PhD, RN, CNS; Medina-Gulapa, Eiselle MSN, RN

Author Information
doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000524756.28129.79
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In Brief


WHETHER YOU'RE SEEKING an entry-level nursing position or pursuing career advancement, your résumé should convince a prospective employer that your unique skills, accomplishments, and qualifications match the advertised position. A well-written résumé stimulates the interest of prospective employers and assists in securing a job interview. This article will help you construct a professional nursing résumé and help you avoid common mistakes.

Résumé components

A good résumé has multiple components divided by headings. For information on how a résumé differs from a curriculum vitae, see Curriculum vitae or résumé? As you construct your résumé, keep in mind its main purpose—to secure an interview. Closely examine the position for which you're applying with an eye on job requirements and preferences. Your résumé should show the prospective employer that you're suited for the role. For instance, it should clearly and concisely state how your career goals mesh with the position, what you've accomplished that qualifies you for the position, and how to contact you.4-6

You can format your résumé using one of five styles, each with its own advantages and disadvantages (see Advantages and disadvantages of five résumé formats). Pick the one that best suits the organization and position to which you're applying.4,5,7 For example, the hybrid format would be more appropriate for a position specifying unique skills sets, rather than a multimedia format highlighting creativity. A digital option worth considering is an online résumé builder with standardized templates and formats.

No matter what the format, the components listed below should be included in your résumé and presented in a way that grabs the attention of a hiring manager or talent management recruiter (see Résumé construction recommendations). As you construct your résumé, keep in mind that many organizations use automated tracking systems to post positions and receive candidate applications.4,9,10 Having a well-structured résumé embedded with specific keywords from the posted position is crucial to having your application viewed by an actual human being and not automatically rejected by the system. These systems are designed to extract keywords that meet the targeted requirements of the hiring manager, so make sure to choose keywords that are scannable and applicable to the advertised job.8,5,9,10 As job applications are scanned, a software program searches for employer-specified keywords and word sequences from the job posting. The program then extracts that information and decides to keep or reject the applicant. Avoid nontraditional fonts, borders, and shading that might interfere with optimal scanning. You want the hiring personnel to quickly see why you meet their needs and are a viable candidate.

Advantages and disadvantages of five résumé formats4,5,7
  • Contact information and credentials. Contact information should be placed front and center as a document header.4,6 The header should contain your name, credentials, primary mailing address, e-mail address, and phone number. Credentials are particularly important; they're the shorthand way to inform the employer of your education level, professional certifications, and current nursing practice.4 The sequencing of your credentials is strategic, with the highest degree placed directly after your name, followed by professional licensure, and then certifications.6
  • Employment objective/qualifications statement. This statement describes why you'd be an asset and what you bring to the organization, not why you need the job. Craft a concise one- or two-sentence statement targeting the position for which you're applying.5,6,8 For example: “Seeking a hands-on entry-level critical care nursing position in order to provide high-quality patient care in the adult intensive care setting.” Another approach is to write a brief statement of your qualifications and unique contributions. Remember to use keywords and language from the original job posting. Be sure to link the résumé content to support the job objective and/or qualifications summary. The hiring manager will know you've reviewed organizational information and are well informed about the posted position.2,6,9
  • Education. Employers usually look at educational background before employment history, although the weight of this component can change based on the candidate's experience.4,6 If the employer highly values a strong educational background, then prominently highlight this strength and asset. New graduate RNs in particular should emphasize their clinical experiences during their education, as they often have less work experience to include. Start with the highest level of education and place lower levels of college education in reverse chronologic order.4 Clearly outline the dates you attended each school and what degree was achieved. Include nonnursing degrees, as diverse skills and knowledge are also seen as strengths.6,8
  • Employment history and experience. Include work experience relevant to the desired position. Start with your most recent position and list older employment history in reverse chronologic order, with clearly labeled start and stop dates.5 Some nonhealthcare-related employment experiences may still bring relevant skills and knowledge. Skills and experience gained through a past position can be listed in this section as bullet points. Use action verbs when listing these attributes and language from the job posting to illustrate familiarity with specific skills relevant to the position.2,5,6,9 If you've promoted yourself using a reputable networking site, such as LinkedIn, consider including a link to your profile for more details. Just be sure that your profile mirrors your résumé.
  • Licensure and certifications. This critical section allows hiring managers to see that you meet minimum job requirements. You're visibly confirming that you've passed licensing boards and are recognized by your accrediting body as an RN.4
Résumé construction recommendations4-6,8

What if you aren't yet an RN? In that case, you should state when you're scheduled to take the NCLEX. New graduates who apply for a nursing position before taking and passing the NCLEX may have trouble securing an interview if an abundance of experienced nurses and licensed new graduates are also applying. However, nursing shortage cycles vary locally and employers may be willing to hire newly graduated students with interim nursing permits or Graduate Temporary Practice Permits.

This section is also an opportunity to list additional degrees, certifications, and trainings that meet the needs or preferences of the desired position. Include when the credentials and other trainings were obtained and what professional organization provided them.2,6 For example, clinical nurse positions usually require basic life support (BLS) training. Make it clear that you meet these job requirements.6

  • Professional organizations (optional). This section provides a unique opportunity for highlighting optional achievements.6 List all professional organizations where you hold a membership, such as Sigma Theta Tau International or the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses. Place them in reverse chronologic order, and include start dates for current memberships and stop dates for lapsed memberships. If you're not a member of a nursing association, consider joining one to demonstrate professional engagement.
  • Honors, awards, and activities (optional). Ask yourself if listing honors, awards, and activities is relevant. Be mindful about the needs of the organization and the department you're applying for when you decide whether or not to include these components. Although you may think an activity is appropriate, it may not be seen that way by hiring personnel.2,4,8
  • References. Some experts advise against listing references, while others insist on their inclusion. Although references can be added directly to the résumé, it's more customary to make them available upon request.4,6,8 Not including them in the résumé presents a subtle advantage. If a potential employer contacts you for reference information, it clearly indicates interest. Remember to customize your reference list for the job position.6

Ensure that the individuals you choose as references can speak to your skills and experience that are applicable to the posted position. Ask their permission to use them as references—don't surprise them! They may decline to be a reference for you, which would be an embarrassing oversight if an employer calls. Advance notice also gives those providing reference information a chance to customize their response to suit the interests of the employer.6 Be sure to provide them with a copy of your résumé so that they can speak comprehensively about you and your experiences.

