Snapshot: This article reviews how to plan and manage your nursing job search. It includes advice on self-assessment, job search strategies, and information on how to manage the ups and downs of looking for a job.
Before You Begin
- Manage your job search, and stay organized. You’ll be most successful (and will stay as sane as possible) in your job search if you stay organized as you go. Finding the right job is rarely something that happens quickly or easily; you’ll need to sift through a lot of “no’s” and “maybes” before you find an opportunity that fits your skills, interests, and abilities. So, take your search seriously and find a system that works for you to keep track of what you’ve done, what you need to do, and where you are in the process. Whatever system you choose, stick with it.
- Assess your strengths – and weaknesses. When looking for a job, we sometimes fall into the trap of searching for something that we hope is a match for our skills and abilities, even if it really isn’t. Ask yourself what you’re good at – assessing patients?, managing people?, providing education? – and try to answer as honestly as possible. If you can, write out a list, and ask others for feedback to see if your instincts about yourself match what others think. Nursing is a diverse profession, and the good news is there’s room for people with very different interests. Remember: if you find yourself interested in something you’re not ready for yet, you’ve got your whole career to build experience and get there.
- Determine your goals. It’s helpful to ask yourself: what is my ideal work environment, and how do I get there? While you don’t want to fall into the trap of believing that there’s a perfect job out there (there isn’t), it’s useful to imagine a possible future 1, 5, or even 10 years down the road. While your goals may change, having a direction to aim for will help you to organize your job search, even if you do so by initially ruling out what you don’t want to do, and only later rule in what you do want to do.
- Honestly survey your environment. One of the most important steps in your job search is to conduct an honest assessment of your job prospects in the places or places you’d most like to work. Jobs at large hospitals and academic medical centers in major metropolitan areas are hard to come by, especially for new graduates. While you may be one of the thousands of job applicants selected, realize that you also may not be – by no fault of your own. While you want to apply for jobs you’re a match for, you should also be realistic about the competition and spread your bets. If you’re willing to move to a different geographic location with better job opportunities, if only for a while, consider doing so. Whatever you decide, try to be honest about your chances and conduct your job search accordingly.
- Consider more than just hospital employment. Traditionally, new nursing graduates were told that they should aim to begin their careers on the medical-surgical floor of an acute-care hospital. While that may be the path you pursue, consider that only about 60% of RN’s nationwide work in hospital settings, and that the largest likely areas of job growth for RN’s will occur outside of hospitals in physician offices, home care settings, nursing homes, and the like. You can greatly expand your job prospects by looking outside of hospital environments; make sure that you at least consider these other workplace settings in your search.
- Talk to people! The single most important step you can take in networking is to get “out there” and talk to people. Your network consists of more people than you probably realize: not just immediate friends, but former employers, teachers, local professionals, and all of their friends of friends and colleagues too. Don’t just talk to nurses; other healthcare professionals, and those who work outside of healthcare, will often prove helpful. While you’ll hopefully find this website useful, don’t make the mistake of spending too much time online. There’s no substitute for getting the word out to others that you’re job-hunting; until you do, you never know who may connect you to whom.
- Join local professional associations and go to meetings. In almost every corner of the country, there are a wealth of professional associations you can join, contribute to, and use to network. Consider joining the National Student Nurses Association (NSNA), which has local chapters all across the country and offers discounted rates to students and new graduates. The American Nursing Association (ANA) also has a national presence with lots of local chapters. You’re likely to learn things about nursing, develop a better understanding of local employment challenges, and you may find more experienced nurses who can help connect you to hiring managers, or who can mentor you.
- Help others. It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to find a job for yourself is to help others with their job search too. By talking to others you can share valuable information and connect one another with sources and leads. Chances are you aren’t looking for exactly the same positions, and even if you are you’re still probably better off working together than separately. If you have time to volunteer during your search, for example at local hospitals, clinics, or in other settings, you can do that too; not only will you hopefully find it rewarding, but doing so can expand your network and in some cases may even lead to a full-time position.
- Do informational interviewing. Informational interviews, in which you talk to individuals who aren’t actively looking to hire, can be valuable. Not only will you learn things and expand your network, should that organization need to hire in the future your name will already be known. Informational interviews can be conducted both in-person or over the phone; in-person interviews are usually preferable if you can arrange them. Come prepared to ask whomever you speak with some prepared questions, for instance about local hiring trends and developments, how this person got started in his or her career, what a type day is like, etc. At the end of the interview, it’s appropriate to ask if the person knows anyone else you may speak with. Most people are willing to help less experienced nurses; after all, even the most experienced nurses were new at some point, and it’s flattering to be asked to share your experience and knowledge with others.
- Get business cards made. Whether you’ve graduated from nursing school yet or not, it can be helpful to get personal business cards made with your name and contact information (at a minimum your email address and phone number) on them to hand out to contacts as you network. Doing so makes it easier for others to remember who you are and to keep in touch with you. Take the cards with you wherever you go; you never know who you’ll run into or who you may want to hand one to.
- Keep your network up-to-date (even after you get a job). As your network begins to grow, use this website (or some other system, as long as you stick with it) to keep track of who you’ve met, who you’ve followed up with, the outcome, and any next steps for your to-do list. The more you keep your network up-to-date, the more organized you’ll feel and the better sense you’ll have of where job opportunities may lie. Even better, once you land a job keep your network up-to-date then too. Your job search is actually only the beginning of your networking efforts. The more connected you stay with your network as you work, the more opportunities you’ll uncover to enhance your career as you begin to build it.
