Getting Your Desired Position 101

You have found the Nursing Position you really want. You now face the hiring process. You possibly face hundreds of other applicants, and you want the BEST chance of getting it. So, what can you do? You start with an Online or on location application. Is there more you can do? Oh Yes!! Find out what a new nurse without any experience can do to be considered for employment.


Getting Your Desired Position 101

Since the economy went downhill and facilities started hiring seasoned nurses returning from retirement, and housewife nurses that had a husband layed off, etc. the fight for your desired position has intensified. You have to be at the top of your game in this very competitive job market.

I have spoken with many other hiring entities about what they look for in a resume, cover letter, and application. What are assets? What are deal breakers? What catches your eyes? What can a new nurse with no experience do to be considered if anything? What about the cliche: If I never get a job, I can't get considered for lack of experience? What are the bare minimums you want in a resume? What makes a resume, cover letter, or application pop out? The following are some tips and suggestions for those who are struggling with the hiring process.

The Resume

(Should be one page front only for new grads)


There are so many opinions as to using the "Objective" or not. I personally always have, and have never applied for a position I didn't get yet (blessing/luck possibly). Use every line, every bit of your resume to scream, "Hire me!" I usually word it this way: "To obtain a position at "whatever facility" serving the patients of "region served," with competent, efficient, holistic, and indicated care within the scope of (RN, LPN, CNA, SNA, PCT) and with in the policies and procedures of (institution) to provide the best possible outcome for the patients in my care.

This shows your desire to "serve." It shows you took the time to research the area served by the institution, and their possible needs. It shows interest in the facility you are applying for. It is the first statement that you will do everything in your "scope of practice" and with-in "policy and procedure" and a heart of "SERVICE," not a "job" or "position," and denotes "drive." It also shows you wish to put SAFE PRACTICE FIRST. That you will not compromise your efforts out of your scope, and you will do everything in your power to advocate for your patients protection, well-being, and successful OUTCOME. It also takes OWNERSHIP of their VISION. Know your applicant facility's "Vision" so you can include it in your writings, or "mirror it."

The Education and Work Experience lines are the least customizable. Just be sure to get the correct dates and locations on this part. They will do a background check on these, and it could possibly be checked in HR before sent to your hiring Nurse Manager or Superior. THIS IS RARE. But it does happen. They could possibly also use this information as contact or referral. So you'd be slicker to leave off a negative experience facility than to put an incorrect date or falsify it. I have always just been honest here- they can smell a difference

There shouldn't be large inactive times in your Employment which should cover at least the last 5 years(sometimes up to 7). It really doesn't matter what age you started work, but you should be able to account for your time in-between positions. (Time off work for schooling is totally ok. I worked through school full time, but if you didn't, in denoting times, if school causes a >than 2 month absence of work history, just put a parenthesis in the work history to explain. (Attended Associate Degree Nursing Program 2001-2003 while unemployed).

If you must place large amounts of time between work experience, and you do make it to the interview - DO NOT LEAVE WITHOUT EXPLAINING THIS. Greater than 2 months is usually a red flag. They will not continue consideration without a good excuse (sick child, homemaking, displacement, family tragedy, etc), just address it.


Add Specific Examples. If there is any "Magic" in this, here it is! This is your chance to THRIVE. Many HR Reps I have spoke to ONLY read this line first in pooling candidates. They know as many threads have pointed out that you meet "minimum job requirements," but this is your chance to STAND OUT!

This is SO IMPORTANT. What sets you apart from the herd? Examples of stand-out statements:

  • I have been a Medical Surgical Registered Staff and Charge Nurse for 8 years caring for a wide spectrum of Elevated Accuity Problems whether acute, chronic, or surgical care in the same area as your hiring needs.
  • I have cared for 5-7 patients of varying accuities with experience on Telemetry Monitoring, Fall Precautions, Combative Patients, and at the same time adding admitted patients and discharging patients within policy and procedure for the best possible outcome after holistic care, and 100% coverage of the ordered treatment plan of the Medical and Nursing Care Plan of Care.
  • I am have extensive experience with (Ex: Renal, Cardiac, Pulmonary, Rheumatology, Osteo, Neuro, etc. patient populations) or even sub-categories (Pediatric Oncology, Adult Cardiopulmonary, Pediatric Infectious Disease, Adolescent Abnormal Psychiatric and Behavioral Health, or Adolescent Chemical Dependency with Dual Diagnosis Issues),


(Ex: Management, Charge Nurse, Documentation, Policy and Procedure, Safety, ADLs, IandO, Special Procedures, Sterile Fields, Pharmacology, Teaching/Education, I could go on for an eternity(you get my drift).

