COMPETENT, QUALIFIED, and caring nurses are still in demand despite abnormal rates of unemployment and underemployment. Now more than ever, you need to spend your time wisely to find and research jobs. If you're well-informed when you contact an employer, your knowledge and preparation will make a positive impression and help you land your dream job.
This article provides important steps to help you find job openings, choose a location and specialty, write your cover letter and résumé, and ace the pre-employment interview.
As you seek out your dream job, network with your colleagues, peers, and fellow members of professional nursing organizations. Look for more information and explore leads on the Internet. Many employers have web pages describing employment opportunities at their facility. Some post virtual tours as well as testimonials from nurses at their facility. Besides facility and unit mission statements, links to job descriptions may also be available. Learn all you can from the posted information, then use e-mail links and phone numbers to follow up.
Nursing employment sites are also available online. Seek out sites, such as those sponsored by professional nursing organizations, that are independent of corporate bias.
Attend job fairs
Visit a health careers job fair to meet representatives of healthcare employers and network with other job seekers. Many job fairs are co-sponsored by health centers, universities, and nursing publications. They're advertised online, in newspapers, and through professional organizations and journals. Prepare to attend any job fair by reviewing the list of employers and identifying ones that interest you. Bring copies of your current résumé. Wear professional business attire and promote yourself as a confident, caring professional.
Read job ads
Along with online employment sites, the want ads in your local and regional newspapers and in nursing journals can also provide leads. Many employers post positions internally before starting an external search, so keep abreast of internal employment postings through employee newsletters or posting boards.
Zero in on your preferences
Choosing where to work and in what specialty or role may be a challenge because of the almost endless options available in many markets. At first, try to limit your choices to no more than five potential employers. If you're just starting your nursing career, consider how this first position will impact your professional growth. Be prepared to accept a shift that's not your first choice, at least until you have more experience.
Once you've learned all you can about the facility by talking with currently employed nurses and visiting the facility's website, put a chart together. List such points as quality of work life, career opportunities, loan repayment and tuition reimbursement policies, working conditions, orientation or residency programs (length, curriculum), and cross-training and shift requirements.
Nurse recruiters are paid salespeople, so try to get more objective information from insiders. Use your networking skills to connect directly with one or more currently employed RNs working in the unit of interest. One great networking resource is your own college or program alumni association. Contact the alumni director for networking assistance. Another good networking resource is your college or university career center.
To discover if you and the potential employer are a fit, compare your professional nursing philosophy, mission, and goals with those of the facility. See Size up the mission.
Narrowing your focus
To choose a nursing specialty, first perform a thorough self-assessment of your education, skills, and experience. Specialty areas may be based on patient age (pediatric, geriatric), disorders (cardiac, diabetes, orthopedic, respiratory), or location (community, faith community, homecare, schools, prison). Other roles include forensic, legal, and advanced practice nursing, and nursing education.
Choose carefully what will help most in developing your skill and competence. Consider spending your first 2 years in a foundational role such as medical-surgical nursing before specializing. Most employers will expect you to cross-train so you can function competently in more than one area.
Polish your résumé
To apply for a nursing position, you'll need to provide a current résumé. When preparing your résumé, consider what you can offer to this employer. What will make your résumé stand out from others? Have you published health or nursing information? Are you an officer of a professional organization or community group, a volunteer, a preceptor, or a mentor? Are you a member of a professional nursing organization, and if so, do you have relevant experience in the organization? Have you organized an association's conference or been trained as a CPR instructor, for instance? What have you accomplished? How have you implemented life-long learning?
Your résumé needs to be absolutely correct and current, but tailor it for each potential employer and position, and edit it to promote your skills and interests based on the position you seek.
To make a good, professional impression, use standard fonts for your résumé and use heavy white bond paper if you're submitting a hard copy. Keep copies for yourself and bring one with you to the interview.
If you're a student or alumnus of a school that has a career center, take full advantage of it. Some great books and computer-based résumé builder programs can help guide your résumé-writing efforts.
You can also prepare a portfolio that includes:
- projects you've completed
- care maps you've formulated and implemented
- awards you've received
- reports and papers you've written
- continuing education you've accomplished
- examples of your communication and problem-solving abilities
- your résumé.
Writing the letter of application
Keep this business-format letter brief, clear, and specific. Begin by mentioning the position you're seeking and how you learned of the job opening. For example, you could write: "On Sunday (date) in the XYZ State Journal, I read that State Memorial Hospital was seeking applicants for ________ position. . . " Then briefly state previous work experience and education and why you're qualified for the position.
End the letter by asking for an opportunity to interview for the position and offering a time when you can be reached. Include your phone numbers as well as an e-mail address. Send this letter by e-mail if requested to do so.
Your employment application
After the employer has contacted you, you'll need to complete an employment application. The employment application can be legally binding and may lead to immediate dismissal if it's not accurate.
If you're completing the application on site, come prepared with all needed information. Employment applications vary, but expect to document your contact information, nursing license (type, state, date of expiration), and educational background (most recent first with addresses, dates of attendance, degrees received, credits earned).
You'll also be asked employment specifics such as previous employers (address, employment dates, immediate supervisor, and phone contacts). You may also be asked to list job titles and duties.
