Your First Nursing Resume

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    Passing NCLEX is one thing. Landing your first nursing job is the next challenge! Check out these tips for writing your first nursing resume.

    Your First Nursing Resume

    Expert note-taker... Fierce clinical bag organizer... Religious consumer of Starbucks seasonal frappucinos...

    If you're like many of today's nursing school graduates, you have your own collection of unique skills that you've acquired during a grueling and challenging undergraduate nursing program. Unfortunately, these commendable qualities aren't resume worthy (ugh, and I thought 'fluent in every color of highlighter' was pretty impressive, too! How else are you supposed to break down a PICO question these days?)

    What does is take to write a high quality resume when you don't have any real-life nursing experience yet? I have edited many resumes for nursing students and almost nurses. Here are my top tips for a killer first resume:


    1. Ditch Microsoft Word Resume Templates

    I still remember walking into my university's success center with my resume in hand. Needless to say, I was embarrassed when the volunteer immediately identified what I thought was a very professional looking resume as a popular Microsoft template he had already seen four times that day (I've since learned). There are a handful of Microsoft resume templates that everyone loves and everyone uses. Why should you avoid these very professional, polished resume templates? That's easy. If your resume looks like every other new graduate's resume, it's not going to stand out.

    What you should do instead:

    If you're good with computers, you can easily create your own resume from scratch. Try finding inspiration by looking at resume examples online. Combine aspects from several resume templates rather than producing a carbon copy of a popular template. Another great option is to check out websites like Etsy. There are tons of customizable resumes that you can purchase as an instant download for just a couple of dollars. With so many to choose from, you can easily find a unique one for you (remember to look for professional templates, as a hot pink polka dot resume is cute, but unprofessional).


    2. One Page Only

    A previous instructor of mine used to screen resumes for potential employees. His words? "If it had a staple, it went into the trash." This really stuck with me. I once edited a resume for a classmate that was four pages in length. Even a resume that extensive was able to be condensed into one page.

    Why do you want a one page resume? What if you can't edit it down to one page? Here's a truth bomb. You want a one page resume because it is professional. As a new graduate, you absolutely do not have enough critical experience that your resume must be more than one page.

    What you should do instead:

    Your resume should be one full page. Nothing more, nothing less. Start by brainstorming all of the relevant things you believe should be on your resume. Eliminate anything before your undergraduate program. Fill the entire page to the bottom and use white space strategically.



    3. Don't List Every Single Clinical Rotation As "Experience"

    This tip may be a bit controversial. The problem with listing every single clinical experience is that it's not particularly unique to you or your program. It's obvious that you attended clinical. Listing every single clinical makes your resume look like the "course description" page in your student manual, and I promise you, you have so much more to put on your resume than that.

    What you should do instead:

    Instead of listing your generic clinical rotations, try adding something a little more unique to you. I'm talking about your clinical practicum. Where did you complete additional hours that many of your classmates did not? Did you land the coveted NICU practicum? Did you work your tail off and spend your extra hours in the ICU? Did you go all out and aim for a busy med-surg unit to perfect your time management? Put that on there. Practicum experience is the only clinical "rotation" that you should claim on your resume because it is additional speciality experience beyond the generic clinicals.


    4. Don't Forget That You Already Have Valuable Material

    Many students struggle with their first resume because they feel that they don't have enough content to put on it. A lot of new grads don't know what to include or where to start. You may feel like your scrounging for content. You don't want to list your campus job at the bookstore on your professional nursing resume, but how else are you to fill it up?

    What you should do instead:

    It's important not to forget that you have a lot of nursing related "things" to put on your resume. For example, are you BLS certified? Employers like to see that you hold the required certifications for the job and that they are current. Think back on previous classes, as many of them include certifications that you may not have even considered as resume worthy (SBIRT certification is a popular one).