  • Volunteering. Any possessed clinical experience is just that- experience. It shows an eagerness to learn as you did it at your expense. If you are a new grad this is paramount. If you are having trouble getting hired for lack of experience, this is the gold nugget that will set you apart. Volunteer in the closest environment you can in relation to the post you want! Trust me, I have hired 3 positions this year on experience alone for New Grad positions based on Volunteering, Internships over summers, or picked the one within the most "clinical" experience by school.
  • Associations. If your a member of the ANA, or your state's Nursing Association, I know you are probably conscientious of your practice, up to date, and desire to "achieve." It shows an investment in your profession, and that you are "above" the "average." It shows you personally are active already in the future of Nursing, and take active OWNERSHIP of your and Nursing's future. You went out of your way, uncompensated, to make an effort for the Nursing Profession. Even if its NON-Nursing, it shows me your active, and a "well-rounded" applicant. (Example: a nurse that is a member of the LOCAL Rotary Club, Lions Club, or Masonic Lodge is a pillar of this local community, and will be an asset to LOCAL patients. IMPORTANT: Employers tend to hire ACTIVE applicants. An applicant that enjoys biking, running, gym work-out, or athletics tend to do better in hiring than Lake loafers, Weekend Hibernators, and the chronically tired applicant. This piece of paper is your ONE CHANCE for a SECOND CHANCE. It is you best chance for a first impression to draw a picture of yourself as a clear, enthusiastic, and as an asset candidate to their facility.
  • References: This is ALWAYS covered on your application. Do Not Waste This Space Here. Since it is imperative to address it on your Resume, and add credibility by a third party write this: References are Available Upon Request. It shows a pro-active willingness to confirm what you have CONFIDENTLY stated about yourself.


I would be mistaken to say that spell check, and even letting a fresh set of eyes go over your resume isn't priceless. The inspiration for this Thread came from a rant on mistakes on spelling and grammar. Taking the time to spell and grammar check will not be wasted time!!! I am more lax on this as a hiring entity for just a typo- but obviously there are those out there that will end your hiring chances based on the first noticed mistake of your Resume or Cover Letter. This is the easiest part, just re-word if your unsure of spelling, or if it doesn't "sound right." Another great addition is "Please see attached Letters of Recommendation (if you have any).

Final Thoughts

Only use an Online Application as a LAST RESORT. If they have paper applications, go the extra mile to go and pick one up, fill it out correctly, neatly, and attach your cover letter, resume, and (transcripts, degree copies, letters of recommendations).

Do not (ever/never) copy and paste a resume, it changes your format and creates a MONSTER!!! Take the extra time to type up a new basic one which is usually on a Word Pad format devoid of special spacing, lines, borders, etc. It will be severely damaging to your chances to leave the copy and pasted mess in the resume box.

They ARE NOT going to dig through the aftermath to find your needed information. This outs a bunch of qualified applicants at my current place of employment because they get chunked out by the HR department long before being considered by a hiring Nurse Manager or DON/aDON. Facilities that have both applications types (paper AND online) sometimes don't even look online until all other applicants have been ruled out!!!!!!

THIS IS MY STRONGEST ADVICE!!!! I have got many positions from applying online, but I ONLY apply if they do not have a Paper Application!!!

Use good quality paper for your resume. DO NOT use regular white copy paper. Buy a parchment-water marked paper, a heavier grade (20lb) egg shell colored paper, but DO NOT use those with Sky or Flower backgrounds or borders. Just don't;)

Do not have fold lines on it, turn in an outdated copy, take the time to update one even over 2 months old. Customization is the KEY, do not have a Generic Objective line, again be specific. Do not hand in a COPY of your Resume, they can SMELL a copy, use a freshly PRINTED resume/same for Cover Letter.

The Cover Letter

On the Cover letter avoid using: "To Whom It May Concern," find out the Unit Manager, or insert the HR person's name AND then "To Whom It May Also Concern," this shows you went the extra mile to learn about the facility.

Cover your bases again on the Cover Letter, and more!! I put their address at the top, space, and then Dear (whoever), space, Body of letter, My Name and credentials(enough spaces to signature after printed), and follow after signature area spaces with my current position, next line home address, next line- Email,next phone number, and lastly, next line cell number. You are attaching a Resume as well so write the word ATTACHMENT at the bottom of your "Footer" Left side to indicate the resume follows.

