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How to Land a Job

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Sometimes landing a nursing job is harder than expected, especially for new graduate nurses. Here are some key things you can do to help land the job you want.

by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist)

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

How do you land your first nursing job?

How to Land a Job

Consider Relocating

Geographic location can be a barrier to getting hired. The "nursing shortage" is regional. Some areas of the country and some hospitals are not hiring new grad RNs. It is very difficult to find a job in the San Francisco Bay area, for example. At the same time, some areas of the country are hiring and even recruiting new grads. The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota is one example.

Strategy: Cast a wide net. Start by looking at neighboring states. Are you willing and able to re-locate? Do you have a friend or relative in one of these locations?

Generally, urban centers are not hiring new grads as much as rural locations.

Job Boards like the one here on site can help you search for jobs all over the country.

note: If you are interviewed and you currently live "away" keep in mind that hiring managers want to hire nurses who they believe will stay beyond their initial contract.

Customize Your Resume

The purpose of a resume is to land an interview.

If you are sending out multiple resumes and not landing any interviews, the culprit is most likely your resume.

Your resume should be customized to each individual employer.

Find out as much as you can about the hospital you want to work at. Are they faith-based? For-profit? What are their top service lines? Then tailor your resume to fit. For example, if they are Stroke Certified, you would emphasize that you have your NIHSS Stroke Certification.

Your resume is about what you can do for them and identifying the value you bring to an organization.

Strategic Use of Keywords

Resume keywords should mirror job description keywords. This helps with keyword scanning software.

If the job posting says they are looking for someone with leadership qualities, then use the keyword "leader" in your resume. For example, if you were a class officer or led any activities in school, you could say "I'm a natural leader. I was selected as our Class Event Leader and helped organized a community vaccination drive."

Use active verbs such as: achieved, created, managed, volunteered, resolved, implemented.

Avoid Cliches

Avoid cliches and over-used terms. Instead of "I'm a dedicated, detail-oriented, driven, dynamic, problem-solving, team-building, self-motivated person with a strong work-ethic" give examples of the strengths you want to highlight.

For example, instead of "I'm a people person", say "My energy comes from connecting with others."

Volunteer

Highlight any volunteer/community activity. This is seen as very positive, and shows desirable qualities to an employer. I have seen jobs come down to "she/he who had more points for volunteering".

Make no Mistakes

Your resume must be mistake-free. Errors may be viewed as an indicator of carelessness on the job. Your resume should be one page long and the layout should include plenty of lots of white space to avoid dense blocks of text. It should be visually pleasing with congruent use of headers and traditional fonts. Bullet points add emphasis and interest.

Follow the Application Process

Follow the prospective employer's application instructions to the letter. Sometimes candidates lose out because they don't follow instructions. If they specify that your resume should be submitted today, and your essay at a different time, follow their guidelines. Likewise, if they want your cover letter attached as a pdf, don't send as a .docx file.

Pay special attention to application deadlines as they can be a narrow window. In many cases, you can apply before you get your license, contingent on passing the NCLEX.

Compose a Cover Letter

The purpose of a cover letter is to interest them enough to read your resume. It's a great way to catch their attention and stand out.

Objectives of your cover letter are to:

  • Introduce yourself and clearly define who you are
  • Highlight your most notable qualifications, experiences, credentials, skills, and achievements
  • Capture your reader's interest
  • Motivate them to call and offer you an interview

Networking Nets Jobs

The number one way to get jobs is still through networking. You know more people than you realize, and the more people that know you are job seeking, the better.

  • Contact your previous clinical instructors. Ask for their help. They have strong connections to acute care hospitals, and they have friends who are nurse managers
  • Likewise, ask your preceptors to put in a word for you. Stay in touch with them.
  • Contact classmates of yours who already have a job. Ask them to put in a word to the nursing manager. Ask them for their hiring tips
  • Participate in online and social media nursing communities, groups, and forums. They provide support and information on job postings, and tips. Create a Linked.in profile if you don't already have one. to meet other nurses and recruiters
  • Attend job fairs and conferences. You never know who you'll meet or what contacts you'll make. Have your resume in hand
  • Go to community places like the gym regularly. Many nurses go right before or after their shift, go at that time and talk with them. Same applies for church, if you attend. Leads come from unexpected sources
  • Join a local nursing organization

Creative strategies

Looking for a job is your job. Get up early Monday through Friday. Shower and dress in business casual. Set a goal for the number of resumes you will send out and how many contacts you will make each day.

Think of a new contact strategy every day.

