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Making the New Grad Resume Shine

How to sell your skills in a highly competitive job market for nurses.

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"Nursing is recession proof." That's a lie, yet you continue to hear it. Maybe it's even the reason you went to nursing school. "You'll always be able to find work," someone may have told you.

The truth is, healthcare is impacted by the economy just like any other industry. It doesn't matter if an organization is for-profit or not. All sectors are feeling the crunch of today's volatile markets.

As a new grad, you can find a job, but it may not be exactly what you wanted; it may mean moving or working a shift or in a unit you don't prefer. The important thing is to get good, paying, clinical experience now. The more time between your graduation and getting your first job, the harder it will be.

One of the primary tools you'll use to get this job is your résumé. So we went to nurse recruiters and hiring experts to find out what they look for in a new grad résumé.

First, meet out contributors:

Lisa Mauri Thomas is dean of education at a career college in Minneapolis. She is also a résumé writer and job search strategist. She is the author of the book Landing Your Perfect Nursing Job.

Nicholas Piazza is a human resources consultant with MedStar Montgomery Medical Center in Olney, Md.

Gail L. Kronenwett, BSN, RN, is manager, Nurse Recruitment & Retention at Lawrence Hospital Center, Bronxville, N.Y.

ADVANCE: In recent years, how have the hiring practices in your facility changed in regard to new grads?

Thomas: As dean of a career college, I keep tabs on the hiring landscape for new nurses. Things are easing up but challenges persist and new nursing grads must continue to bring their A-game to job search, network and strengthen professional connections, and be diligent in outreach and follow-up efforts. The ability to relocate to areas crying out for nursing talent or to accept a part-time role to establish themselves locally may be just the ticket to launching a new nursing career.

Piazza: Our requirements have changed over the past several years. We now require a BSN. In addition, our first preference is to interview candidates who have had some type of medical experience, whether it is as a home care aide, medical assistant, nursing assistant, etc. We continue to hire approximately 12 new grads per year, once with an August/September start date and the second for a February/March start date. During the interview stage we make it clear to candidates that if they are hired they will need to be flexible as to shift and unit. The decision on shift and unit all depends upon our staffing needs once they are done or close to completing their 12 weeks of orientation. Therefore, anyone interviewed will need to be flexible regarding the offer.

Kronenwett: Great news. We have hired more new grads so far in 2013 compared to last year's (2012) total. Currently we do not offer summer externship for student nurses. We have a designated new grad educator at LHC.  

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ADVANCE: What can nursing students do before they graduate to increase their chances of getting hired?

Thomas: Work in a related capacity such as a certified nursing assistant, volunteer in ways that serve those in need, both medically and socially, and build a solid nursing résumé during school. Always look for ways to go above and beyond. Being a nanny isn't related enough unless for a special-needs child where you can demonstrate applicable skills on the job. Working in any type of medical facility can establish your understanding of the healthcare environment and culture. Network with nurses who have experience; ask them to help you navigate the hiring process where they work.

Piazza: They should pursue a part-time position or a position during summer breaks in healthcare which will give them further experience.

Kronenwett: They should have experience in a nurse support role such as CNA, HHA, EMT or other clinical support roles or other healthcare roles. Also, volunteerism (within community or abroad) or tutoring is helpful.

ADVANCE: Do you want new grad nurses to list coursework or research projects on their résumé?

Thomas: Coursework need not be listed in that it is relatively standard at any nursing school. However, elective courses taken that specifically speak to the specialty area being applied to would work very well on a résumé. Research projects should be listed so long as highly relevant. The biggest thing is to list clinical rotations and preceptorships in an annotated fashion that specifies the type of patients observed, duties learned such as charting, or monitoring for medication effects, or type of symptoms presented/diagnoses indicated. 

Piazza: Coursework is usually typical from school to school. What would be of interest are any projects they have worked on or details of a senior practicum.

Kronenwett: Coursework is typically on the transcripts (we look at those). Information on the résumé about research would be great (only certain colleges seem to encourage their grads to put research on résumé, but it should be there). Also included should be senior year intense practicums, preceptorship (full-time for a few weeks in a specific unit) along with any summer intern/externships.

ADVANCE: How should new grad nurses present their clinical affiliations on a résumé?

Thomas: The whole point of affiliations is to show connections and partnerships developed along the way whether as a nursing school partner, preceptorship site, service learning/community service partner, volunteer organization, etc. So, list these clearly on your résumé by giving the affiliation names greater weight than the job title held. List the affiliation name first, job title or project second. In other words, show off the organizations you've had the opportunity to get to know better. This also means that some degree of planning/foresight was needed earlier on (so, new nursing students, take note!). Always be thinking ahead about the kinds of things you'd love to be able to highlight on a résumé and let that guide your current and future activities.

Piazza: These should be noted in order taken, but not a lot of detail. This information is usually shared during the interview on what experience was gained, etc.

Kronenwett: We prefer reverse chronological (present to past) order be used for each practicum (clinical rotation/placement) to include: where, when along with a "describer" on type of clinical rotation (e.g., Medical-Surgical, Lawrence Hospital Center, September 2012 - December 2012). In addition to our review of their clinical practicums, in the interview we will also inquire about the placement, for example, how many days per week, hours per day and student nurse-to-patient ratios.

We also inquire in the interview as to why they chose nursing as a profession and what clinical practicum they found to be the most rewarding.

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ADVANCE: What makes a new grad stand out on a résumé?

Thomas: The résumé needs to literally "scream" nursing. If the only things about nursing on the résumé are an objective statement and an education entry for nursing school, a lot has been left unsaid -- to the candidate's detriment. Candidates should review their résumé line-by-line and look for ways to tie each line back to nursing. Make the correlation, spell out how a work experience relates even if not in healthcare by focusing on the universal/soft skills developed and demonstrated that are required of nurses (documentation, communication, team work, following orders, empathy, work ethic, never missing a shift, etc.).

Piazza: Experience.

Kronenwett: In addition to the items already mentioned, we look for BSN, GPA above 3.0 and a minor in another science. Also we put a lot of weight on the interview responses to behavioral questions asked, along with the applicant sharing a few "real life" interactions they had with patients (e.g., recollection of a day in clinical where they feel they made a difference or felt particularly proud about an accurate nursing assessment or astute intervention).

ADVANCE: How important is it that new grad nurses have held a job (whether or not in healthcare)?

Thomas: Very important. No supervisor wants to discover a new hire simply cannot work well within a team or communicate issues effectively. Demonstrating these skills and attributes in any type of work (paid position or volunteer) is much better than claiming to have "devoted myself to my studies" and having no work history to support a work ethic.

Piazza: It is very important.

Kronenwett: Having work experience adds to their overall application and is helpful to their transition to practice.

Linda Jones is on staff at ADVANCE. Contact ljones@advanceweb.com


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