In the body you want no more than 3 paragraphs no matter how much experience you have! You have one motive for this page: Getting an Interview SO, you can defend RESUME and APPLICATION, and lastly receive the job offer!

The Interview

  • Hit these topics: Eagerness to Learn, Time and Attendance, Flexibility in Scheduling, Thorough Documentations, Scope of Practice, Patient Care Priority, Time Management, Service to the Facility's Client Population, Safety, Chain-of-Command, Policy and Procedure, Efficiency, Quality of care, Positive Patient Outcomes, Meeting Clients Needs, Patient Advocation, Mobilizing Patient Resources, Desire to provide Cost Effective Care, Responsibility with Facility Resources, Team Work, Continuing Education (staying current), Computer and Clerical Skills, Organizational Strengths, work well with a spectrum of personalities, Responsible Delegation with Follow up, and accountability of care given. (also hit as many of these topics as "talking points" during interview).
  • Don't place anything on their desk, or personal space.
  • Don't sit down until your offered a chair, then use good alert posture. Don't fold your arms, and be aware of your body language. Be enthusiastic. Control Nervousness through deep breathing. If your offered water- take it. It will keep you from getting dry mouth, DO NOT CHEW GUM or HAVE CANDY.
  • Don't bring up Pay, wait for them too, or for a job offer- that's presumptuous.
  • Don't interrupt them, or finish their sentences. You can nod understandingly and actively listen, but if they start talking, just stop- even if they interrupt. They will remember the ease of communication even if you don't.
  • Explain why you are interested in their facility, especially when asked, What do you know about our (facility). Perfect Opportunity.
  • HUGE- Inject that you work well with a spectrum of personalities, you are not calling anyone names, you aren't assuming their this way, just saying that if their are "strong willed individuals, you will do everything possible to get along- and have in the past. You will however always advocate for the patient, the main objective, and the focus of your work. They will appreciate your flexibility and maturity to plan ahead for people that are difficult to work with or around.
  • Gratitude. Thank them for everything in it's time. (at the end of the Cover letter for their time and consideration, at the beginning of the interview for their time and consideration again, and at the end of the interview once more (should be the last thing you say.)
  • Follow-up with ONE simple thank-you card with minimal personalization- just simply one line, no more, and a legible signature.
  • Hand shake. Firm, not gripping for life, eye-contact, smile, and introduce yourself with CONFIDENCE. This is SO HARD for females, hold eye contact, and say with CONFIDENCE- "Hi, I am JANE DOE, I am so glad to have this opportunity to speak with you!"
  • No matter what, no matter how "casual" they make you feel, remain professional, don't speak negatively about past employers or colleagues, and be pleasantly confident. Under no circumstance should you say, "We did it this way at....," show an eagerness to learn the way THEY do it.
  • Be prepared to talk about a mistake you've made that's appropriate- and what you have learned from it, they will ask this usually.
  • Under no circumstances- never admit to practicing out of scope, or breaking policy and procedure FOR ANY REASON, a favorite test of hiring parties lately (Ex: Have you ever had to bend the rules for a positive patient outcome, if so which?)
  • For every question they ask, think, WHY are they asking ME this question? WHAT do they WANT to hear as a response? It will most likely be a topic from the above "Hit These Topics."

I hope this helps you in the stressful preparation for your desired position. I don't advocate dishonesty in the application process, so use the APPLICABLE talking points I have listed. They don't expect you to roll off the assembly line floor as a competent, seasoned nurse, so use APPROPRIATE talking points that aren't over your heads. They can smell "fluff."

I wish you great luck, a confident interview, a masterpiece resume, a convincing Cover Letter, and a job offer "on-the-spot."

(sorry for any grammar or spelling mistakes I made here:))

For the record, I am in a small critical access hospital working as a ER Coordinator, have worked as a Per Diem, Contract, and Travel RN, and am a FNP who works part time in a Clinic that treats underserved patients in the Deep South with low or no incomes. I am not a professional in Human Resources. My only motive is to help those struggling with the hiring process, and the paperwork involved (resume, cover letter, and application).

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266 Posts

Has 7 years experience.

Thank u for this it's awesome!

Specializes in Home health. Has 7 years experience.

Thank you so much! I hope this works :-)

BostonTerrierLover, BSN, RN

2 Articles; 908 Posts

Specializes in Adult/Ped Emergency and Trauma. Has 16 years experience.

My gosh! Please use better spelling and grammar than I did with the above Thread ?