Employment applications will likely ask for employment references (name, affiliation, contact information). Bring the list with you and be prepared to identify your relationship with each person. Usually, you'll be asked for at least one employment reference (a current or recent supervisor), at least one professional nursing reference (such as a clinical instructor who knew you for more than one course), and at least one additional reference. Get permission from the people you choose as references before you list their names. You'll need their current contact information and capacity (faculty, supervisor, colleague).
Expect to give permission to your potential employers to contact your references so they'll have confidential, unbiased information about you.
Preparing for the interview
Employment interviews can be scary, but preparing well will build your confidence. One great way to prepare is to anticipate questions you may be asked and put them on note cards. See Questions you may be asked for sample questions. Have a friend or colleague ask you these questions in a mock interview.
Before the interview, honestly assess your own strengths and shortcomings. Review your résumé, goals, and professional nursing philosophy. Consider carefully your attitudes about yourself and your career. Remember that your job during the interview is to convince the interviewer that you'll be an asset to the facility.
You need to arrive ahead of time (no excuses!) but not too far ahead. Comb your hair, catch your breath, take a cold drink of water, and appear composed.
Dress and look the part—well-rested, with conservative clothing and (for women) minimal makeup and jewelry. Wear your hair as you would while working. Don't smoke, chew gum, or eat during the interview.
Shake the interviewer's hand, and call him or her by title and surname; avoid using first names, even if you already know the person. Use appropriate eye contact and open body posture.
Answers to your interviewer's questions should be relevant, positive, brief, honest, and enthusiastic. Refrain from irrelevant chatter. Take care to project a positive attitude and avoid blaming or criticizing former employers, supervisors, or faculty.
Respond carefully if you're asked about the negative aspects of your previous position. Answer as positively as you can. For example, you could say, "One regret I have is that I didn't have more time to research high-risk pregnancies. I want to do all I can to prevent low-birthweight infants." That is, turn a negative question into a positive response. Or, "Although I enjoyed many aspects of my last position, XYZ Clinic didn't include opportunities for me to practice as a ______, which is a career goal for me."
Show your interest and enthusiasm for the position by being well prepared with questions of your own. Bring a list of questions with spaces for answers; fill these in as you ask the questions. See Questioning do's and don'ts.
Follow up without delay
Expect to be interviewed by more than one person—a whole team may be involved. Always write a brief thank-you letter to everyone you met to thank them for their time and the information they provided. Because the thank-you letter is a professional communication, use a business format. Write and send the thank-you letter immediately after the interview. Not only does the thank-you letter demonstrate your interest and appreciation, but it also provides you with one more opportunity to sell yourself as a professional nurse. You may wish to include the date that you expect to hear further details about your employment status. Sending the letter by mail instead of by e-mail may help set you apart from other applicants.
Even if you're no longer interested in the position, you should still express your appreciation for the opportunity to interview. Leave the door open for future options.
With a little planning and careful research, that dream job can be yours. Finding your ideal fit is challenging but ultimately rewarding and career-making. Best of luck to you!
Size up the mission
Healthcare facilities and nursing departments—even specific units in some cases—have published missions and philosophies. Finding a healthcare employer with a mission that's compatible with your own will give you the best chance at job satisfaction.
Nurse managers also use the organization's philosophy and mission when developing department goals, approaches, and budgets. Staff orientation, residency, and staff development programs for the whole facility center on its mission.
The published philosophy and mission dramatically affect recruitment and retention of professional nursing staff. These statements facilitate effective management, health research, outcomes-based activities, and all continuous quality improvement activities.
Look for philosophy and mission statements that are clear, specific, and measurable. The facility's philosophy and mission provide all stakeholders with a clear view of what to expect—and what will be expected of you.
Questions you may be asked
Prepare for questions such as:
- Why do you want to leave (or why did you leave) your present job?
- Why are YOU right for this job? What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Why did you choose to be a nurse?
- What was good about your previous job (or the school from which you graduated)?
- What was bad about your alma mater or your former employer?
- How do you handle stress?
- How do you deal with conflict? Tell me about a situation in which you had a conflict with a patient, employee, physician, or peer, and how you handled it.
- What do patients expect from nurses?
- What's the difference between mediocre and excellent nursing care?
- How have you solved challenging nursing problems? Identify specific situations and experiences.
- What do you know about this facility or position and how do you think you would fit within our philosophy and mission?
- How have you demonstrated your ability to perform as a team member and team player?
Questioning do's and don'ts
Here are some appropriate questions to ask at your interview:
- What's your new employee orientation, internship, or residency program? Are continuing education (CE) programs available through the facility?
- What would make this nursing position satisfying for me?
- How will this position facilitate my goal, such as for cross training, career advancement, or committee work?
- What are each shift's nurse/patient ratios on the unit where I'll work and in the total facility?
- What's your reimbursement policy for external programs, CE programs, certification, and nursing classes?
- Who's on the team, such as licensed versus unlicensed staff and what are team member qualifications?
- What's your career ladder program and policy?
- To whom would I report? Can you show me your management structure?
- What's the relationship among professionals of different disciplines (respiratory, pharmacy, medicine, dietary)?
During your initial interview, avoid asking questions like these:
- How many sick days will I earn?
- What's the top salary for this position?
- How much vacation would I get?
- What benefits do you offer?