RN Resume FAQ


RN Resume FAQ

Advice from Recruiters

By Geraldine Fike, RN, DNP, CCRN, PHN
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As a former chief nursing executive who has hired hundreds of nurses throughout my career, I have a unique understanding of what is essential for the creation of a vibrant resume. Currently, I am a nursing school professor who helps new grads with their transition into the workforce. In this article, I’ll share with Working Nurse readers some of the knowledge I’ve gleaned throughout my career.

The principal purpose of your resume is to encourage employers to bring you in for an interview. The resume can also help you during the interview in articulating who you are, what you have done, and why you will be valuable to the organization.

Should I list non-nursing jobs on my nursing resume?
All previous experience should be included. No previous job experience is trivial and those non-nursing jobs may increase your chances of being hired. For example, one local hospital in the Inland Empire was looking for an RN for the medical-surgical department. The hospital had had several regulatory surveys and wanted a nurse who displayed a knowledge and understanding of regulatory compliance.

The applicant the hospital hired was a new graduate who included on their resume previous experience as a hospital housekeeper. The applicant noted that in that role, maintaining safety and quality was a priority. Another hospital’s director of maternal and child health decided to establish a new grad program to help fill a 40 percent shortage in labor and delivery department staffing. Among the program’s many goals was to hire nurses who could help increase patient satisfaction scores.

One of the applicants hired noted on her resume that she was a barista at a well-known coffee shop. After her interview, she was hired based on her past experience of providing excellent customer service.

How far back should I go?
This is not an easy question for late-career nurses with lots of past experience. However, in general, resume-writing experts say it is reasonable to go back no more than 10 to 15 years in your work history. When it comes to the nursing resume, the key is to list experience that may be relevant to the needs of the department to which you’re applying.

For example, a nurse manager recently said she hired a nurse because that applicant had worked as a nurse’s aide and later as a licensed vocational nurse prior to becoming an RN. The manager was opening a new unit and felt this applicant would work well with the aides and LVNs that were transferring to the unit from another hospital.

How do I present a career change or a lengthy break from nursing?
As difficult as finding employment may be for nurses who changed to nursing mid-career or took time off for family reasons or due to illness, stress, etc., there’s a lot that can be done and learned along the way.

If nursing is a new mid-career for you, include in your resume any keywords the employer has noted in the job listing or on their website. For example, if the employer lists patient satisfaction, quality and safety, emphasize these keywords when describing your non-nursing skills and experience.

If you’re returning to nursing after a leave of absence, indicating on your resume that you have renewed your certifications, completed reentry programs and updated employment requirements such as immunizations will show the interest you have in returning to the workforce.  

A colleague of mine who is an RN and has her bachelor of science in nursing degree recently decided to return to the workforce after raising two children. Although she has been an RN since 1992 and has vast experience as a nurse and nurse manager (in labor and delivery and case management for the County of Los Angeles), her last job was 10 years ago.

On her resume, she listed her work experience and education, but also included what she had done in the decade she was out of the workforce. She had returned to school and earned her BSN degree. She also participated actively in her childrens’ schools, sports and Girl Scouts. She told me that the interviewer said, “You have much experience in leadership, accountability and organizational skills, which is exactly what we are looking for.” She was recently hired at a hospital in Orange County, where she now works in case management.

Should I submit a cover letter with my resume?
The purpose of the cover letter is to reinforce the strongest points of your resume, so including one gives you an advantage. However, all too often, they’re discarded unread. Many hiring websites do not even offer the option to include a cover letter. The attention of the hiring manager, nurse recruiter or human resources representative quickly goes to the core of the application: the resume. So, include a cover letter if you can, ensuring that it is grammatically correct and free of typos.

I was fired or left an earlier job under bad circumstances. What should I say about that on my resume?
In the past, many employees stayed with a company until retirement, but this is no longer the case. Now, when an employer sees that you were with a past employer only for a short time, there may not even be questions about why you left that position. However, if the position in question is the last job you left, most prospective employers will want to contact your previous employer.

Do not leave that job on your resume as “present” or “current” — update your resume to indicate when you left the job. Be prepared. If asked, do not blame or badmouth your former employer. Explain why you left the job. Be objective and reflect on what you have learned from the experience. You must be honest. If a new employer calls and finds out that you were not honest, you probably will not get the job.

I am working on my BSN/MSN credential. What do I put on my resume?
Employers want to know that you are investing in yourself, which highlights your determination. The degree or credential may also be desirable for the position you are seeking. List your education/credential as “in progress” or include your “anticipated completion date.”