I was rushed because I had three going in tomorrow for interviews, and member requests for immediate resume and cover letter help. It's not ALL-INCLUSIVE, so if anyone wants to add to the Hints, Tips, and Help- You can't do it any worse than I did up there, Lol! I usually get more of a chance to proofread threads- but I would have been sick had someone felt "ignored." So, I was fighting the clock on this one guys. I will add others as I come across them. Sorry about the sloppiness, just wanted to help.

Let me go back over this one, 3 of the 5 I spoke with today to refresh my memory of the Tips, Hints, and Help mentioned this: Your written and spoken application process are 50% of the process. If you were successful in meeting their requirements- you should get through the door. But, if your Cover Letter and Resume painted a Biographical Illustration of who you are individually, most of the work is just "recapping." The real challenge lies in your body language, confidence level, interpersonal skills, communication ability, and unspoken verbal cues. Don't forget, no matter how much they put you at ease, you want to see them "at ease." Practice shaking hands with someone and maintaining eye contact as you introduce yourself(with confidence). I don't mean to pick on females here, but it is so hard for you guys to master a good confident, assertive, handshake- and you have the same credentials! You have overcome overwhelming obstacles, and you are in the spotlight- OWN IT. That makes a solid impression when you can confidently introduce yourself, and that first impression is priceless to get right(Power Moment that takes just 3-5 seconds of Solid Courage).

Lastly, use their own body language as a "gauge" of how your doing. Don't let them discourage you by it, use it as a prompt to divert, move on, or change subject. These can be vague(but most are involuntary:nailbiting:), and women are better at this sixth sense, but I have gotten pretty sharp at it. Watch for Positive body language: Flat expressive hands, Faster Choppy Speech Pattern, Wide open eyes, Leaning forward towards you, smiles(real one with eye muscle involvement), fast "yes" nods, casual movements with a loose posture, equal tone of voice that varies "high," and head straight up and down on axis. Negative body language: Hands still and anchored-grabbing-holding-stiff-or-pocketed suddenly, pen clicking or rubbing finger on it, Biting or folding lips, stretching nose and face licking teeth, tongue in cheek, squinting at you, Folding Arms, tilting head, eye's deviating left and downwords(involuntary disagreement reaction), leaning away from you(don't confuse with reclining), it will happen as a result of something said or an answer that needs some work, a fake smile(mouth involvement only), pen to mouth, changes in breathing pattern, slow lower sudden speech change, slow yes nods, and stiff posture without much movement/flexibility.

That sounds like it's so deep; It sounds like a profiler, not an applicant's interview- but we already do this to some extent anyway with every social interaction. I have been in so many interviews where the applicant had a great resume/application/cover letter, but totally dropped the ball at the interview. Sadly, they probably left thanking it went well. If your not getting challenging questions, it could be because they've already decided your not qualified. So don't wait to hit those talking points from above if you can initiate it without it looking to unnatural. I have seen so many applicants not read obvious signs that they were tanking the interview.

If you don't know a question, Do Not Guess! Politely say, I am not sure, or I recall that answer now. Explain what you partially know if you do. Example: "Are you familiar with running EKG's, our nurses do their own." Applicant's answer was, "Oh no, I haven't done that, like a "12 lead?" He went negative. He was new, and out of school, but he could have said, "Well of course while I haven't personally conducted an EKG, But I have interpreted EKG readouts, Telemetry read-outs, and know the basics of Cardiac Monitoring. I am eager to learn to do the procedure correctly. I am comfortable with the acuity levels of the Cardiac patients I have taken care of, and Cardiac is one of my strong suits. I can correctly identify arrhythmias, heart blocks, and treat abnormalities according to orders, necessity, or event levels." I could go on, but see how the interviewee could have elaborated and show knowledge even though the thought of the EKG machine scared him to death- instead of shutting down, it's diversion. A question that went right: "We draw our on lab on this unit, do you have phlebotomy skills? (wrong answer was "no.") Hired Applicant's answer: "I am experienced in Venipuncture. I would just use the skills I have already obtained in IV Initiation such as Identifying the patient, explaining the procedure, and using this facilities policy and procedures on lab draws. I will have to brush up on which lab goes in which vial, but I will have no problem assuming that responsibiity. Avoid Yes or No answers without elaboration, that's your chance to shine!

See, I was able to intergrate Safe Practice, Education, Experience, Confidence, Planning, eagerness to learn, accountability, and all in a seperate question the applicant had never really done before. Every question is an opportunity to thrive, and throw in talking points, again- even if your not totally comfortable with the question. If you just say yes, I am ok with doing lab- you open yourself up to more prying questions to make yourself look unprepared.