When reading ads, look for "experience preferred" and not "experience required." Apply for everything that says "experience preferred." Even if it's not your ideal job, interviewing is an invaluable experience. Avoid travel agencies unless you have one to two years of experience.

If you find a job you are really interested in, find out the name of the nurse manager and e-mail her/him or walk-in. A cold-call can be risky, but can also be rewarding. Have your resume with you, shake hands and say "I would like to drop this off for your review." The nurse manager now has a visual image of you, which puts you ahead of other applicants.

Certifications Count

Many new grad RNs are amassing certifications to enhance their resumes. Be sure and keep your BLS up to date. As for ACLS, PALS, NRP, etc- when hired, your hospital will provide them anyway, but it shows initiative to obtain them.

In the Meantime

  • Hone your interviewing skills so you'll be prepared and confident when you land an interview.
  • Volunteer in anything community or health-related. And volunteering is also networking. You'd be surprised who knows who, or that John's daughter went to school with the nurse recruiter's favorite niece.
  • Be patient. HR departments in hospitals are slow-moving compared to other industries.
  • Keep your eye on the goal. You WILL get hired if you keep applying, networking, volunteering. All you need is one chance to get your foot in the door. Remember, new grad RNs are getting hired every day- you could be next!
  • Don't underestimate the power of positivity and good energy. Keep your eye on the goal and be persistent. Look back at how far you've come since you started school. Good luck!

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Nurse Beth is an Educator, Writer, Blogger and Subject Matter Expert who blogs about nursing career advice at http://nursecode.com

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16 Comment(s)

One of the smartest things I did was to hire a professional resume writer. I went from not getting call-backs at all, to being called for an interview for a very competitive position with hundreds of applicants. I was hired on the spot, something I'm very proud of.

How did you find that professional resume writer? Did they specialize in nursing? I am a new nurse, with a previous professional life that is MILES away from nursing; I have management and project skills that are valuable. I need someone to cut through what isn't relevant and highlight what is relevant.

anon456 said:
One of the smartest things I did was to hire a professional resume writer. I went from not getting call-backs at all, to being called for an interview for a very competitive position with hundreds of applicants. I was hired on the spot, something I'm very proud of.

Would you mind sharing where you have found a professional resume writer?

delilah760 said:
How did you find that professional resume writer? Did they specialize in nursing? I am a new nurse, with a previous professional life that is MILES away from nursing; I have management and project skills that are valuable. I need someone to cut through what isn't relevant and highlight what is relevant.

I happened to know a person who does this for a living, but you can find them on the internet. Just do a Google search and I'm sure you will find ads for your area. I just googled "professional resume writers" and found many ads for my area.

She asked me a lot of questions about my experience in life and other jobs. I was focused on nursing, but she made me realize my former work experience, even my experience as a stay at home mom, made me skilled at many things that nurses need to be good at. She was able to highlight those skills under the sections where I described my former job titles and duties. She also formatted it to look really nice. The last thing she did was encourage me to change my "ethnic" name to a more standard name that was easier to say and read. I think people may have been intimidated by my name or formed certain biases because of it. It's sad that our society is like that and I hope that was not a factor in my getting interviews, but it may very well have been.

Thank you for sharing your experience! Congratulations on pegging your dream job!

As far as "KeyWords" goes, if your resume is submitted electronically, it is usually scanned for keywords by machine, not by a human.

You really do have to tailor your resume to each particular job application.

I applied endlessly for any position at the hospital group I wanted to work at and the ONLY interview I got was for a position on the same floor and shift where I had done 80hrs of clinical.

I really played this up in my resume for this position making sure that my words matched those in the job description.

I got a call for a pre-interview, when I showed up, the HR nurse only STARTED looking at my resume and stated something to the effect of "well, so you have worked on this floor before then? oh.....I see you were a student...."

Prior to me walking in the door for my interview, a human had not looked at my resume other than perhaps glancing at it.

What about soon to be graduates? We were informed to start applying months before graduation, I never did it because I don't know how seriously I would be taken vs a sea of graduates who already passed NCLEX and are more prepared than I am.

I've seen so many NO NEW GRAD!!! postings, passing the NCLEX doesn't seem the goal, if you know what I mean. Passing the NCLEX and 1 year acute care experience will get you a job. It's that 1 year of acute care experience that is what you must achieve, the NCLEX is a foregone conclusion! Ah, sorry to sound like Debbie downer... It is what I and most grads from my cohort are experiencing.

BlueDawnRN, BSN

Specializes in Progressive Care. Has 7 years experience.

