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The Nursing Resume and Cover Letter: Make a Statement When Applying for a Job


As your nursing career evolves -- through different specialties, roles, skills, and achievements -- so should your resume. A strong resume tells the story of your path through the profession and showcases what you've learned and accomplished along the way. compiled the what, how, and why of putting together a resume and cover letter that are sure to wow nurse recruiters and hiring managers.

Top Tips and Best Practices for Nursing Resumes

Each nursing job you apply for is unique. Make sure your resume matches the particulars of each job. Target your clinical experiences and achievements to that specific opportunity and highlight how you fit in that organization. Do your homework on a facility by examining its website for information about its mission and vision. This will show your interest in not just a job, but also in becoming part of a facility's culture and goals. In its resume writing guide, Yale University's School of Nursing offers these best practices:

  • Limit your resume to one or two pages, depending on your experience level.
  • Avoid packing in too much text, which will make it appear cluttered.
  • Focus on your accomplishments in previous jobs and clinicals, rather than just listing the duties of each position.
  • Use plenty of active words to describe how you analyzed, communicated, improved, collaborated, managed, assisted, created, etc., in your previous roles.
  • Share other skills and accomplishments that enhance your clinical knowledge such as different languages you speak, public speaking experiences, affiliations with professional or student organizations, knowledge of various software systems, etc.
  • As a last step, don't forget to edit your resume, as well as asking a friend, colleague, mentor, or family member to look it over.

How to Structure Your Nursing Resume

When building a resume, start with who you are. List your contact information so a hiring manager can reach out directly for an interview. This also lets nurse recruiters know if you're a local candidate. The next sections include:

  • Introduction: This short section can include a career objective statement, no longer than three sentences, and a professional profile statement that describes what you offer.
  • Work experience: List all relevant jobs, even outside health care, that showcase skills such as communication, conflict resolution, educating the public and more. Do this in reverse chronological order.
  • Education: Explain your educational path and any unique career-focused experiences such as clinical rotations.
  • Certifications and associations: These will exhibit your interest in continuing education, along with a dedication to being part of professional nursing groups.
  • Volunteer work: Adding current and past volunteer experiences at a church or school or within your community shows your well-rounded interests in health care in and outside the workplace.

Are Cover Letters Still Relevant?

A cover letter might seem archaic to some nurses. In fact, a 2021 survey by found that less than 30% of job seekers still include a cover letter with their resume. With that in mind, including a cover letter automatically puts you ahead of 70% of the field when seeking jobs. Think of it as a complement to your resume that acts as a sales pitch or a marketing tool to showcase your value. It also allows you to tell hiring managers why you want to work at their facility.

A cover letter offers you an opportunity to introduce and sell yourself as the candidate that a nurse hiring manager can't do without. It is also a vehicle for you to share a personal story or experience that describes why you fit the qualifications of the role, while expressing your strong interest in the position.

The Value of Keywords

Because nurse hiring managers are trying to fill numerous positions at once, many rely on software known as an applicant tracking system. This software scans resumes for keywords that fit each job. The best advice for nurse job seekers is to start with a healthcare facility's description of the role it is seeking to fill. Look for important keywords and phrases -- like patient care, patient education, leadership, and clinical research -- and strategically add those if they're not already there. Another way to make sure your resume successfully makes it through a tracking system is to use an online optimizer, which will analyze your resume and offer suggestions on where you can improve its effectiveness. There are numerous free options online.

Social Media Snafus

Social media can be a great place to share your interests, professional achievements, and family fun. But there are also plenty of pitfalls for nurses. Hiring managers often peruse the social media accounts of potential candidates. What are they looking for? According to a 2020 Penn State University study, how you portray yourself on social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok could change how potential employers view you. Researchers surveyed 436 hiring managers, including those from health care, to view a hypothetical job seeker's Facebook profile. Among three categories that were judged by survey participants, the most negative perceptions were created by posts that exhibited self-absorption.

Researchers said results showed these candidates could be considered "less likely to sacrifice for the benefit of other employees and the organization."

Negative perceptions among hiring managers also were tied to portraying oneself as being overly opinionated, defined by posting divisive subject matter that can be viewed as argumentative and less cooperative. The negative effects were least prevalent among hiring managers for social media posts that suggested alcohol and drug use. When posting on social media, consultant Eileen Williamson, MSN, RN, who held numerous leadership positions in her career, says the best advice is to think before you post.

Keep it Fresh

As your career changes, your resume will. When trying to attain entry-level patient care positions, focus on the skills and experiences you gained throughout nursing school relative to the jobs you're seeking. That can include pre-nursing examples, such as working with the public in retail settings that exhibited conflict resolution skills or public speaking opportunities that helped grow your communication skills. If you're in the middle years of your nursing career, make sure you keep your resume fresh. The more skills, experiences, and continuing education courses you encounter, the more you want those highlighted on your resume. This shows hiring managers that you are staying current.

Still job seeking late in your career? Your resume should be a way to communicate the relevance of your skills in the field and your experiences in challenging situations, such as leading teams and caring for patients amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Whether you're seeking an entry-level med/surg job just out of college or a CNO position late in your career, make sure the nursing resume you construct tells the story of why you're a good fit.  

Take these courses related to career opportunities:

CE166-60: Networking for Career Advancement (1 contact hr) The goal of this module is to enhance nurses' skills in professional networking to keep their career development strategies robust. After studying the information presented here, you will be able to: Identify four potential resources to contact for networking, outline steps for face-to-face networking and describe three self-marketing sales props for use in effective networking.

CE691: Social Media (1 contact hr) This CE program will inform nurses about how to use social media to enhance their careers. It describes how social media can have a positive impact on your career, identifies ways to avoid career damage with social media and compares several types of social media.

CE140-60: Interviewing for Career Advancement (1 contact hr) Take this CE module to enhance your ability to prepare for and participate in job interviews. After studying the information presented here, you will be able to identify at least four strategies for preparing for an interview, select the best responses to typical interview questions and choose appropriate questions to ask an interviewer.