Never say you can -or- admit to doing anything you can't perform on day one competently alone!

I hope this helps guys, and assists you in cutting some of your stress and anxiety about the hot seat. Try to view it as a challenge, not a "threat." This is your ultimate chance to impress, and you really do it by things you DID NOT learn in school.

Specializes in Med Tele, Gen Surgical. Has 4 years experience.

Nice work Boston! Just a little add. If you live in an area that has its own nursing schools that are feeding new grads to the health care system, AND you are applying from out of town....think about your phone number. Our nurse manager won't even call a number that is not local anymore even with a local address. Even if it just the next county over. Been burned too many times in the last five years by new grads from out of state saying that they have always wanted to live here and want to work for this hospital for a long time and blah blah blah. Guess who tends to leave after that golden one year of med surg experience?

Consider getting a no contract phone with a local number if you are facing this type of competition...

Specializes in HIV, Psych, GI, Hepatology, Research. Has 12 years experience.

Thank you for the great tips!!

Specializes in Med-Surg/Tele, ER.

Wow, this is great! I for one am horrible at interviews because I am so shy. On the positive side it keeps me in the same position for many years which looks good on my resume :)


1,007 Posts

Has 6 years experience.

Good tips. I don't even put "objective" on my resume because it's pretty clear that my objective is to get a job as a nurse. Most facilities only use online applications and won't even speak to you in person other than to tell you to go to their website. Fortunately a lot that let you upload your resume have a preview feature so you can manually correct any spacing/alignment errors from the uploading. Now I just wish this would help me out!!

BostonTerrierLover, BSN, RN

2 Articles; 908 Posts

Specializes in Adult/Ped Emergency and Trauma. Has 16 years experience.
T-Bird78 said:
Good tips. I don't even put "objective" on my resume because it's pretty clear that my objective is to get a job as a nurse. Most facilities only use online applications and won't even speak to you in person other than to tell you to go to their website. Fortunately a lot that let you upload your resume have a preview feature so you can manually correct any spacing/alignment errors from the uploading. Now I just wish this would help me out!!

Thanks Tbird!!!

That's great when the playing field is "level*." That means all applicants have to go through the same process! That means ALL you have to do is make sure you present a solid, clean, and thorough resume (and/or Cover Letter).

The "Objective" just like I said above is "Optional" but I personally recommend it for New Grads that have trouble getting the page filled out. It shows a clear motive, and what your expectations are, and gives you a chance to allign yourself to the Vision of the facility.

*all I was saying here is that if they DO have "Paper Applications" on site- go for that, it gives you a chance to meet the HR Staff, or even a Nurse Recruiter!! I have been able to meet Nurse Managers the same day, and (not even in my intentions) get hired same day!! (especially for Med-Surg and Medicine/Tele Wards.) So, Always have the Resume ready on day one of going to check(you won't know if you don't go in person!), then all you will have to do is slide the Resume and Cover Letter into the finished Application!! Wooh-Lah!!:)

On some of the stuff, you can choose either way your comfortable. Leaving off "Objective," or adding one, Leaving off "Referrels available upon Request," or placing them (if I am applying to multiple positions as you probably are)- I don't want 30 people bugging my Referrals! You don't want them bothered until you got a clearly good chance of employment there- their the last ones you want getting frustrated on the phone!;)


I appreciate the efforts you put into this article, OP. I'm going to save it (along with your one long response above-I think it had as much information as the article itself :) ) so as to study it in more detail.

Thanks again.

Specializes in Medical Oncology, Alzheimer/dementia. Has 15 years experience.


Wow! You put a lot of work into this and it's awesome...and to think I was able to land my new job without all this info, so YAY ME!!!lol. Tell me what you think about humor in an interview. The nurse manager I interviewed with had a bubbly personality and we seemed to hit it off immediately. She asked me, where do you see yourself in 3 years. Before I knew it I answered "here", and she laughed so hard. It was still professional, wasn't like night at the improv. Just not so stiff and formal. I took my cues from her.

She also asked me a question, that through all my prepping for the interview I hadn't expected. She asked "what do you think the patients expect out of you?" I could've rattled off something, but I wanted to give a powerful answer (like you said sell myself), so I took a moment but I told her "you kind of stumped me." I recovered and came back strong with a response.

I did most of the things you wrote about here, would've loved this about a month ago. It was the most honest and effortless interview I've ever had and I hope it's the beginning of an amazing and long career at this hospital.