Landing a (Dream) Job as a New RN Grad

As a soon to be RN, I knew exactly what type of unit I wanted to work on, but did not expect that I could start there. So, I formed a plan to make my very best effort.


  • Specializes in CCU, CVICU, CVRU, Cardiac Cath Lab, RRT. Has 1 years experience.
Landing a (Dream) Job as a New RN Grad

Coming from one of the less favored nursing programs (there are no less than ten programs in my local city), I knew it would be a challenge to get into my nursing specialty of choice, cardiac ICU. However, I decided that I would try my best to go for my top pick, but be prepared to work hard wherever I landed my first job as an RN. To my utter surprise, a week after I interviewed for my first unit of choice, I was offered a position. It was the most relieving thing to know I had a job in line after the NCLEX, and that it is doing what I love best in nursing. So here are my tips for getting that first nursing position. Hopefully, you will be encouraged and add some of your own tips.

1. Attitude

Whether you know exactly what you want to do, or are open to trying anything, be humble yet confident. I think of it as responsibility. You have the responsibility to honestly evaluate yourself and make yourself the best person you can be. Yet, you must remember that as you continue to experience your life (clinical rotations, class, unit culture), you change and grow. Deep down, I wanted to make my first RN job another learning experience more than anything else, just like everything I have done up to this point. Be confident and don't let other people's opinions dictate your goals in life.

2. Start marketing yourself, stat

I started long before my last semester of school. There were clinical rotations that I dreaded, but I always allowed my desire to grow as a student and a person motivate me to do my absolute best. This allowed me to be fully engaged in cultivating qualities from the experience that would lay a foundation for being a nurse.

Clinical is also an excellent opportunity to display your professionalism and teamwork. Just take the initiative every chance you get. If you have a CNA job, then try to let management know early on what your career goals are and see if they are willing to help (write that reference or even hire you). Accumulate your experiences internally and reflect on how you can turn them into examples that demonstrate your skill set. Be yourself, but make yourself the student/CNA who always wants to learn, get hands on, and be a team player.

3. Network actively

For me, this was the hardest part. How do you get to know the manager(s) who run the unit(s) of your choice? I asked every nurse, classmate and faculty member I knew if they had a contact. From there, I reached out via email with a nice little note and professional resume. Don't be afraid to ask questions, it demonstrates interest. I tried to be open minded by reaching out to not only my top interests but the units that would make a good inroad to my dream position.

It was rewarding to hear back from so many managers and clinical supervisors. Most of them told me they really noticed when a soon to be nursing graduate took the initiative to reach out to them, instead of just waiting to be invited for an interview. Some even called me to get to know me a little better, were able to answer questions regarding their unit, and let me know they had hired those who took initiative to reach out to them in the past. When I did go for the actual interviews, I felt more comfortable since I had already established a connection with the manager.

Also, it is not a bad idea to carry resumes (customized to the facility/unit) with you during your clinical rotations so that you are always prepared to make it onto a manager's list of candidates. If possible, work as a CNA or precept on one of your units of choice. The experience and opportunities to meet people are invaluable, plus you can confirm if you still want to pursue your current course of interest, or need to consider some alternatives.

4. Make a flawless impression via your resume and references

I say this because we are all human and therefore, we are flawed. However, a resume is a finite piece of paper and you have almost complete control of what goes on it. You do need to be honest and include everything that the potential employer(s) require, but really pay attention to how you order that resume.

I know everyone tells you to proofread, but don't stop there. Try to get ten different people to look at it and critique that resume because if there is an error, that is already one reason not to hire you that you could have prevented. Make it as professional as possible, but not personal. Unless you are hired to a creative type of job, just focus on how to objectively communicate that you meet all the qualifications for the position on plain white resume paper. Also, take the time to form relationships and then get those letters of recommendation. You are a mile ahead of your competitors if you already have the reference in hand when you apply or interview.

5. Learn yourself

Especially when it comes to interviewing, study how you respond to that kind of scenario (the interview), make a plan, and practice to the extent you feel comfortable. Personally, it made me nervous to prepare word for word answers for possible questions. Instead, I jotted down three or four key points I wanted to communicate about myself (my intense/tenacious curiosity, compassionate service towards those individuals experiencing one of the most challenging times of their life, and my collaborative approach to problem-solving). Then, try to remember examples, especially from clinical or a job in healthcare where you demonstrated some of these traits (no matter on what scale).

Do not compare yourself to others. Do not go on Google and copying someone else's answers. Do let your life experience inspire your answers. Do anticipate questions about your weaknesses or how you handled something difficult. I was even asked to share an instance where I handled something inappropriately and what I would change about my approach now. Remember to reflect! Honestly, it can be terrifying, but sometimes, all you need to do is communicate how you grew from the experience and are facing new challenges with poise. The more specific your examples, the better. Try to adapt your stories during the interview when you are asked a question which you did not anticipate.

Gauge who you are being interviewed by, but be authentic as you. After my interviews, I felt like I had been too such and such, or not enough so and so. Just focus on diplomatically demonstrating how you are a wonderful fit for the job, the unit, and the organization.

