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Infographic: Secrets ofResume Formatting

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Ask nurse recruiters about their biggest pet peeve on the resumes they review, and you might get different answers. Some will complain about too much detail, others about missing contact information. Still others will bemoan how much they hate, hate, hate poorly organized resumes — the kind that makes them work to understand what a nursing job candidate has done and wants to do. (Hint: Disorderly resumes proceed directly to the trash bin.)

Across the board, recruiters share one complaint: Sloppy resumes with errors in spelling, grammar, or punctuation.

“We see it far more often than we’d like,” says Ellie Koch, Ancillary Recruiter at Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, Calif.

Chances are you won’t be forgiven for a typo, especially when your resume is stacked up against a multitude of others that correctly dot their I’s and cross their T’s.

“Candidates should make sure everything looks accurate before they hit the send button on their resume,” says Koch, who has worked as a healthcare recruiter at Eisenhower Medical Center for 14 years.

After all, even a simple oops on a resume won’t showcase your attention to detail, an important attribute for any position in nursing.

“Your resume is a precise representation of you and what you’ve done [in your career],” Koch says. “In the absence of meeting a candidate face-to-face, interviewers are looking at a resume as a snapshot of who you are and what you’ve accomplished.”

The Fix

Fortunately, there’s an easy, two-prong method to avoid spelling and other mistakes on your resume. First, resist the temptation to cut corners, no matter how rushed you are to get in line for a hot position. Use your computer software’s spelling- and grammar-checking function, or sign up for a free online checker, such as Grammarly.

“Typos are 100% unnecessary today. We all have spell check,” Koch says.

Next, since software has its limits, seek out an extra set of eyes — someone willing to spend a few moments carefully reviewing your document. If there’s a writer or editor among your friends or family, consider them your go-to person; or ask a school advisor, colleague, or mentor who knows and understands nursing and medical terminology. Regardless of your reviewer’s background, ask him or her to be picky with a critique. You don’t need your feelings spared when it comes to something as important as your job prospects.

A resume free of error will help tell your work story to a prospective employer. And a resume is just that — a story, one that describes in an abbreviated form where you’ve been workwise, what you’ve accomplished in your career, and what you’d like to do as the next step in your professional life.

Here are additional tips to help you tell a standout story with your resume:

The Art of Resume Writing

Resume writing might be considered both an art and a science.

The art part involves discretionary features, such as the words you select to describe your experience or highlight your passions.

Certain buzzwords, such as “managed” or “coordinated” are typically, even predictably, found in resumes. While such words are not wrong to use, if descriptions of your experience include the same word or phrase over and again, mix up the language. Turn to a thesaurus to help guide your word choices.

Also, use active verbs and avoid words that clog or unnecessarily lengthen an explanation of past work experience. Consider, for example, these active verbs:




consulted (with)







interacted (with)




responded (to)


Active tense and varied word choices can help keep a prospective employer engaged in your resume story.

“Candidates should make sure when they’re drafting their resumes to keep their target audience in mind,” Koch says. “They should be mindful of who’s reviewing their resumes — a human resources professional or recruiter. A candidate should ask him- or herself, ‘How easy is my resume to read? Does it have a good flow of information? Is the pertinent information there?’

“Put yourself in the shoes of the interviewer,” Koch advises.

The Science Part: Optimization

Creative word choice can help to keep a reviewer engaged in your resume, but you’ll better your chances of making it through the applicant screening process by applying a digital strategy to your selections, as well.

Technology has changed the manner in which resumes are reviewed. You’ll likely submit your resume for a given job online, and the majority of healthcare organizations, including Eisenhower Medical Center, use applicant tracking systems, or ATS, to screen nursing job candidates.

ATS employ software that automates the applicant screening process. Without human involvement, the software links the experience and education outlined in a resume to the requirements listed in the job posting for which the resume is submitted. In other words, ATS software scans resumes to parse, or analyze, their content; find words or phrases that match those found in the job description; and store them in a database. It then ranks resumes within the database (yours and your competitors’) based on the quality and quantity of those matches.

To ensure your resume achieves a high rank — making it more likely to be seen by a reviewer — you need to think like a database and optimize it. Optimization boils down to carefully reviewing the job post for a position and teasing out words or phrases (known as “keywords”) that align with your experience and education. As a best practice, use these keywords in the relevant sections of your resume, such as your qualifications summary or the education segment.

Be exact when you optimize keywords throughout your resume: An ATS will base rankings on the precise words used in a job post.

Read a detailed explanation of ATS and optimization in this article.

Pulling It All Together

Technology has changed the resume review process, but the recommended layout of resumes — how the content appears and functions on a page — has remained fairly consistent for years.


Strict rules about the length of resumes have been sidelined by ATS use; the software isn’t instructed to notice how long or short your resume is.

But bear in mind that if your resume passes ATS scrutiny, a human reviewer will still look at it. They’re busy people, so it’s beneficial to be as succinct as possible.

“There’s no hard rule for a resume’s length,” says Koch, “but it’s vital to be well organized and concise.”

