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Career Counseling

Getting it Right on Your Resume

Know what to include - and what not to include - to make your resume stand out.

Resume-writing can be tricky business for nurses who are experts at taking care of their patients, but not accustomed to trumpeting their own skills and achievements. Whether you're a new graduate who is writing your first resume or a seasoned nurse interested in changing specialty areas, getting it right on your resume can mean the difference between scoring an interview and sitting on the sidelines.

Important Considerations
There are a few key components for every resume, regardless of your clinical background or the type of work that you are seeking.

Complete contact information: If you want to secure an interview, the HR staff has to be able to reach you. Your contact information should include your name, current address, e-mail and phone number. If you are a college student, choose your home or school address rather than listing both.

If you have a cutesy e-mail address, take advantage of one of the many free e-mail servers and open a more professional sounding one for use in your job hunt. Remember, this information is the first item at the top of your resume. Do you really want an e-mail address such as "" to be first impression you make on a potential employer?

Ensure it is error-free: Take the time to proofread your resume several times. Have your friends and family review it as well to ensure that your contact information is correct and the document has no grammatical or spelling errors. Keep in mind that the spell check in your computer does not always catch contextual spelling differences (think "two" versus "too").

Keep it concise:  The resume is your introduction to a potential employer. You want to leave them wanting more. When they read about your accomplishments at school or in previous positions, the goal is to get them to want to meet with you -- because getting the interview is the first step to getting the job.

For most nurses, a resume should be 1-2 pages in length. Data shows that most HR professionals will only take 30 seconds to review a resume as it crosses their desk. You have short window of time in which to make your first impression, so your most marketable attributes should be near the top of the page and screaming at the reader so as not to be missed!

Make it powerful: Writing powerful statements about your skills and achievements doesn't come easily at first. This is where picking up a reference book or using the Internet for ideas can be helpful. The basic rule to follow is to write brief, impactful statements that outline your measureable achievements.

Be specific about what you have done and quantify whenever possible. For instance, how many patients do you typically care for?  If you're a charge nurse or manager, note the type and number of staff you are responsible for during your shift. Have you served on committees that implemented changes? What were the changes and how did you measure success? Have you collaborated with multi-disciplinary teams? 

It is common to have questions about how to structure a resume. It is important to consider the order in which information is presented on your resume as well as which of the three common resume formats will shine the best possible light on your education and work accomplishments.

Many people use a traditional, reverse chronological resume format. In this type of resume, education and prior employment are listed in order starting with the most recent. Because this format outlines your jobs in a row it provides a neat, orderly timeline for the HR professional to review. If you have graduated within the previous 5-10 years and have followed a career path with progressively more responsibility, this is a good format to use.

Another choice is the functional format. This type of resume doesn't require employment dates, but instead outlines your portable skills and competencies. It allows those with minimal work history or who are looking to change career paths to play up transferrable skills, such as those gained in clinical rotations or in other professional positions.

The drawback to the functional format is that this approach is not what recruiters are used to seeing. As a result, they may view the lack of employment dates as an attempt to hide something. It also does not outline a clear career path, which may leave recruiters scratching their heads as to what direction you wish to move in.

Finally, the hybrid format combines elements of the reverse chronological and functional formats. In this resume, you include a section that outlines skills and competencies in addition to providing a timeline of past education and employment. This approach allows you to advertise the skills and achievements you are most proud of while also providing a linear history of prior employment.

Maximize Impact
In terms of resume content, there are a few areas where writers struggle to decide what approach to take. Generally, job seekers start their resume with either an objective or summary statement.

How do you write one? Gather as many details as possible about the job you are interested in. Carefully consider the qualifications in the job advertisement and tailor your objective or summary to include the critical components of each position you are applying for. Taking this approach is more labor-intensive, but it conveys to the potential employer that you are focused on fitting in at their organization.

An objective statement is a good choice for new graduates and those seeking a career change. A well-written objective should describe exactly what you are looking for in your next position. The downside to using an objective statement is the potential to make your job search too appear narrow. To avoid this, to direct the objective statement to the job that you are applying for.

A summary statement or summary of qualifications is the right choice for someone who has been employed in nursing for several years. The summary statement asserts your qualifications, and the details of those qualifications are then outlined within the body of the resume. Even if you are looking to change specialty areas, you will have acquired many transferrable skills that you can highlight.

Following the objective or summary, consider including a section outlining your proficiencies. This can be structured in a number of ways, such as a bulleted list of technical skills, care plan creation and administration, family/patient education, interpersonal skills, type of computerized documentation you are familiar with and procedures such as phlebotomy, ACLS etc. Remember, you want to highlight your most qualifying factors where the reader will easily find them.

What Goes First
Often nurses wonder at what point in the resume their education and certifications should appear. The answer depends on what you want the potential employer to focus on first, your education or your experience. Lead with your most qualifying factor. If you have recently finished a degree, you should prioritize that. If you have loads of experience, but are low on credentials, you can move the educational history to the bottom portion of your resume.

Writing a resume can be a time-consuming process. By following these guidelines, you will be on your way to producing a document that will show your skills in the best possible light and help you score the interview and move on to the next phase of your career.

Example Objective Statement
Obtain a position as an obstetric nurse

Example Professional Summary or Profile
RN with 12 years experience providing outstanding clinical care to cardiac patients in the outpatient setting. Skilled leader and team-member, able to maintain positive attitude in stressful environments. Strong interpersonal skills. Demonstrated ability to provide effective education to patients/ families. Highly organized and able to efficiently prioritize multiple tasks.

Melissa Brodeur is co-founder of Relaunch Career Associates.

To read an article on how to get your foot in the door to the nursing field, click here.

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