Should I include my attributes in my resume?
Yes! As Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, CPC, NC-BC, noted in a 2014 MultiBrief News article, “Creativity, open-mindedness and innovation are called for in the healthcare employment marketplace, especially as it pertains to nurses.” So, if you are creative, open-minded and innovative, be sure to say so.

Use a “Personal Information” section at the bottom of the resume to list talents and achievements. Nurses usually work in a communal setting, so it’s nice to know a bit about the coworker who may be coming onboard.     However, don’t include anything the hiring manager may find controversial or weird.  Yes: “plays the piano, enjoys hiking and volunteers at a homeless shelter.” No: “dresses in a Star Trek costume for Comic-Con or is active in such-and-such political party.”

How should I list references on my resume?
Seeking references from professors, past employers and staff at clinical rotation sites is helpful. List “references upon request” on your resume and keep the copies of the reference letters handy.

Should I use a template in building my resume?
A resume template can assist you in building a creative, personalized resume without leaving out valuable information. However, you want to avoid coming across as an automaton without personality. It is very important to scan the ad for the position you are seeking for keywords. Then make sure those keywords are incorporated into your resume to show you are a good fit.

Finding a job may be difficult, but following this advice can lead to a successful resume, interview and employment.  

Geraldine Fike, RN, DNP, CCRN, PHN, is a former chief nursing officer with vast experience recruiting, hiring and leading nurses at all levels. She is now an assistant professor at California State University, San Bernardino, where she researches health literacy among vulnerable populations.



What items on a resume send it straight to the trash?
Spelling and grammatical errors. When a resume comes across our desks that shows a lack of attention to detail, that tells us a lot about the applicant.  As a nurse, attention to detail is key.  In the application portion, we look for the ability to read and follow directions.  For example, if the application says, “Do not refer us to your resume” and the applicant writes, “see resume” for each item requested, that is a cause for concern.

What is the oddest thing you ever saw on a resume?
We once had an applicant who listed her “claim to fame” that she could eat an entire box of frozen “Thin Mints” in less than five minutes. That was not a requirement on the job description, so we did not move forward!
Advice for new grads?
Read all directions first. Complete the entire application. Do not utilize the “resume parsing” feature (it does not always show up correctly on our end). Check grammar and spelling. List clinical rotation hours with the location and type of patients. (Do not list the floor number — we want to know what type of patients you worked with on that floor.) There are a lot of new grads who call to ask questions that are very clearly answered in the body of the application. Those new grads are usually not the first to move forward.

LeVell Romeyn Clinical Recruiter Talent Acquisition City of Hope


What do you look for when you scan a nurse’s resume?
A brief summary so I can quickly see what they are looking for. I then look for some experience in the area in which they want to work. I often look at how often they changed past jobs to ensure they have commitment to
a company.
What items on a resume send it straight to the trash?
A resume full of errors or so poorly organized that reading it is a major challenge.
What is the oddest thing you ever saw on a resume?
Email addresses! Some people don’t realize they should have a professional email address.

Jessica Burchett, Human Resources Manager, Casa Colina Hospital and Centers for Healthcare


What do you look for when you scan a nurse’s resume?
Examples of procedures they can perform as well as equipment they use and are familiar with. I also like to see the areas where they have experience.
What items on a resume send it straight to the trash?
I keep all resumes. However, the ones that look like they were cut and pasted right off a Googled job description don’t stand out to me as much. I like to actually see examples of their nursing skills and a little of their passion for nursing from some of the duties/details they list.
What is the oddest thing you ever saw on a resume?
The titles people give their resumes are not always very professional. I received one that was entitled, “One Awesome Resume.”
Advice for new grads?
Take all the extra certification courses you can while you are waiting to get hired. It looks good on a resume and puts you a step ahead of others who don’t have those certifications.

Maria Walker, Human Resources  Recruiter, Beverly Hospital


What do you look for when you scan a nurse’s resume?
I look for the resume to be complete (listing all employment history) and indicate the particular unit they are interested in. It's frustrating to play phone tag with the applicant to try to figure out what unit/shift they are interested in.

What items on a resume send it straight to the trash?
If the resume is incomplete with missing dates of employment, it might get set aside or sent to the trash pretty quickly.

What is the oddest thing you ever saw on a resume?
I received a resume from someone who was in prison. They listed their date of expected release and asked if we would  consider them for employment!

Advice for new grads?
When presenting an application packet, they should include several letters of reference from clinical instructors and/or previous
employers. This helps their packet stand out when we read their references.
If they do their clinical rotations at a hospital they would like to work at, they should get to know the unit manager, director and educators. Those are the ones that will be doing the interviews with the new grad candidates.

Sharon Ash, Recruiting Specialist, Redlands Community Hospital


This article is from workingnurse.com.

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