A significant percentage of those who engage in travel nursing will eventually make the transition back to permanent employment. Conveying your travel nursing experience on your nursing resume in a way that both masks the perceivable negatives and capitalizes on the great experience you’ve gained can be challenging. Understanding the issues at play will help you formulate the best possible strategy.
The problem of short term employment as a travel nurse
One of the “perceivable negatives” your travel nursing work history is the seemingly erratic nature of your employment history as a travel nurse. Most travel nursing jobs are 13 weeks and maintaining your tax-home in order to continue to accept tax-free stipends means you won’t be working in any one location for very long. You may even take 4, 6, or 8 week jobs. And you may also work some PRN here and there to fill in gaps or make some extra money. To compound problems, you will most likely have worked with several different staffing companies. The resulting employment history can make you look unemployable to the untrained eye. How are you to account for this work history in a way that conveys your professionalism?
This is actually more difficult than it seems and there may be no clear-cut answer, at least as far as Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) are concerned. ATS’s are the computer programs used by pretty much every hospital in the country to automatically rank nursing job applicants. To accomplish this, these systems utilize sophisticated resume parsing features that search resumes for keywords applicable to the job in question and feed the data into a database that presents the information to recruiters and screeners. They’re also programmed to understand the context the keywords are used in to guard against people tricking the system by loading their resumes with random keywords. If they’re smart enough to do that, then they’re smart enough to recognize a choppy employment history.
How to Put Your Travel Nursing Work History on Your Resume
So your task is to determine how best to display your work history in a way that explains both its choppiness and its amazingness. I have seen resumes utilize several approaches to handling this conundrum. Each approach has advantages and disadvantages. Let’s cover each of the approaches to gain a better understanding of the issues at play.
Listing the Agencies Prominently
First, you could list only the agencies that you worked with as the employers and provide a generalized job description that draws on all of your experiences cumulatively. One advantage to this approach is that it will demonstrate a little more stability. Chances are pretty good that you worked with fewer agencies than hospitals, so each work history entry will have a longer time span than if you were to list the hospitals individually.
Another advantage of this approach is that your work history will list your actual employers which is the technically correct thing to do on your resume. While your work was conducted at the hospitals, your actual employers were the agencies that you worked with.
The disadvantage of this approach is that it will be difficult to convey detailed information regarding the various settings in which you worked. Things like the number of beds in the hospitals, number of beds in the units, trauma levels and teaching statuses among other variables are all important items to include on your nursing resume. And if you worked at a premier hospital, then you certainly want that to stand out.
Furthermore, when your resume makes it through the initial screening process, recruiters and hiring managers will routinely look up information on your employers to get a better idea of your background. If you have the agency prominently listed or list only the agency, then this could be a turn-off. Moreover, this approach may not be beneficial if you worked with several different agencies. You’ll still be giving the impression that your work history is unstable.
Listing the Hospitals Prominently
Another approach is to list the hospitals you contracted with prominently and put the name of the agency in a less prominent position. Perhaps you list the agency in the job description or near the name of the hospital (Cedars Sinai via ABC Staffing). The obvious advantage is that you’re able to highlight the great hospitals you worked with and convey your work experience in a way that centers on the hospital as opposed to the agency.
The disadvantage is that that your work history will most likely appear very choppy. It’s possible that this results in a lower ranking for your resume in the applicant tracking system. In addition, you could confuse the resume parser with this unconventional approach. The resume parser could potentially make a mess of the employer name. Worse yet, the resume parser may be thrown entirely out of whack and make a mess of the entire resume.
This isn’t the end of the world. In most cases, it just means that the parser won’t transmit your data into the appropriate fields in the data base. However, the resume should still be able to be ranked based on the keywords and content it includes.
List Your Travel Nursing Experience Prominently
Another approach is to put your travel nursing work history on your nursing resume as a stand-alone heading, as if it were one job. In this scenario, you simply list the start date and end date of your travel experience and provide a brief description of some of the more appealing aspects of travel nursing from a hiring manager’s perspective. For example, you use “Travel Nurse” as the heading, list the dates and a description like:
- Completed travel nursing assignments at various hospitals throughout California, Texas, and Florida. Successfully became an integral part of the teams with less than 1 week of orientation. Demonstrated flexibility and willingness to float with each travel nursing assignment.
The advantage is that this approach allows you to portray your entire experience as a single event. This can persuade the screener to view your experience as steady employment as opposed to a series of short term gigs. However, you run a big risk of confusing the Applicant Tracking System’s Resume Parser. Listing your employment history in this manner is highly unorthodox, so the resume parser may end up misinterpreting the text and displaying it incorrectly in the system. In which case, your resume might rank very low and the person screening the resume may end up looking at a mess.
Moreover, you won’t necessarily be listing your employers, which is one of the main objectives of a resume. It will also be difficult to pack all the amazing details about your experience under one heading.
Agencies with Hospital Subheadings
In our opinion, the best approach for displaying your travel experience on your resume is to prominently display both the agencies and the hospitals. With this approach, you would list the agency, your dates of employment with the agency and your job title with the agency. Below the agency, perhaps indented a bit, you would list each of the hospitals you worked with, the dates of employment, unit, vital details about the hospital and unit, and a detailed description of the types of patients you saw, workload, etc. Remember, always try to conform your resume to the job posting you are applying for. This is similar to what would be recommended for an employee who received promotions with the same employer over time.
Again, this approach allows you to prominently display the hospitals you’ve worked with and provide details for each hospital. Remember, the fact that you’ve worked with so many great hospitals and have learned so many different systems along the way is one of the amazing benefits of travel nursing that is great to highlight on your resume. Meanwhile, it allows you to condense your work history by agency which adds the appearance of greater employment stability.
However, if you’ve worked with multiple agencies, perhaps even going back and forth between agencies, then your resume will still appear a bit choppy. But this is okay considering that the only other alternative, highlighting your experience as a stand-alone experience, could be a disaster for applicant tracking systems. And besides, you want to display your work history in reverse chronological order so that resume parsers can easily interpret it.
The disadvantage to this approach is that your resume could end up being really long. However, these days, there is little need to be concerned with your nursing resume’s length. First, applicant tracking systems don’t consider the length of your resume. And in many cases, your resume is never actually printed out.
However, if you’re emailing your resume directly to an individual or handing it to someone in person, then you should indeed keep it brief, preferably one page. In this case, one of the consolidating methods described above is probably best.
The BluePipes profile and resume features are perfect for travel nurses who want to display their travel nursing experience by agency and hospital. As a professional networking service dedicated to healthcare professionals, BluePipes has accounted for the unique working arrangements, like travel assignments and PRN, that healthcare professionals engage in.
For example, the BluePipes profile builder allows travel nurses to enter the agencies they worked with, and then add their particular assignments under each agency. Members can then render their profiles as a PDF resume that is formatted hierarchically with the agency on top and the hospitals indented under the respective agencies . Of course, you could also use the BluePipes profile builder to display your travel nursing work history in any of the aforementioned formats.
Consideration for Your Address
Finally, another “perceivable negative” that travel nurses need to contend with is location. Applicant Tracking Systems are often programmed to give higher rankings to candidates who are closer to the facility in question. It’s very likely that you’ll be on the road when you’re in the process of applying for permanent positions. It’s not prudent to suggest that you enter a “dummy address” because you’ll most likely be signing a statement attesting to the truth and validity of the information you’ve provided at the end of the online application process. However, this is an important issue to be aware of nonetheless.
As always, please let me know if there’s anything I missed and please provide any of your own experiences in the comments section.