If they edit wisely, most nurses (and definitely new graduate nurses) can keep their resume to a single page — unless they have 10 or more years of experience and have published research or other material, in which case they’d require more space. Even so, if you’ve amassed a good deal of relevant experience and technical skills in a few years, by all means share the information, just in as few pages as possible.

What’s most important is tailoring your resume’s narrative to a job post’s requirements.

“Making the link between your experience and a job opportunity is critical,” says Koch. “You can have the best resume in the world in terms of form; but when your experience doesn’t relate to an available position, a reviewer will think it’s great but not suitable for the job requirements.”

The connection between experience and job requirements “can be the difference between not being selected and moving on in the process,” Koch says.

Concentrate on the skills and achievements that relate to the specific job for which you’re applying. Refrain from itemizing every aspect of your experience. Brief is better. Your overall goal is to highlight your qualifications, not emphasize minute details of your experience.

“A nurse who has practiced for 35 years, for example, should give a full picture of what he or she has done but not be extreme in the details,” explains Koch. “Interviewers like to see relevant experience, but we prefer information about time spent recently in a job. You don’t need to detail a job you had in 1972.”

Organization – Experienced Nurses

Recruiters prefer experienced nurses’ resumes be organized chronologically rather than around a skill set. That means your work history and education should be appear in reverse chronological order, with your most recent employment experience or degree listed first.

Most often, experienced nurses’ resumes are arranged in standard sections. With the exception of your name and contact information, each section should use common titles that will be recognizable to an ATS.

Name and contact information — Of course, this part is so basic it’s hard to imagine it being left off or incomplete. Still, reviewers say it happens. Order the information on separate lines, one each for your name, followed by your mailing address, phone number, and personal email address. Use dashes between numbers in your phone information so it’s more readily readable by an ATS. Omit any social media names or accounts.

Summary (a/k/a Qualification Summary) This is an ideal section to customize your resume for a particular job and employ keywords for optimization. State your years of experience, relevant skills, and chief accomplishments, preferably within a couple of sentences. Use as many keywords as possible, but don’t load them up in bullet points. Your summary should provide a brief narrative of the expertise you can bring to the job. If you have special skills that can set you apart, such as bilingual ability and/or computer or other skills that show you’re technically savvy, grab a reviewer’s attention by including them in the summary at the top of your resume.

Experience (a/k/a Professional Experience) — Avoid possible problems with an ATS ranking by listing each item in your work history in the following sequence: Employer’s full name, location, job title, dates employed, and a bulleted list of major responsibilities and achievements. In your job responsibilities, include details such as number of beds and caseload — both important data points for reviewers.

Education — Reverse chronological order applies here, as do keywords. List each school you’ve attended with its location and the degree you earned. Include any awards or honors you achieved.

Professional Memberships — State your affiliation with professional organizations (i.e., member or associate), the organizations’ full names (no abbreviations!), and the length of your membership (e.g., 2010 – present).

Licensure/Certifications — List relevant certifications and their expiration dates; and clearly label your nursing license number, along with its expiration date.

Publications — If you’ve been published in a healthcare journal or book chapter, don’t forget this section! Note whether the material was co-written and include its publication (or expected publication) date.

Volunteer Activities — Show your above-and-beyond nature with a short list of volunteer activities. Prospective employers respond well to off-the-job service. Koch says even volunteer activities that are not related to healthcare count because they demonstrate an inclination to community service.

Organization – New Grads

If you’re a new graduate nurse, there’s no escaping the fact your resume will lack clinical experience. That’s ok; the same guidelines and optimization recommendations outlined here apply to your resume. You’ll just have to structure it a little differently.

At minimum, include these sections in your resume:

  • Name and contact information
  • Summary
  • Education
  • Clinical Rotations

A note on summaries: Be upfront and identify yourself as a new graduate. Recap your clinical rotations and include any certifications you’ve earned or special skills you possess. Limit your summary to one or two sentences. In this instance, it’s also acceptable to use short bullet points.

If you have work experience that’s relevant to the job for which you’re applying, include it under an “Experience” or “Work History” section. But don’t discount customer service positions you’ve held.

“Previous customer service experience is good to see,” says Koch. “A large part of nursing has a customer service component in terms of working and communicating with patients and families.”

A single page should be enough to capture a new grad’s experience, Koch says. If they apply to your circumstances, make room for other sections, such as:

  • Affiliations (professional organizations, such as the National Student Nurses Association)
  • Volunteer Activities
  • Honors and Awards
  • Certifications (ACLS, for example) or Skills (such as languages or specific, related technical abilities)


Professional nursing resumes amount to straightforward text documents. Skip the fancy borders and typefaces, and forget about images. ATS programs won’t recognize them; and if they confuse the system, your resume could get booted from consideration.

Most ATS companies say their programs can accept resumes in a variety of file formats, but Microsoft Word is always a safe bet.

Spend a few moments here for more tips on proper resume formatting.

The effort you put into creating a well groomed, organized, and optimized resume will be worth it when you land the perfect nursing job. When you’re ready, search our open positions and post your masterpiece with Eisenhower Medical Center.

Originally posted on 6/6/2017

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