Tips for Nurses – Resume, Cover Letter and Social Networking

by Sharon Elber


If you are a nurse in the job search, this guide will give you the information you need to make your resume and cover letter get noticed by potential employers. In addition, read on to learn some important tips for making the most of social networking to build your list of professional contacts and learn about important job opportunities.

We will start with some general tips to keep in mind while preparing your application to a prospective job. Then we will go into more detail, covering specific tips for writing a strong nurse resume and cover letter.

1) Do Your Research

Before diving in to write your resume and cover letter, take your time to do some research on the job and institution. Look on their website to learn more about the key values of the institution, such as patient centered care or providing outstanding care to economically disadvantaged people.

Once you have a sense for the values of the organization, get a sense of its structure and where your department falls within the overall big picture.

Finally, learn more about the people you are likely to meet during an interview, such as the senior nursing staff and doctors working in a clinic. Use the company website and professional networking sites such as LinkedIn to learn more. What are their special areas of research? How long have they been practicing? Try to better understand their priorities when it comes to patient care.

Strong research about the position, company, and people you will be working with will allow you to make sure your resume and cover letter are strongly targeted to the needs and orientation of your future employer. This is an excellent way to make sure your application materials get noticed and make it to the top of the stack.

2) Job Specific Keywords

It is not uncommon for large employers such as hospitals to use automated Applicant Tracking Systems to scan the resumes and sometimes cover letters of nurse applicants. These programs look for specific keywords to make sure you possess the necessary qualifications prior to forwarding your application materials on to a human reviewer.

It is therefore important to try to make sure the right keywords appear in your resume, although they should do so naturally. One of the best places to find what these important keywords may be is in the job description itself. Mirror the language used where possible to ensure your application materials make it past this first round of review. Another way to find out is to do some internet research for keywords that are used in your discipline or area of expertise.

Since recruiters for top employers are also likely to use similar keywords to find qualified nurses on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn, be sure your social networking profiles also naturally use the right keywords so you can easily be found by interested employers.

Nurse Resumes

1) Resume Format for Nurses

In most cases, and this is particularly true if you have recent experience working in the field, a reverse chronological format is your best bet. This allows you to make the most of your past work to showcase the skills, qualifications, and on-the-job knowledge you have gained in your career. Employers want to make sure you can hit the ground running, and this is the best way to do it.

However, if you are entering the nursing field after an absence from work or from another line of work altogether, then it may be beneficial to consider a functional or combination format to put emphasis on the transferable skills you have gained that will help you step into your nursing shoes and thrive in your new position.

2) Resume Sections for Nurses

Given the serious nature of delivering healthcare to ill and injured patients, the standard for resumes in nursing is traditional and focused on function over form. Keep the sections of your resume simple, direct, and focused on the facts.

Here are the most commonly used resume sections for nurses:

  • Name
  • Contact Information
  • Professional Summary
  • Education and Certifications
  • Work History

i) Professional Summary

Not all situations call for a professional summary on a nursing resume. For example, if you happen to be new to your career and are applying for an entry level nursing position, it may not help the strength of your resume.

On the other hand, if you are a seasoned professional who possesses the training and experience in an area of expertise related to an advanced nursing position, a professional summary can help you make that very clear to the hiring manager right off the bat.

A professional summary should not be generic. In order to be effective, it needs to name your specific areas of expertise, passion, experience, and stand out achievements relative to what the employer is looking for as a model employee in that position. As such, you do need to take some time to imagine yourself in the role and name those aspects of your professional development that best meet the likely needs of your future employer.

ii) Education and Certifications

Lead this section with information on your nursing degree including the name of the college, year of graduation, and GPA (if you earned a 3.5 or higher, otherwise drop the GPA). If your state requires specific licensure to practice nursing, list that information along with expiration date (if applicable).

In addition, this is an opportunity to list any special certifications that you may hold relative to specialized areas of expertise and care. For example, you may be a Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN) which will give you an edge if you are applying for a job in the children’s wing of a hospital. In addition, include any board certifications that you hold along with the date you received them.

iii) Work History

If you have experience working as a nurse, then your work history section is your chance to provide a more detailed picture of the responsibilities you have held and key skills you have picked up. It also gives the reader a sense of the special areas of expertise you may have that make you a particularly good fit for their needs.

In addition to including the name of your employer, years worked, and your title, it is important that you also mention somewhere in each work history entry the type of facility you worked at (nursing home, acute care, pediatrics, etc.), the general size of your case load, and any specialized care you provided (such as administering medications or assisting with physical rehabilitation).