These are good suggestions except many of them assume a new grad nurse can actually get their application looked at. When I was a new grad, I'd get auto rejections five minutes after applying. Some applications would make you answer a question about years nursing experience before proceeding to the beginning of the application. Most just said one year experience required in the job description. I also tried going to career fairs, etc. but they would not let me attend without one year experience.

I'd say the best way to get a nursing job is to work as a tech/CNA/unit clerk, etc while in school. That's how I got in. My hospital does not consider new grads from outside the hospital, and this is a common rule with many healthcare organizations. You need a job to get a job.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

NuGuyNurse2b said:
What about soon to be graduates? We were informed to start applying months before graduation, I never did it because I don't know how seriously I would be taken vs a sea of graduates who already passed NCLEX and are more prepared than I am.

Good question. For some residency programs, applicants are interviewed in their last semester of school and job offer is contingent on passing the NCLEX. Waiting until you graduate can put you six months behind. This depends on location, though. Read the job posting for qualifications and contact the recruiter/HR department. Best wishes.

Nurse Beth, MSN

Specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho. Has 30 years experience.

BlueDawnRN said:
These are good suggestions except many of them assume a new grad nurse can actually get their application looked at. When I was a new grad, I'd get auto rejections five minutes after applying. Some applications would make you answer a question about years nursing experience before proceeding to the beginning of the application. Most just said one year experience required in the job description. I also tried going to career fairs, etc. but they would not let me attend without one year experience.

I'd say the best way to get a nursing job is to work as a tech/CNA/unit clerk, etc while in school. That's how I got in. My hospital does not consider new grads from outside the hospital, and this is a common rule with many healthcare organizations. You need a job to get a job.

You are so right. The best way to get a job is to be working in the facility as a CNA or other role. Then you have insider influence and are known. I wish all students knew this early on in school- Best wishes

I agree getting a job at the facility while a student is a great idea. It really gets a foot in the door. I was a phlebotomist in a hospital while I was a student. Right after I graduated I moved from Ohio to Georgia where I don't know anyone in the health field and lost my foot in the door. I passed NCLEX Sept 11, 2015 and have not had any luck with interviews. Now I'm trying to network to get to know some people.

In my area the only way to get a job at one of the few hospitals if you are a new grad is to physically go in and talk to the nurse managers and hand out your resume. The market is so small they don't care about experience they just want to like you and sadly the job postings online are for people to apply through HR once they have already been accepted by a manager. It is terrible and hellish but here you have to force yourself on the hospital until they get tired of seeing your face and give you a job just so you'll leave them alone.

emtpbill, ASN, EMT-P

Specializes in EMT since 92, Paramedic since 97.

Are you kidding me.....

I want my two minutes of life back I wasted reading this!

PaddyW

Specializes in Cardiac, Transplant. Has 6 years experience.

A big thing that helped me get my current job was looking at what the local university suggested for their students. I was moving from a rural area to San Francisco. I was hitting a wall with the recruiter as she actually removed my application from some postings because I did not have experience in all the areas (i.e. I had tele, but no oncology for the tele-oncology floor).

My wife suggested I look at UCSFs tools for new nurses. Once I filled out my resume to a similar format and updated it I received so many calls it was ridiculous. Fortunately I have pretty good interview skills, so I was offered multiple positions. My issue was not getting an interview at first.

I would recommend trying to search for how the managers and directors are used to getting resumes. If they can blaze through a resume to see key points they are more likely to actually look at it. If it is in a strange format, they may give it a half-hearted attempt.

My second advice... listen to your wife if you got one:).

I'm not sure but if I could jump in and get some advice on this thread based on the collective experience. I would greatly appreciate any insight.

I am in NYC applying for different accelerated Bachelor's in Nursing programs with a goal of working towards an NP and I am having the same struggle in figuring out what is the best option for me at this point. With a 10 month old and a 12 year old expenses are serious. On top of that NYC is one of the most expensive cities (except maybe for California and some places in DC?) in terms of housing. Should I just get into the field as a nursing assistant or tech and just start towards working towards this goal of clinical hours and hospital/patient experience?

I have been working as an exercise specialist/corrective exercise specialist/personal trainer for the last 15 years and have collaborated/and am currently working with other health care professionals (physical therapists, MDs) as a exercise and nutrition consultant (Not bad but not consistent enough to keep things going thus my career change after so long.)

My master's degree is a dual degree Nutrition/Exercise Physiology and I interned for 6 months alongside a physical therapist, cardiac nurse and exercise physiologist in the cardiac rehab department.

Can anyone offer some opinions on this?