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How to land a job in a nurse residency program

Grimley-Baker, Kathy MS, DNP, RN, NP, CNL

doi: 10.1097/

Kathy Grimley-Baker is a clinical RN at Stanford Health Care in Stanford, Calif., and adjunct faculty at the University of San Francisco in San Francisco, Calif.

The author has disclosed no financial relationships related to this article.

NEW GRADUATE NURSES account for the highest number of nurses entering and exiting the nursing profession.1 A nurse residency program (NRP) can help new graduates achieve their professional goals.

Employment prospects for new graduate nurses are promising. The nursing workforce is projected to increase 15% from 2,955,200 in 2016 to 3,393,200 by 2026.2 As 73% of baby boomers plan to retire in 3 years or less, most new graduate nurses can anticipate an improved likelihood of getting hired.3 It is essential that graduating nurses who are seeking employment recognize the option of applying to an NRP and its proven benefits.4

Many new graduates now have the option of starting their careers in an NRP. These programs developed out of a 2010 recommendation from the Institute of Medicine, now called the National Academy of Medicine, to establish programs that assist and support new nurses as they transition into practice.5 Systematic reviews find that NRPs produce a positive return on investment, with nurses from NRPs experiencing increased job retention and satisfaction compared with nurses not in NRPs.6,7 The most effective NRPs in regard to retention and return on investment are 1 year long and include preceptor support as well as didactic experience.8

In order to secure an interview and acceptance into a competitive NRP, new graduates need to make themselves stand out on an application and cover letter. This article focuses on attaining acceptance into an NRP and offers advice for students or newly graduated nurses entering the nursing job market for the first time.

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The application process is the first step in weeding out candidates. It allows nurse administrators to assess applicants' ability to read and follow instructions accurately. Applicants should review all instructions before initiating the application process. Applications will specify if a Microsoft Word or PDF document is required. Study the instructions carefully to ascertain what documents are required and the designated opening/closing dates and times. Some NRPs limit applicants to those who have graduated no more than 12 months before the start date of the program. Others define newly graduated nurses as those who have graduated from a licensed nursing program and have less than 1 year of experience.9 Additionally, applications will have a deadline date by which applicants must have received their RN license in order to apply. Most applications are completed online.

Faculty letters of recommendations should be printed on the school's letterhead stationery and designate the role of that faculty member at the university (for example, adjunct or tenured professor of nursing). As nursing students progress through a program and realize they want to work in a particular specialty area, they should consider asking clinical faculty for a letter of recommendation during or at the end of the specialty rotation. Obtaining a letter from faculty is easier at the time of the clinical experience rather than semesters or years later. Nursing students should start organizing a portfolio as they proceed through school by creating an electronic file or e-portfolio with letters of recommendation and should take full advantage of the school's career planning center services.

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Cover letter

Include a cover letter with the application unless the instructions specifically say “no cover letters.” A cover letter should be tailored to the hospital or institution offering the position. Take time to review the hospital organization's website to become familiar with its mission. Cover letters should be no more than a few paragraphs. A compelling cover letter can help you stand out from other applicants. Start with a strong introductory paragraph that grabs the reader's attention. State the purpose of your application, if there is a specialty area you are seeking, and why. Make a positive first impression by stating why you are an ideal candidate for the NRP. State your qualifications, strengths, and the value you can bring to the organization.

Explain how your personal and professional values mesh with the institution's mission, vision, and values. Include any relevant personal qualities or unique work experiences that could not fit on the résumé due to space restrictions. If you had any clinical rotations or previous work experience at the facility to which you are applying, be sure to share one experience that stood out as exceptional.

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Crafting a résumé

Limit your résumé to one page if possible. Place your full name and contact information across the top. Use a simple style and standard 12-point font size. When space is at a premium, consider merging an objective statement into a cover letter. A career objective could also be placed on your LinkedIn profile, with the URL link following the contact information.

