According to the most recent report compiled by the National Center for Health Workforce Analysis, the number of new nurse graduates entering the workforce increased from approximately 68,000 in 2001 to more than 150,000 in 2013—a figure that’s likely to keep rising. As with so many other career fields, competition for that first nursing job can be stiff.

Constructing a resume that best represents what you can offer as well as what you’re looking for is paramount to getting out of the slush pile. While experts differ a bit on their resume advice, we’ve culled some pointers to get you started.

Present and Past

Be upfront (and excited!) about being a new nurse grad. Because nursing is so broad, organizations from hospitals to clinics to skilled nursing facilities have expectations for you as a new nurse. And nurse recruiters can assume you’ve had pretty much the same clinical experience as your fellow nursing students. It’s better to be straight and illustrate why you can be a valuable member of the team. If you’re interested in emergency medicine, for instance, did you volunteer as an EMT or with your local fire department? If you want critical care, do your experiences and certifications support this? 

Also, don’t underestimate the worth of your previous work outside of health care. Many of you may have had summer jobs or even chosen nursing as a second career. Don’t discount the responsibilities you held and the skills you honed elsewhere, as they may well apply to nursing. Theresa Mazzaro, RN, BA, CHCR, a nurse recruiter for the Adventist HealthCare new grad RN residency program and the communications director for the National Association for Health Care Recruitment, says to “think about what has health care become” and then “connect the dots” as to why your prior positions are important. Did you engage in teamwork, demonstrate compassion, and communicate with others? If you were a supermarket manager, for example, you dealt with customers all day; how does this translate to being a nurse?

Resume Rules

The structure of your resume should ideally start with a brief two- to three-sentence summary at the top that offers an overview of your mission and skills. This is an opportunity to tell why you want to be a nurse, why you’re interested in a particular nursing role or area, what you seek to contribute, and what you hope to gain.

Recommended subsequent headings include:

1. Education

Be sure to include your school and location, graduation year, degree, and GPA.

2. Licensures/Certifications

List the full name of the issuing body, expiration date, and licensure/certification number (if applicable). An applicant who goes above and beyond with certifications, such as PALS, “shows drive and initiative,” says Jannise T. Baclig, PhD, RN, the clinical content director at The Center for the Advancement of Healthcare Professionals at AMN Healthcare, a national health care staffing company.

3. Clinical Rotations

Include the name of the hospital/institution and location, the unit or department, number of beds (if applicable), age/type of patients cared for, your responsibilities and achievements, and the start and end dates. Clinical rotations are an important part of your resume, but keep your descriptions succinct, as recruiters are quite familiar with these clinical experiences and appreciate what Mazzaro describes as “brief snippets.”

4. Work Experience

List your nursing internships, past positions, and summer jobs.

5. Volunteer Activities and Professional Affiliations

Include any student-nursing organizations, civic associations, church groups, et cetera. “If [applicants are] active in whatever they’re passionate about, that’s what we want to see,” says Mazzaro.

6. Honors and Awards

List any awards you have received and include any published clinical articles.

7. Skills Summary

Make sure you include any computer capabilities you have, your electronic medical record experience, and any languages you speak.

While there’s no definitive headings order, Baclig advises listing your education, licensures/certifications, and clinical rotations on the first page of your resume. Expand to more than one page if warranted; utilize bullet points to lend a clean, easy-to-read look; and use standard fonts like Times New Roman and Helvetica.

Going Digital

These days, many employers use applicant tracking systems and keyword scanning to search through and select from the numerous resumes they receive for every job. Keywords are words or phrases that express the essence of online content. When applying for a position, you can find the best keywords from either the job description or the organization’s website and then incorporate them into your resume and/or cover letter. Baclig says that looking through resumes, “we get a clue whether or not [applicants have] really researched the organization.”

Regardless of what’s on your resume, make sure to proofread it. If you’re including a cover letter, check that it’s addressed to the correct facility. And if you list an email as part of your contact information, make sure it sounds professional.

Julie Jacobs

Julie Jacobs is an award-winning writer with special interest and expertise in health care, wellness, and lifestyle. Visit her online at

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