How to Write Resumes Like a Pro – Professional Communications



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Injectable Orange Editorial: So the call went out on Twitter for eager bloggers to share there words via and Jennifer replied… big time. This post is the first in what we are hoping to be a series of regular guest posts focussing on professional communication and the so-called “soft skills” of nursing. Enjoy.


How to Write Resumes Like a Pro – Professional Communications

There are many challenges in the nursing profession. One of these is to clearly articulate what we do as nurses, and why our work is valuable. There is a great deal of variety in nursing roles, and it can be hard to pinpoint our expert contributions. We give medication, but we are not pharmacists. We mobilize patients, but we are not physiotherapists. The media is also full of negative images of nurses, whether they be hyper-sexualized or diminutive. As a profession, we have an uphill battle when it comes to articulating our worth and value.

Fighting for credibility and recognition is as old as the nursing profession. Florence Nightingale invented modern statistics, and the graph (yes, she made the first visual representations of data EVER) in order to demonstrate the impact of her interventions in Crimea. There are many examples of Florence taking nursing from something regarded as slightly better than prostitution and creating a respectable profession.

In the modern era, we continue to advocate for ourselves as nurses. A perfect example of this is with resumes. Many nurses I meet view resumes as a necessary evil, a summary list of tasks written to get a job. I see resumes differently. What a nurse is really doing when they write a resume is creating a professional document, highlighting their value and potential contributions as a member of a team. Resumes are not just a list for when you prepare to change jobs; they are an active record of what you do as a professional and why it matters. It is essential that nurses are able to speak and write strongly about the profession, and resumes are a great way to start.

Where Do I Start?

I encourage nurses to have 3 key documents: a master list of everything you have ever done, a functional CV, and a resume. To differentiate: a master list includes all of your accomplishments, a CV is 4-5 pages and includes the key highlights across a comprehensive spread of subjects, and a resume is 2 pages max and is specific to a job posting. If you were Johnny Depp, the master list would contain all your movies, a CV would highlight roles under Villians, Romantic Leads, Voiceover Work, and a resume would be Mentally Unstable Protagonists Who Can Do Stunts.

It can be daunting to go back and dig up all of this information, if you haven’t written a resume in a while. Don’t wait for a job application to come along, be ready to go with professional documents. I liken this to shaving your legs for the first time in the spring; the first go round is brutal, but after that, the maintenance is much easier (at least for us Canadians!).

            The next piece is to organize your information by general categories. These can vary widely, but there are three things you must include: work experience, formal education, and continuing education. If you don’t have recent continuing education, get some. This is a professional standard, and is absolutely essential to any resume. Other areas can include presentations, publications, volunteer experience, leadership opportunities, mentorship roles etc. When you are formatting your resume, lead with your strongest suit. If you have lots of work experience, start there. If you are a recent grad, your education goes first.

What Do I Say?

The single biggest mistake nurses make on resumes is to list psychomotor skills they can do, or places they have worked. If you list tasks, a manager will see that you can complete tasks. If you highlight your leadership and advocacy skills, a manager will see that they are going to interview someone who can make a valuable contribution. Drive the discourse towards your potential contributions. As you have limited space, you will want to include lots of “resume ninjas”- phrases that are short and sweet, but pack some major punch.

For Example:

Poor: Worked at a 10 bed inpatient facility in Guysborough. Assessed patients, administered medications, full and accurate charting, and worked with physicians.

All this tells me is that you can do the bare legal minimum required of any nurse.

Much better: Clinical nurse with 10 years of experience providing care for diverse populations at rural transfer centre. Formal leadership role as Charge Nurse, and member of interdisciplinary steering committee.

Now we’re cooking with gas. This says, you can work in a rural area- thus, you can critically think. The people there trusted you to run the facility. You also cared enough about your workplace to be involved in something.

Resume Ninja: Leader for in-patient education relating to hemodialysis decision-making and family support.

This tells me a) you know about dialysis, both inpatient and at discharge b) you understand the importance of patient teaching c) you know that there are complex ethical issues surrounding hemodialysis, and you know that it is a nursing role to provide support d) you have good communication skills e) you can work with people. Bam!

I always encourage nurses to focus on how they lead, advocate, communicate, plan, negotiate, coordinate, facilitate, implement, spearhead, critically think etc. Write with confidence about what we do and why it matters.

(Caveat: there are exceptions to the skills list rule- if you have advanced psychomotor skills, such as hemodialysis, those merit inclusion. The trick here is to associate the skill with the higher-level competencies, such as critical thinking or troubleshooting).

Also, a general disclaimer for language: NEVER call yourself a staff, frontline, or bedside nurse. Associate what you do with one of the domains of practice: research, administration, clinical practice, or education. If you treat patients, you are a clinical nurse. If you teach, you are a nurse educator. Link your role to its pillar in the profession.flowchart

I’ve Got the Content. Now What?

Before submitting a resume, is important to deciding what content is most important to include (remember, 2 page max!). Here, focus on recent and relevant. Generally, you want to include things from the last 5 years or so, depending on the number of items under each category. However, if you worked in the OR 15 years ago, and you are applying for an OR position, add that piece to demonstrate that you have experience in the area.

Some nurses that I work with are very hesitant to remove items from their resume. Remember, you want to demonstrate the best fit for the position, and the resume is to get   an interview, not a job. You can elaborate about your qualifications during an interview. It is also important to look at the job posting, as colleagues in human resources generally do the first cut of resumes, not nurse managers. Therefore, if the posting says they are looking for someone who can work as part of an interdisciplinary team, your resume needs to demonstrate that you can do team work.

Before you submit a resume, have a friend or family member look it over. Make sure the font is size 12, either Arial or Times New Roman. This is not the place to go out on a limb with new fonts or formatting, especially if you submit electronically. Make sure all the bullets line up, the layout is clear, and it is 100% spelling/grammatical error free. If there are mistakes on a resume, it will go in the garbage.

Dare to Share!

Now that you have a resume ready to go, keep it updated as you complete more continuing education. If you have sections that could benefit from some more points, seek out new opportunities, like conferences. When a new professional opportunity presents itself, you will be ready to share your experiences and land a new job. You will also be a strong advocate for nursing, as you can clearly articulate why nurses matter.


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