Resumes and cover letters are important self-marketing tools. Both are key to deciding whether or not you will be invited to interview and excellent interviews, of course, will be key to gaining a job offer. As with each component of the career development/job search process, producing a successful resume and cover letter requires time and effort but the investment of care and energy will pay off. When you have completed a self assessment; described your ideal job; articulated your career goal; networked and gathered information concerning required experience, education and professional competencies; you are prepared to respond to potential employers by sending/delivering a cover letter and resume.
The goal of an effective resume is to present your competencies and credentials in an inviting way to prospective employers. Resumes that attract the attention of employers introduced an interesting candidate who appears to have "what it takes" (in the employer’s mind) to step into a job immediately.
"What it takes" will vary from employer to employer. Often nurses seeking a position and those hiring for it have different ideas about the competencies required to do the job well. Or, nurses and employers may share the same beliefs about preparedness but talk about the required skills differently. Since mind-reading is not a common skill, your ability to anticipate the qualifications that will ensure a perfect fit will be greatly enhanced by time spent in informational interviewing, networking and information gathering. Through these world assessment activities, you will identify the generally required competencies for a particular role. You may also learn about the ways in which nurses describe their knowledge-base and skills in that practice arena. Remember the objective of an effective resume is to present you honestly and understandably to potential employers. Consequently, the more information you can collect about the specifics of a job before you must submit your resume and cover letter, the better. Just as with most career maintenance/job search activities, there isn’t a right or wrong way to write a resume. There are important guidelines, however.
Many nurses have had moderately lengthy careers. One page would not do justice to the experience you have accumulated nor demonstrate your ability to take advantage of opportunities. On the other hand, listing all of your job responsibilities may not be relevant either. Be selective.
In a competitive job market, nothing will replace a direct match between the competencies you bring and those an employer is seeking. Text (the way you describe your skills and experience) is key. Sometimes, however, the employer fails to recognize that perfect match because she/he is unable to read your resume easily. There are two issues here. First, it is extremely important to present information in a manner that is readily available visually. For example, bullets tend to emphasize a change in thought or a new item versus burring text in paragraph form. If you decide to use paragraphs, be certain to space them well and select a clear type face. Try to limit them to not more than three sentences. Second, in today’s world of computer-generated documents, everything looks professionally done. Your resume must also.
By bulleting ideas or writing a concise paragraph, hi-light all of the relevant experience and accrued competency required for the position you are seeking. For example, if you are a staff nurse who has been working in an acute care setting and you are seeking a first-time position in home care, you might want to emphasize your years of experience with people of all ages and medical conditions, your physical assessment skills, your expertise in providing skilled nursing care, your ability to work both autonomously and collaboratively and your experience as a member of the discharge planning/continuing care team. This section should immediately follow your stated "Career" or "Employment Objective."
The purpose of a cover letter is to create a mental image of you as the perfect candidate for the job you are seeking. As with the resume, there is not a right or wrong way to write a cover letter, but there are guidelines.
You will be able to use the same well-crafted sentences in many cases, but you will want to personalize them to each employment situation.
The first paragraph includes a sentence that identifies the job you are applying for and the precise manner in which you learned about the job. Use the job title that appears in the advertisement or job posting. Sometimes a job number is listed. Be certain to include it. For example, if you learned about a job opening in the newspaper on August, 2002 or from Jane Smith, Staff Nurse on 4 North or by visiting the Human Resource Department and viewing the job postings; or on the Internet – write exactly that. Be certain to get permission to use a colleagues name in your cover letter. If you are invited to apply for a position, certainly indicate that. Request permission to include the name of the person who extended the invitation.
The second paragraph is the one in which you must paint a concise, word picture of yourself. Your goal is to create a mental image in the employer’s mind of you in the job that you are seeking. Use about three or four sentences to do so. Again, this is where your information gathering will pay off.
The third and last paragraph should indicate your enthusiasm for the opportunity to interview, your willingness to provide additional information and a date when you will telephone to confirm receipt of your cover letter and enclosed resume. Thank the reader for his/her consideration. If you provide a date on which you will follow-up, do so. If you cannot commit to following up, don’t indicate that you will.
Opportunities to interview mark the final hurdle at the end of the job search process. Interviews are extended only to those nurses who appear qualified and of interest to fill an advertised position; therefore, you should celebrate your achievement when you are invited to interview. Prepare well, remember to smile and have a wonderful adventure. No matter the outcome, you will learn a great deal.
