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Resume ready

Tips to make your resume stand out

Monday August 29, 2011
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Whether on paper or online, resumes are the keys that open potential employers' doors. Knowing what nurse recruiters and others charged with hiring want to see can make the difference between a resume that makes or doesn't make the cut.

"The resume is the first view that an employer has of an individual," said Denise Davin, JD, senior vice president, chief human resources officer and labor counsel at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York in New York City.

Davin said employers draw conclusions from the document, including whether a nurse is well-organized, thoughtful, analytical and pays attention to detail.

Not to err

Yet, those whose jobs are to scan resumes and hire nurses continue to be bogged down with typos, grammatical errors and other blatant mistakes.

"I've received resumes where I didn't find out until the end of the resume that they were actually nurses," said Karen DeLorenzo, RN, BSN, CHCR, director of nursing recruitment and retention at Lutheran Medical Center in Brooklyn, N.Y. "Some have been addressed to the wrong facility ..."

That carelessness is not reserved for the inexperienced. "You'd be surprised at how many resumes I see at my level for people who are looking for management positions who come through with typos and grammatical errors," said Rosanne Raso, RN, MS, NEA-BC, senior vice president of patient care services and CNO at Lutheran Medical Center.


Donna Cardillo, RN
As, Bs and Cs of resume writing

There are essential components of the nursing resume, experts say. Resumes usually are two-page documents that focus on work experience, credentials, education, etc. The curriculum vitae is a longer, expanded version of the resume, reserved more for doctoral degree-driven environments, such as academia, research and publishing, said Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, who writes the career advice column Dear Donna for Nurse.com.

Nurse recruiters commonly look for resumes that detail work experience chronologically, starting with the current or most recent job. Experts agree candidates should elaborate on at least the first few jobs.

After work experience, nurses should include education, license, certifications and contact information. Some resumes also include a sentence or two at the top summarizing the candidate's strengths, Cardillo said.

Cardillo said references are best left off the resume because nurses should provide those after they've been interviewed or when the employer requests, but some recruiters said they expect to see references on the resume.

Be brief

It's a myth that nursing resumes should be limited to one page, Cardillo said. "By the time you get to one or two jobs, your credentials, education and license, you're on two pages, easily," she said. "Two pages is the longest it should be ... though, there are always some exceptions."

A nurse with decades of varied experience can go back 15 to 20 years, especially if that experience applies to the job he or she is seeking. If there are too many jobs to list without making the resume pages long, the nurse might go into detail about the first few positions and summarize the rest of his or her work history in a sentence or two at the end of the work experience section, Cardillo said.

Shine on paper

Experts said they look at resumes that are to-the-point, well-organized and free of mistakes. "It's key that the resume be well-written; that it be in a simple font, whether it's Arial or New Times Roman; that good use is made of bold for key categories, like experience and education; and that the resume be bulleted," Davin said. "I prefer to read something in outline form and bullets."

Resume formats have changed, Cardillo said, because people who receive nursing resumes don't read them; rather, they scan them.

"Years ago, we used to use long paragraphs, full sentences, etc. That's completely out," Cardillo said. "One needs to use what is known as the high-impact format of writing, where you're using a bulleted format (one bullet for each point of information under each position). [Another change is] using short, truncated sentences, rather than complete sentences."

Job descriptions should show commitment to nursing, professional growth and development, Raso said.

"If you were a surgical ICU nurse, it would be helpful to know that it was in a trauma center; so, you had level-one trauma patients. And that you were in charge, and you were a member of the clinical practice committee," Raso said.

Recruiters look for specific words and terms tailored to each job description, said Filomena Mazzone, human resources manager/recruitment at Atlantic Health System in Morristown, N.J. Mazzone will scan a resume for the words "OR" or "operating room nurse" for an OR nurse job posting. Simply writing "nurse" wouldn't make a resume for that posting stand out, she explained.

While nurses should be specific, they should not use language specific to an employer when describing jobs held.

"Example: They work at ABC Hospital and their orthopedic floor is called B2. So, they'll write on the resume that they work on B2. I don't know what that means. If you're writing a resume you have to spell out oncology, orthopedics, pediatrics ... so that the reader understands where you're working and what your expertise is," Mazzone said.

There is a section nurses — especially those who are not using cover letters — might include at the top of the resume. Cardillo said that used to be an objective statement about the kind of job a candidate was seeking. Today, it's more of a marketing statement.

"[I don[']t recommend the objective statement] because it's either too specific or it's just sort of fluffy and meaningless," Cardillo said. "A summary, in this case, would be two or three powerful, punchy sentences that give people an overview of your work experience and strong personality traits."

Even new nurses can elaborate on things that would stand out to employers, Raso said. "[New nurses] should include some kind of volunteer work or past experience that shows initiative, commitment and passion for the profession," Raso said.

It's not necessary for nurses to tailor their resumes to each job opening, Cardillo said. Nurses should have one resume with all the needed information. They can customize it to what they're seeking in the cover letter, she said.

"You should always include a cover letter with the resume, unless the employer specifically requests that [you don[']t]," Cardillo said. "[The cover letter] is a narrative about several things: what position you're applying for, how your background is suited for that particular position, that sort of thing."


Rosa McLeish
Online versus print

Many employers, especially large ones, are going to online job application systems. In most cases, nurses fill out the applications and attach or paste in their resumes.

Rosa McLeish, healthcare recruiter at Putnam Hospital Center in Carmel, N.Y., said responding to job postings online, versus emailing or mailing a resume and cover letter, comes with its own dos and don'ts.

McLeish said nurses should be sure to follow application instructions. "The biggest back-and-forth conversation I have with potential hires is, 'Why can't I send you my resume?' Well, that's not the protocol. The protocol is that you have to fill out the online application and attach (cut and paste or download) your resume," McLeish said.

Emailing the resume with a cover letter is not the protocol. And doing so will land job applicant resumes in the junk file, she said.

"In this day and age, you have to be savvy. You must [be prepared to] fill out an online application," McLeish said. "Times have changed. The applicant pool has increased 10-fold. So, you're not the only one out there. You need to put your best foot forward. The first presentation to a possible employer is your resume and your application. If you don't take the time to proofread your work ... that takes you out of the running."


Lisette Hilton is a freelance writer. Send letters to editorNY@nurse.com or post a comment below.
Learn more

• Donna Cardillo’s book, “The Ultimate Career Guide for Nurses” published by Gannett Healthcare Group, includes more career advice and resume samples. For information or to buy the book, visit www.DCardillo.com.

• Google the words “resume writing” to find a plethora of free resources.

• New versions of Microsoft Word and other programs offer resume templates.

• Receive quick career advice from Donna Cardillo, RN, online at www.Nurse.com/AsktheExperts/DearDonna. Leaf through past answers to see if your question has already been discussed.


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