Cover letters: Yes or no?

In the 1930s and 40s, cover letters provided general information for economic, business, or political organizations. By the 1950s, cover letters served as job introductions. During the 1990s, when the inclusion of cover letters exploded, they became ubiquitous and rote.

Cover letter use in the 21st-century job market is confusing. Some people believe a cover letter allows recruiters to see the human being behind the résumé, while others think it hides more than it reveals. Most of them aren't read and are often seen as ritualistic additions serving no specific purpose.11,12 A 2009 reCareered survey found that 90% of hiring contacts ignored every cover letter and 97% made interview decisions based on the résumé alone.13 However, some white-collar jobs still require a one-page personal statement. Employers currently use alternative methods of hiring evaluation that don't require this document, such as online job submission systems.12 The creation of a cover letter will depend on an individual institution's job application requirements. The bottom line is don't include a cover letter unless the employer specifically asks for one.

Onward and upward

Your résumé can be your passport to a promotion, securing an advanced nursing position, or obtaining an entry-level nursing position. A clean, crisp professional nursing résumé can be the key to a bright future as you advance and develop your nursing career.

Curriculum vitae or résumé?

Curriculum vitae (CV) is a Latin expression meaning the course of one's life.1 The CV is an expanded version of the résumé; it's typically longer and more detailed.2 It includes a comprehensive description of a person's academic or professional credentials, qualifications, experience, and endeavors.3 Most healthcare institutions require nurses to submit a CV when they apply for higher-level nursing leadership or other advanced positions, such as APRN roles. Academic positions also require a CV. Résumés aren't detailed enough for these types of positions.

Bonus content

Head to to view a well-constructed professional nursing résumé.


A real-life example

Let's construct a résumé using a modified real-life example. C.S. has been an RN for 1 year and would like to move up the career ladder. C.S. received feedback from a mentor to revise his résumé and produced this final product. The document emphasizes his attributes as a professional nurse, clinical practice, and newly developed skills. He's stated a clear objective with a simplified education section and professional skills highlighted as they relate to nursing practice. The format is crisp, clean, and to the point. Headings are standardized in a scanner-compatible layout.10 Some might find it a little drab, which could be solved by finding a simple template to populate. Other experts believe that professional résumés should avoid using creative templates with bold colors and unusual fonts.4 But the content can be easily transferred to any new document.

Professional Nurse, BSN, RN

Phone: (xxx) xxx-xxxx

Email: [email protected]

Address: 123 Somewhere Road, City, State Zip Code

Objective: Seeking a hands-on entry level critical care nursing position in order to provide high-quality patient care in the adult intensive care setting.


  • 2016 Master of Science in Nursing: State University, City, State (In Progress)
  • 2015 Bachelor of Science in Nursing: State University, City, State; Magna Cum Laude
  • 2012 Associate Degree in Arts, Local College, City, State

RN License: 123456; Expires 09/09/2018

Professional Experience

  • 2016: Medical/Surgical Charge Nurse and Staff Nurse, Local Medical Center
  • 2015: RN Student Externship, Local Medical Center

Community Service

  • 2014–2016: American Heart Association Heart Walk
  • 2015: Dream Center (Meals for the Hungry Program); Skid Row Homeless Outreach Program
  • 2015 Second Harvest Food Bank of Local County

Awards & Honors

  • 2016: Outstanding Medical-Surgical Nurse of the Month (November)
  • 2015 Scholarship: US Department of Health & Human Services, Health Resources and Services Administration
  • 2014 to 2015: Certificate of Honor for Outstanding Academic Achievement
  • 2009 to 2016: Concurrent Deans List Award

Career Development and Training

  • 2016 Telemetry and Advanced Dysrhythmia Recognition
  • 2015 Applied Gerontology Program Certificate
  • 2014 EKG and Pharmacology Courses
  • American Heart Association Basic Life Support (Exp. 07/2020)
  • American Heart Association Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support (Exp. 02/2020)
  • Fire Safety (Exp. 10/2020)

Professional Activities and Skills

  • Advocate for collaborative interprofessional patient/family care
  • Participate in monthly Unit Based Team and Medical Center Policy & Procedure Committee
  • Search multiple electronic databases and conduct literature reviews for best evidence for nursing practice
  • Navigate various electronic healthcare record platforms
  • Proficient in multiple software applications, such as Microsoft Office Suite (Word, PowerPoint, Excel)

Professional Associations - Member

  • 2016: Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses
  • 2016: Honor Societies: Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI), Local Chapter; Golden Key International Honor Society; Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society

Presentations & Literature Review

  • 2016: “Ammonia Ampoule Use - Folk Remedy or Evidence-Based?” Poster Presentation, STTI Conference
  • 2015: Magnet Model Experience and Healthcare System Externship Experience
  • 2015: Literature Review: “Ammonia Ampoule Use - Folk Remedy or Evidence-Based?”

References available upon request


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