Within 24 hours of the interview, prepare a computer-generated thank you note to the interviewer. This is a perfect opportunity to emphasize points you made—or perhaps failed to make—during the interview.
A successful job search process is often a lengthy journey. An unknown author once described this process as "No." "No." "No." "No." "No." "No." "No."... "Yes." Thoughtfully orchestrated efforts are certain to end "yes" and will, most likely, be expedited by careful preparation.
Opening doors in a competitive job market can be challenging. You have invested heavily in remaining competent. Protect your investment. Let your strengths shine as you write your cover letter or prepare your resume.
SELF ASSESSMENT: The key to successful self-presentation is thorough self assessment.
What might you include?
Title: Advanced Cardiac Life Support Credentials: ACLS
Agency: American Heart Association Dates: 1995-Present
Registered Nurse, Certified Specialist RN, CS
American Nurses Credentialing Center 1992 – Present
List the Professional Associations to which you belong or have belonged. (1) List the activities and/or committees in which you have participated and the dates you did so. (2) List the offices you have held and the dates of your term(s).
List awards you have received.
Now that you have completed a thorough self-assessment, begin to review the information you have been gathering through networking, informational interviews, library/Internet explorations and other efforts. The purpose of a world assessment is to better understand the world of work—in the case of nurses: the changing health care delivery system.
Having completed a careful self-assessment, written a career objective that embodies what you would like to do professionally, spent some time learning about the changes in the health care environment and the job/roles you would like to pursue, you are ready to position yourself within the workplace as you would prefer. To do so, think about the following in preparation for drafting/refining your resume, preparing cover letters and interviewing.
With the competencies that you possess, begin to draft/refine your resume. A working format of a chronological resume is attached. Remember, there isn’t a "right" way. Use the working format only as a guide.
City, State, Zip Code
CAREER OBJECTIVE: (Optional)
SELECTED CLINICAL OR PROFESSIONAL COMPETENCIES: (Optional)
(May be divided into "related experience" and "additional experience" or "selected experience")
Name of most recent employer, City, State Dates
Role – Unit/Division
(Numbers & Nature of population served)
Other employers – same form as above
American Heart Association
Basic Life Support (BCLS) 1998-Present
Institutional Certification/XYZ Hospital
Educational Institutional, Anywhere, MA
Bachelor of Science with a major in Nursing 1995
Associate of Science with a major in Nursing
Massachusetts Nurses Association 1999-Present
7 Caring Lane
Anywhere, MA 10101
CAREER OBJECTIVE: to continue to develop my clinical competence through employment as a critical care staff nurse in a large teaching hospital. Or POSITION OBJECTIVE: Obtain a position in _________________utilizing my extensive experience in ____________________________.
SELECTED CLINICAL COMPETENCIES:
Spencer Hospital, Metropolitan, MA 1992-Present
Staff Nurse & Rotating Charge – 40 Bed Post
Intensive Care Unit
The Medical Center, Anywhere, MA 1990-1992
Staff Nurse – Medical West
American Heart Association
Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) 1992-Present
Basic Cardiac Life Support (BCLS) 1990-Present
University of Anywhere, Anywhere, MA
Bachelor of Science in Nursing cum laude 1996
The Medical Center, Anywhere, MA
Massachusetts Nurses Association
Member: Nurse Practice Committee 1996-Present
Convention Committee 1994
City, State, Zip Code
(Although this is optional, many people believe that it is important to provide a sentence about the job that you are seeking. Often people develop several different resumes that begin with different objectives and emphasize different knowledge bases, competencies and skills in the body).
Spencer Hospital, Metropolis, MA
Staff Nurse and Rotating Charge/Surgical Intensive Care Unit (6/91-Present)
(Continue listing employers in reverse chronological order. If you have not worked at other agencies, but instead have worked on various units and/or in a variety of capacities, you may list those jobs in reverse order. Leave a space between each work experience and identify several (not more than five) unique components of each position. Bullet each of these components. Use an action verb to start each element (e.g. managed, collaborated, and chaired). People believe that you must list only the past ten years of work assignments and can abbreviate other experiences prior to that time. This really depends upon what you choose to emphasize).
University of __________________, City
Master of Science in Nursing – Currently enrolled
University of Massachusetts/Boston
Bachelor of Science in Nursing, 1990
Graduated cum laude
Diploma and/or Associate Degree Program