In closing, there is so much more to pursuing your dream job than what I chose to include here. Please share your tips and experiences. Happy job hunting!

RN; all things cardiac and intensive care enthusiast! Working at a transplant and level 1 trauma tertiary care center known for excellence in cardiology and CT surgery. Passionate about encouraging students and those who are new to the profession as they are tomorrow's leaders.

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107 Posts

I definitely agree about the polished resume bit. I worked as an HR consultant prior to returning to school for nursing, designing hiring and training modules as well ad teaching managers how to effectively interview and make hiring decisions. Many prospective employers will immediately toss resumes with blatant errors. They don't even get considered!

You want your resume to look nice, look professional and most of all STAND OUT. Don't be afraid to use a slightly different font (nothing curly or cute... but you can branch out beyond times new roman), use bold typefaces, bullet points, or dark colors (Navy, dark grey) other than black to emphasize points (not for the main content though). Use a nice, heavy paper rather than plain white copy paper. You want it to stand out, but if you ask the manager why that resume stands out, beyond the content, you want them to have trouble articulating why your resume is more visually appealing than another.

Personalize your resume. If you are applying to 4 different units (ER, cardiac, LD, and med/surg for example), you should have FOUR DIFFERENT resumes and cover letters!

Also, use a cover letter! The cover letter is where you get to help the prospective employer get to know you! This is where you convey why they should hire you and not your fellow new graduate who has the EXACT SAME qualifications you do! If 2 (or many many more) people graduate from the same program and have had the same clinical experience, passed the same NCLEX... you need to tell the manager why YOU are the better choice.

Show up EARLY to interviews. 10-15 minutes. Dress appropriately. Bring a paprr and pen. Nothing flashy, revealing, or too unusual. Limit jewlery or wear none. Style your hair in a societally 'normal' way... no blue hair or wild styles, even if you know there are employees there with those styles (save them for after your hired!).

After the interview, write down a few things you spoke about with the manager. Include personal things if you can (did the fact that their kid is in baseball come up at all? The fact that they graduated from the same program you did?) Write and mail a thank you note within 24 hours of the interview...including a personal comment if you can. (Thank you for taking the time out of your schedule to meet with me today, I know you are busy with little Johnnys baseball games. I hope I left you feeling confident about my ability to thive in the position of X. If you have any questions or concerns please contact me at


6 Posts

I've been precepting in NICU and absolutely love it, all the nurses agree that I should be working with them, but all the residency positions are taken, and they are currently only interviewing experienced nurses for the two NICU positions available. Would it hurt to apply for the job even though I don't have the 2 years experience...or would that look bad on my part?


1 Article; 32 Posts

Specializes in CCU, CVICU, CVRU, Cardiac Cath Lab, RRT. Has 1 years experience.

Hello SMrey

Always go about pursuing a job in a professional way, but don't let it scare you. Personally, I would definitely apply AND do the following. Take a copy of your perfected resume, cover letter and references (all on nice resume paper) and hand them to the nurse manager. If you can get your preceptor and maybe even another nurse or charge nurse in the NICU to write you a letter of recommendation/be a reference, that is even better. Tell the manager how much you loved your preceptorship, collaborating with the staff and what a wonderful fit the unit is for you. Talk about your passion for NICU and how you would love to receive the training as a new nurse to begin a long career on their unit. Be brief, enthusiastic and professional. Smile and really make it apparent that you mean what you say. Use some examples of patient interactions you have had on the unit to support your people skills and why you would love to work there. I wouldn't mention anything about there only being two positions for experienced nurses only. This shoots you in the foot before you make your case and shows that you are quick to assume things. They may or may not interview you. However, you will know that you did everything that you could to take advantage of the opportunity. Chances are, they will be impressed with your initiative and best case hire you. Worst case, they just smile at your good impression. Definitely reach out though. You never know what a connection will do for you in the future, although hopefully it would benefit you now. Best wishes!


6 Posts


Thank you for you advice! I did apply for the job, added my precepting hours to my resume experience, and asked my nurse preceptors to be references. I have an interview next week for the open NICU position!


1 Article; 32 Posts

Specializes in CCU, CVICU, CVRU, Cardiac Cath Lab, RRT. Has 1 years experience.

Congratulations SMrey! I wish you the best with the interview. Be sincere and communicate enthusiasm for this specific NICU. It is fantastic that you have the references from your preceptors.


6 Posts

I GOT THE JOB!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH!!! for your advice and encouragement! I didn't even need a follow up interview with the unit supervisors (probably because one of them was my reference)! The Unit managers interviewed me and said they were impressed with my precepting hours. The interview was great, I added some humor in the right moments and at the end of the interview I asked a few questions to show my interest in getting the proper training and then very enthusiastically told them how very much I wanted to be a part of their team! I am so excited!


1 Article; 32 Posts

Specializes in CCU, CVICU, CVRU, Cardiac Cath Lab, RRT. Has 1 years experience.

So happy for you SMrey! I bet they were impressed with your persistence and enthusiasm. Thank you for commenting. I am always excited to see others get the opportunity to do what they are passionate about. NICU is a wonderful specialty in nursing and I wish you the best!