The Clip.

What you need to know as a nurse in this modern world.

How to write a new grad nurse resume

How to write a new grad nurse resume

New Grad Nurses are in a tough spot.

Most nurses never learned how to properly write a resume in school because we were too busy cramming for tests and writing up care plans.

To make matters worse, many of the new grad programs only hire once or twice a year, and hiring managers often won’t consider graduates who have been out of school longer than 12 months.

This environment has created a high-pressure job market for new nurses that is incredibly competitive as thousands of new grads line up for the opportunity to get a job.

 An artist's depiction of the New Grad Nurse Job Hunt

An artist's depiction of the New Grad Nurse Job Hunt

In fact, only 56% of nursing students have a job lined up by graduation, which is absolutely scary given the limited window that new nurses have to get into residency programs.

I’m not going to lie to you, the job hunt for new nurses is no joke.

It is a brutal, Hunger Games-style Knife Party; and it is the most important test you will face in your young career.

I don’t have to keep hammering you about how crappy the job situation is; I’m sure many of you are right in the thick of it as we speak. So let’s talk about what you can do to make the few shots you have really count.

Here are 5 fundamental concepts about resumes that you absolutely have to understand before you send out a single resume:

  • The 6 Second Rule.

  • The Best Length for a New Grad Nurse Resume.

  • The Proper Layout.

  • How to Optimize Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems

  • How to Choose the Right Keywords.

#1. The 6 Second Rule.

Forbes recently reported that Hiring Managers take 6 seconds to determine if you are fit for the job when looking at your resume.

It’s sad...but true.

 Moments Before Learning What A Saber-Toothed Tiger Looks Like

Moments Before Learning What A Saber-Toothed Tiger Looks Like

Humans are wired to make snap judgments about everything; and once that decision is made, it’s very difficult to convince someone to change their mind.  This behavior is a relic from our ancestors, when prehistoric man didn’t have the time to make a pro/con list before deciding whether or not to run from something.

Whether it’s a face-to-face interview, a resume, or every day decisions that profoundly affect our lives, our brains are hardwired to make quick decisions on incomplete information: We are not as rational as we think.

In Dan Ariely’s famous Ted Talk linked above, he explains how humans can be tricked into making the wrong decision, and STILL have a tendency to believe that their first impression is incontrovertible, even when presented with proof that their judgment was wrong.

Instead of fighting against these irrational tendencies and hoping that hiring managers will “see you for who you really are,” you can flip the script and take advantage of this information, presenting yourself in a way that makes it easy to decide that you’re fit for the job.  

One of the best ways to do this is to optimize the length of your resume.

#2. The Best Length For A Nurse Resume

It’s one page…ideally.

To expect a reader to make a fair judgment about 2 pages of resume info in 6 seconds or less (despite mountains of evidence suggesting otherwise) is a long-shot at best.

Editing your resume down to one page makes it easier for the reader to get a better snapshot of who you are as a candidate.

That being said, it’s challenging as a new grad to include all of your work information AND clinical information onto one page, so I often advise new grads that it’s OK to have a second page that only has clinical rotation information.

That way, the generic clinical info that you share with all of your classmates is relegated to the second page, while all the good stuff that hiring managers care about is left uncluttered in the front of your resume.

#3. The Proper Layout

Important Note: This is a generic resume template. You should not treat it as gospel...why?

Let's say for example: You graduated summa cum laude with a 4.0 and were the president of your sorority, but you only ever worked as a part-time nanny in high-school, it’s probably not a good idea to lead with your professional experience.

Another example: If you’re an ADN graduate, with a 2.8 GPA, but you have 10 years of Level 1 Trauma Experience as a surgical tech, and you volunteer in Mexico every year providing surgical services to the less fortunate…it would be crazy not to feature your work experience and your volunteer work first!

Remember the 6 Second Rule from above, and always put your best foot forward, because you may not get a second foot in the door.

Now that you know how to optimize your resume for the human brain, let’s talk about the machine standing in your way, the Applicant Tracking System (ATS).

#4. How to Optimize Your Resume for Applicant Tracking Systems

 What I Imagine Applicant Tracking Systems Look and Sound Like

What I Imagine Applicant Tracking Systems Look and Sound Like

Hospitals receive so many applications that they have resorted to using robots to filter through resumes, automatically flagging (and discarding) them – before humans ever have the chance to lay eyes on it.

New Grads have to make their resume easy for them to read too.

Some things that are difficult for bots to read and should be immediately removed are the following:

  • Graphics
  • Custom font types
  • Unusual formatting
  • Symbols, Charts, and Tables

Whether we are optimizing for human psychology or binary code, there is one thing that is clear: Keywords are King. 

#5. How to Choose the Right Keywords.

Thought exercise:
Think about the qualities of a nurse you look up to: How would you describe them?

The keywords you come up with might be something you could utilize in your resume. Some examples of great nursing-related keywords are: Leader, Passionate, Organized, Improving, Compassionate and Empathetic. All traits that anyone would want in a good nurse.

If you really want to go hardcore and become a mental ninja, you can identify job-specific nouns and verbs emphasized in the job posting, such as: job titles, requirements, responsibilities, preferred experience, and utilize those words as your keywords.  Or you can also read the hospital’s Mission Statement and select keywords from their own text to put into your resume.

The evidence for the importance of keywords is so abundant, we don’t have to cite any stodgy research papers, with confusing abstracts, and complicated methodologies. But if you are into that sort of thing, check out The 22 immutable laws of marketing

Instead we can just look at the products surrounding us right now.

 Source: Subway

Source: Subway

Look at the image to the right:

Now finish the Statement: “Eat ____”? 

Almost all of you just said “Fresh” in your mind, and for good reason. 

Subway has spent a metric crap-ton of money in advertising for the sole purpose of you associating the keyword “fresh” with their brand, and it totally worked.

There are some examples of more subtle (but just as powerful) brand/keyword swaps like Coca-Cola “Classic”, and then there are companies who hit the mind-control jackpot when their brands cemented themselves in our lexicon by completely replacing a keyword.

Have you ever asked:

  • “Do you have any Scotch Tape?” 
    • Brand: Scotch.
    • Keyword replaced: Tape.


  • “Does anyone have a Sharpie?” 
    • Brand: Sharpie.
    • Keyword replaced: Permanent Markers.

This kind of stuff doesn't happen on accident.

Huge brands with massive ad budgets work tirelessly to take advantage of the irrational tendencies we have discussed throughout the post, and now it is your turn to take advantage of the same tactics.  

The difference for you is that instead of needing to convince millions of people that your brand = “perfect nurse candidate”, you only have to convince a handful of gatekeepers to reach your goal and claim your prize.

Additional Resources:

Looking for a new grad residency program?  Search through 500+ new grad programs at NewGradNurseHelp.com

Project Nurse Podcast - 14: Rogue Nurses, Hypochondriacs, and Hollywood with Ersilia Pompilio RN, DNP

Project Nurse Podcast - 14: Rogue Nurses, Hypochondriacs, and Hollywood with Ersilia Pompilio RN, DNP

Where is the best city to work as a registered nurse?

Where is the best city to work as a registered nurse?