In general, a résumé should cover these elements:

  • Education. An education header is an excellent opening to a résumé. Senior nursing students should indicate the anticipated semester and year of graduation and include the type of nursing degree they are pursuing (ADN, BSN, MSN). Include the name of the school, its location, the program type, dates of attendance, and expected graduation date. If you have enough credits to declare a minor, such as gerontology, childhood development, foreign language, or business, place the minor under the education header as well.
  • Clinical experience. Most NRPs seek particulars of an applicant's clinical experience. List the semester, year, clinical site (including Magnet® status if applicable), specialty area or unit type, and total hours for each. Use bullet points for crucial purposes only. For example, it is expected that a nursing student “gave safe care,” “administered medications,” or “worked with a multidisciplinary team,” so these do not need to be emphasized as bullet points. Accomplishments suitable as bullet points would be an abstract presented at a conference or an evidence-based practice project with the nurse educator or clinical nurse specialist—for example, “Collaborated with the nurse educator on a capstone project that addressed evidence-based practice on the value of purposeful hourly rounding.”
  • Immersion experiences. With the advent of globalization and increased migration, cross-cultural interactions have grown exponentially.10 Educating nurses to practice in a diverse society is essential.11 Immersion experiences, including study abroad courses, help strengthen and cultivate cultural competence.12 Most employers would perceive any of these experiences as a valuable asset.
  • Professional organizations. Nurses and nursing students can increase marketability and appear proactive by joining professional organizations. Include your memberships with the National Student Nurse Association and other professional organizations, honor societies, and cultural or social clubs. Specify your role, such as active member or board member, and include bullet points of community work completed in these organizational activities.
  • Special training. Successful completion of advanced courses such as Advanced Cardiovascular Life Support, Pediatric Advanced Life Support, and Neonatal Resuscitation Program are often recommended or prerequisites for a position. Indicate expiration dates for all course completion cards.
  • Honors/awards. Academic honors or awards such as Dean's list, magna cum laude, or Dean's award of professionalism support an impression of professionalism.

Other headers on a résumé can vary. When applicable, you might include work experience, volunteer experience, fluency in a foreign language, and outside interests. Present work experience with the most recent employment first and work backward. Include the employer's name, dates of employment, and a brief description of the job.

Finally, proofread and spell check; spelling and grammatical errors have no place on a professional résumé. A stellar résumé should spark the reader's interest and lead to an interview.

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For a successful interview, a candidate must exhibit confidence and people skills. Dress professionally, come prepared, and turn off your cellphone before arriving.

An interviewer will focus on assessing interpersonal communication, people skills, the ability to problem-solve, and whether the applicant is a “fit” with the unit's culture. Confidence and people skills go a long way.

When asked situational interview questions, answer using the nursing process of assessment, intervention, evaluation, or SBAR (Situation-Background-Assessment-Recommendation). For panel interviews, make eye contact with the person who asks the question. Be prepared to answer questions similar to “What do you see as your strengths/weaknesses?” or “What qualities can you bring to our unit?” Be able to share and describe a difficult patient situation and how you handled it. Ask permission to return to a question at the end of the interview if you need more time to remember an example or if you drew a blank when questioned.

Interviewees should come with written questions. Preparing notes ahead of time makes candidates appear professional and organized. If the interviewers already answer a question during the interview, do not ask it again. It is also a good idea to demonstrate critical thinking skills by sharing an example that demonstrates your ability to collaborate and be an active member of an interdisciplinary team.

It is beneficial to inquire about education time or education funds offered to employees. Many times, this is already negotiated in a contract, but it will demonstrate a desire to continue to be a self-learner and aspirations to pursue higher education. Inquire about relevant hospital committees and qualifications required to be a member.

Have duplicate letters of recommendations, résumés, course completion cards, and nursing school transcripts in case someone on the panel asks for it during the interview.

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Preparation leads to success

Making the transition from nursing student to professional nurse may feel overwhelming. NRPs come in a variety of different structures and timelines, giving new graduate nurses many options. Choose the program whose focus best fits your personal and professional needs, such as communication, organization, critical thinking, and/or stress management.4 You can and will be successful.

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