    Other things you can include are memberships of nursing organizations, Sigma Theta Tau, nursing related awards, participation in research projects, and volunteer work related to healthcare. In addition to all of these, you can open your resume with an "objective" statement detailing your interest in a particular position. You can also fill dead space with a summary of skills. Maybe you had a practicum in L&D and you got really good at inserting IVs. List that as a skill. Maybe you participated in a motivational interviewing workshop and it's become a strength of yours. List it! If you think carefully, you will find a lot of great experiences to put on your resume.


    5. Use the Right Words

    A lot of new grads don't know how to describe their experience in a way that appeals to future employers. Let's say you volunteer every year at the local drive through flu clinic event. There are a lot of ways you can describe this experience. Take a look at the two examples below:

    Drive Through Flu Clinic Volunteer, Dec. 2008-2010
    • Gave flu shots to people
    • Took donations

    What you should do instead:

    Drive Through Flu Clinic Volunteer, Dec. 2008-2010
    • Administered annual flu shots to the community
    • Collected donations for providing seniors with free vaccinations
    • Distributed reading materials and engaged event participants on the importance of vaccination

    There's not a whole lot of extra words in this second example, but it definitely gives the impression that you did more than just stand around and give vaccinations. Look at the language in both. Words like "gave" and "took" are not as appealing as "administered" and "collected." Notice how the second example includes more than just your physical actions. You advocated for people. You provided education for people. Those things are very important qualities in a nurse. Advertise those qualities in yourself!


    6. Don't be intimidated by being new

    Writing your first nursing resume can be a stressful experience. You have accomplished great things by graduating nursing school, but trying to translate that into an effective resume can be challenging. You may feel frustrated and discouraged trying to create a resume in a competitive job market. You may even feel like your experience isn't good enough to apply for your dream job.

    What you should do instead:

    Breathe. Remember, every nurse was new at some point. Employers know this. No employer is going to expect you, a new graduate, to waltz into their office with loads of experience. They will consider this when looking at your resume. When you show up to interview, be confident in the things you have included on your resume. Be excited about the job. Show that you are willing to put in the work. Smile.


    I hope that these tips help new grads or soon-to-be new grads create the perfect resume for their first nursing job. Congratulations on your achievements! Don't forget to showcase your worth in a resume that you'll be proud of.
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    8 Comments

  3. by   Julius Seizure
    Fantastic tips! I've seen a lot of bad resumes. A well made, professional one can set you apart.
  4. by   LunaTunaPineapple
    These are great tips. I utilized a few of these in my new grad resume along with an awesome letter of application. Just scored my first interview today !
  5. by   Kate_Peds
    Quote from LunaTunaPineapple
    These are great tips. I utilized a few of these in my new grad resume along with an awesome letter of application. Just scored my first interview today !
    That is wonderful! Best of luck to you in the interview process!
  6. by   AlleycatLady
    These are very great tips. Excellent tips. In my past career this is pretty much what I followed until I got past the ten year mark when I needed two pages I'm wondering if a career changer with relevant transferable skills should include some things from past career though.
  7. by   Kate_Peds
    Quote from AlleycatLady
    These are very great tips. Excellent tips. In my past career this is pretty much what I followed until I got past the ten year mark when I needed two pages I'm wondering if a career changer with relevant transferable skills should include some things from past career though.
    Hey, AlleycatLady! I believe that it would be appropriate for a career changer to include transferable skills from previous employment. I have yet to edit the resume of a career changer, but some skills are universal and fit well on all resumes. Great point!
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  9. by   Em CNA2RN
    These are great suggestions. What do you suggest for some one who has been a CNA/PCT for many years and is now applying for their first RN position?? How much detail should I include about this prior healthcare experience?? I feel like I want to demonstrate I'm not totally new to healthcare, but that I understand I'm still a brand new RN.
  10. by   Brian S.
    These are AWESOME tips! Coming up with a resumé which looks different from others and has everything phrased in an appealing fashion takes time but definitely pays off in any job market...

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