Writing a Professional Resume as an MSN-Educated Nurse

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A professional resume is one key to a successful MSN nursing career.


Nurses who have earned advanced degrees, such as the Master of Science in Nursing (MSN), have the opportunity to advance their careers in a number of fields. One key to a successful MSN nursing career is writing a winning resume.

“Nurses perform the crucial work of caring for patients and administering medicine, so their professional experience is of utmost importance,” Nursing.org notes in “Resume Guide for Nurses.”

“A resume is the most universal method for communicating this job experience, and nurses must be sure their resumes offer an accurate and distinctive representation of their skills. A resume often serves as an organization’s only introduction to a job applicant, and employers depend on resumes to determine a nurse’s competence, experience, and eligibility.”

In addition to a solid skill set, nurses need to understand what recruiters and hiring managers look for when reviewing MSN resumes, as well as techniques they can use to climb to the top of the stack.

Resume Basics

These days, resumes have to get past a medical facility’s robotic Applicant Tracking System (ATS) before they ever reach hiring managers or human resources professionals.

Both bots and managers look for:

  • A neat, well organized, and appropriately formatted resume. Career advice company The Muse recommends that nurses “stick to standard resume formatting in a normal font like Arial, Courier, or Times New Roman — the ATS can’t read fancy fonts and will reject your resume out of confusion.”
  • Keywords that match the job qualifications. For example, if the qualifications include “CPR certification,” mentioning it in the text of the resume ensures that both the bot and the human can see it.
  • Easily accessible information. Qualifying details such as degrees, licenses, and certifications should be at the top of the MSN resume.

In terms of organization, Nursing.org notes, most resumes fall into one of three categories:

  • Reverse-chronological: This format lists job experience from newest to oldest. It works well for nurses at all experience levels. It’s ideal for nurses who want to demonstrate career progression but can be problematic for those with employment gaps.
  • Functional: This type of resume orders skills and achievements in terms of relevance, not chronology. It works well to highlight a specific skill set, but is less useful for students or nurses without a lot of experience,
  • Combination: A mix of the other two styles, this format includes both a skills section, usually at the top, followed by a reverse-chronological listing of experience. Combination resumes usually work best for experienced nurses.

Standing Out from the Crowd

The next aspect of resume writing that nurses should consider involves highlighting the skills and experience that make them the best choice for the position. Methods include:

  • Tailoring the resume to the position: A single resume for all applications no longer works. Successful job-seekers know they need to speak the language of the position to get an interview. Nursing candidates should include the title of the job they’re applying for at the top of each resume and highlight any relevant experience.

“Once more, consider what an organization is looking for, and adjust your resume accordingly. This shows you’ve read their job description closely and aren’t just sending out applications indiscriminately,” Nursing.org advises.

  • Using selective repetition to emphasize relevant experience and credentials: Because hiring managers receive a lot of resumes, they have to evaluate them quickly and might miss details along the way. One solution for applicants who want to get noticed is to use selective repetition. Selective repetition, the Association for Psychological Science explains, involves emphasizing relevant experience and credentials and accentuating different aspects of them.

For example, most people would think that an AIDS Certified Registered Nurse has years of experience working with AIDS patients. But if the experience is relevant to the position, it bears repeating. Including the information twice — once to provide the name of the certification and again to detail “X years of experience working with AIDS patients in a clinical setting” — makes it more likely that busy hiring managers will notice.

  • Including “stand-out” details: Hiring managers want to bring in candidates who are well suited for the job. Relevant career experience and education are expected, but personal details that demonstrate fitness for the job can be important as well.

Because nursing is such a physical job, applicants can stand out by highlighting their physical fitness. As Eric Darienzo, president of the travel nurse staffing company RN Network, tells Monster, “stamina is a trait that isn’t easy to include on a resume, but you can take a more active role in your physical health and mention steps you’re taking to improve your fitness. For example, you might list your participation in marathons or 5Ks among your interests.”

Proofread Before Sending

The final thing that any applicant should do is proofread the resume. Misspellings, typos, and poor formatting can make a candidate appear sloppy and unprepared. For this reason, candidates should proofread their resumes to ensure that:

  • All words are spelled correctly
  • All proper nouns are appropriately capitalized
  • All sentences are complete and properly punctuated
  • All words are used correctly (then vs. than; from vs. form)
  • All formatting is uniform

Reading the resume aloud or asking a friend to take a look are good ways to spot issues that need to be addressed.

Job applicants can also make use of tools such as SpellCheck or Grammarly, but shouldn’t rely on them.

“Although a spell checker is a handy tool for general use, it will never fully take the place of educating yourself properly and polishing your writing skills,” says Catherine Winter for Lifehack. “Spellcheck isn’t necessarily up to date on neologisms, slang terms, or marketing jargon, and can mark certain expressions or words as incorrect when they’re actually just fine as they are.”

Her best advice: “Whether you’re writing an essay, an article, a blog post, or your PhD thesis, it’s important to go through your work thoroughly to ensure that it’s error-free: relying on a program that will only catch typos is sure to land you in trouble.”

About the Ohio University Online Master of Science in Nursing Program

Ohio University’s online MSN program prepares registered nurses (RNs) and other Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) graduates for a variety of advanced nursing careers, including careers as family nurse practitioners (FNPs), nurse educators, or psychiatric mental health nurse practitioners (PMHNPs).

For more information, visit the program webpage today.

Recommended Reading:

Five High-Paying MSN Careers for Nursing Graduates

What Can I Do with a Master’s Degree in Nursing?

What Kind of Nurse Should I Be?


Resume Guide for Nurses: Nursing.org

Beat the Robots: How to Get Your Resume Past the System & Into Human Hands: The Muse

5 Skills Nursing Employers Desperately Want from Candidates: Monster

To Be More Persuasive, Repeat Yourself: Association for Psychological Science

Eight Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Just Rely on SpellCheck: Lifehack