If you are fresh out of your nursing training, you may not have extensive work experience in the field. However, it is appropriate to detail any experience you received during your practicums or residency programs. When detailing your past employment in another line of work, focus on the types of skills and responsibilities that are transferable to nursing, such as time management, communication, organization, attention to detail, and/or leadership skills.

If you did a variety of work in each role, be sure to emphasize the work that is most relevant to the specific job you are applying to so your new employer can visualize you performing well in your new role.

3) Resume Design for Nurses

Keep the design of your resume simple and easy to read. Avoid getting too creative with your resume as it is likely to make you look unprofessional and it can hurt the readability of this critical document if the employer uses an applicant tracking system.

Use the same font throughout to keep a consistent and traditional look. (Times New Roman or Arial are the standard.) You can feel free to use different sized text, bolding, and italics to help make your sections pop. Simple lines and bullet lists are also acceptable, especially if they add to the readability of your document.

The length of your nursing resume should be between 1-3 pages, depending on your level of expertise and experience. Allow the information that you need to include which most conveys your qualifications and fit for the job to determine resume length.

See resume samples in healthcare.

Nurse Cover Letters

Your cover letter is your opportunity to introduce yourself to the hiring manager and put your best foot forward to showcase your fit for their needs. Here are some nursing cover letter tips to make sure you make the best impression possible.

1) Customize Your Cover Letter

While this advice is true in all job sectors, it is critical for nurses. Each healthcare context has unique needs. For example, large ICUs need fast and efficient time management from their employees while smaller scale private practices are likely to be focused on providing personalized care to cultivate lifelong loyalty among patients.

Each cover letter you write should bring focus by emphasizing those skills, credentials, experience, and accomplishments that will most resonate with the needs of your future employer. While much of this information may already be on your resume, the cover letter is a chance to highlight what makes you the strongest candidate for the position.

2) Demonstrate That You Did Your Research

Remember that bit about doing your research we mentioned at the top of this article? This is where that can really come into play and help you stand out above other candidates. By mentioning something you have learned about the company or the position itself, you can show that you have done your homework. It can be very impressive to hiring managers to see that you have a strong sense for the work you will be doing and are ready to fit well into their existing team.

3) Express Your Passion

One way to bring in the human element into your nursing cover letter is to communicate your passion for the specific type of work you will be doing. For example, if you choose to specialize in oncology after helping a family member through a difficult cancer treatment, this can boost the memorability of your application as well as show potential employers that you will be invested in the care you provide your patients.

4) Name Your Contacts

If you happen to have a professional contact at the facility you are applying to who is willing to speak to your strong work ethic, passion for nursing, or high quality care, then you should consider mentioning that in your cover letter.

For example, if you learned about the position through a doctor with whom you worked at another institution you might include this sentence in your first paragraph: “I was very excited to learn about this opportunity to provide the children of Monroeville with high quality healthcare from Dr. Sarah Smith, with whom I worked at Montgomery Regional Hospital from 2012-2015.”

See cover letter samples in healthcare.

Using Social Media: Tips for Nurses

1) HIPAA Compliance

Remember that social media of any kind is considered a public space. It is always extremely important to consider patient confidentiality before posting content or even private messaging on social media sites. This means never sharing Protected Health Information (PHI) such as name, social security number, account numbers or any other identifying information when discussing any cases.

2) Make the Most of LinkedIn

Because of its focus on helping professionals showcase their credentials, connect with others in their field, and even learn about and apply for jobs, LinkedIn is the leading social media site when it comes to building your professional network. And, nurses at every stage of their career can benefit from learning to use it well.

Start by developing your profile so that it is complete, comprehensive, and up to date. Use the headline to state more than your title: Take the space to write a sentence about what makes you unique by naming a few of your strengths, values, or specializations. Think of it as your personal brand tagline. Then, use the summary to add some more detail including a few of your greatest accomplishments in a professional setting.

The Skills and Endorsement section of your LinkedIn profile is of particular importance to nurses in the job search. Make sure yours is up to date so recruiters looking for top talent with your qualifications can find you through the site’s search tool.

In addition, find groups related to your areas of expertise. Start following and participating in discussions led by leaders in the healthcare field that inspire you to bring your best to the table. Connect with other nurses by initiating meaningful conversations. In addition, consider following the large healthcare employers in your area so you can stay on top of job announcements and local healthcare news.

3) Doximity: A Healthcare Community Networking Platform

One of the largest social media platforms designed with healthcare practitioners in mind, Doximity boasts being the number #1 social media platforms for clinicians. In addition, 45% of all Nurse Practitioners in the U.S. are verified members of their site. Suffice to say, it is an excellent opportunity to get connected with others practicing in your area of expertise and start building a professional network that will serve your career development in the long term.

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