Job Applications & Hiring Managers
- When you’re applying for a job, follow directions. This sounds really obvious – and it is – but you’d be surprised by how many people fail to follow directions when submitting a job application. If the company wants your resume and cover letter as a PDF, do that; if they say you can’t apply before you’ve passed the NCLEX and are licensed, then don’t; if they ask for only one reference, don’t supply three instead, etc. The bottom line is this: just follow the rules.
- Develop an ‘elevator pitch.’ As you progress in your job search, you’ll become more accustomed to speaking with contacts and hiring managers about who you are, what you’re looking for, and what you can offer. Your goal should be to develop a way of explaining these things in 30 seconds – or less. Any more, and whoever’s listening will probably lose track of what you’re saying. At the beginning of your search, create a rough draft of this ‘pitch,’ and then refine it as you go.
- Follow up with hiring managers about once every 2-3 weeks. There’s some debate about how often it’s appropriate to follow up with hiring managers if you haven’t heard back. While there’s no definite timeframe, following up about every 2-3 weeks is generally appropriate. Email works OK, but it’s usually better if you can leave a voicemail too, or speak directly with the hiring manager or recruiter. Your goal is to be persistent without being annoying or rude. Following up is important, but if you follow up too often it can be off-putting, and you may cast your job application in a poor light.
- Don’t expect replies from all hiring managers or recruiters. In today’s economy, when even experienced nurses are jockeying for positions, it’s unrealistic to expect to hear back from everywhere you’ve applied for a job. Is this fair? No. Is this courteous? Not really. But it’s a reality of the current job market that you should be prepared for. If you haven’t heard back, don’t slow down your job search or unrealistically pin your hopes on one employer. Keep searching, submitting applications, and creating opportunities for yourself.
- Practice communications etiquette. This applies to all forms of communication, but especially phone and email. When you’re on the phone with a contact, a hiring manager or a recruiter, try to speak in a relatively quiet location with little background noise and few distractions. Speak clearly and, if you’re a fast talker, slow down. (If you get nervous on the phone, don’t worry; people usually notice a lot less than you think, or don’t notice at all). One trick when you’re on the phone is to smile when you’re speaking; it sounds odd, but research suggests that your voice will sound more upbeat and positive to your listener. Finally, when you write emails, always treat your writing as formal communication and spell-check before you send.
- If you’re not getting a response, reassess. If you’ve submitted dozens (or even hundreds) of job applications with no interviews to show for it, consider whether you’re applying to the right places, and in the right geographic areas. Some people, of course, don’t have the luxury to consider other geographic areas, but others do; honestly ask yourself if you’re one of them. (Remember: nurses are still in high demand outside of many major urban areas, and even 1 year of work experience will make you more marketable to employers; you can always move back to where you most want to live once you’ve got training and experience). Also, as the advice in the “Before You Begin” section above suggests, consider more than just hospital employment; home health, nursing homes, and physician’s offices are growing areas of nursing employment. The bottom line: if you aren’t getting the results you expect, think critically about why and take corrective action.
- If you’re getting interviews but not job offers, reassess. While an interview is no guarantee of a job offer, if you’re been on several interviews with no job offers to show for it, reassess what you’re doing. (See the “Interview Preparation” guide for more information). Consider getting in touch with an interviewer who didn’t offer you a job to ask for some feedback about why you weren’t offered the position, and how to improve. If you do this, the key is to contact the interviewer without hoping for a second chance – you should just be looking for some honest comments. You may discover why you weren’t a fit (and gain some insight into yourself and your job search), or you may discover you’ve been inadvertently sending the wrong signal. The bottom line is to be proactive in determining how effectively you’re interviewing, and take steps to improve.
Staying Healthy & Sane
- Minimize how you compare yourself to others. This one is easy in theory, but (for many of us) is difficult in practice. The problem with comparing yourself with others, especially in a job search, is that what’s good for someone else probably isn’t good for you, and vice versa. While it can be challenging to see friends get interviews and jobs if you aren’t, neither you nor they can determine what the ultimate outcome of those successes will be. You’re much better off focusing on your own needs and goals, and offering your honest encouragement and congratulations to others as you go.
- Stay physically active. A job search, especially for new nursing graduates, is in many ways a full-time job in itself. While you want to take your search seriously, you also need to give yourself breaks and spend time getting ‘out of your head.’ There are few better ways to do this than through exercise, which will help you keep in shape and will make you feel better too. If you’re able to exercise out of doors, all the better, as you’ll have plenty of time to spend talking on the phone and emailing from your computer inside.
- Don’t be naïve, but stay positive. During your job search, there’s a fine line between being hopeful and being realistic. The key is to honestly assess your strengths and weaknesses, in addition to your local job environment (see the “Before You Begin” section above). Once you’ve made those assessments and formulated a strategy, you can then be more confident in your search. Remember: for all of the “no’s” you’re likely to hear as you, you only need one “yes” to land a job.
- Let go. Most job searches are stressful, at least to some degree. For most of us, talking to strangers and “marketing ourselves” are not activities that come naturally, or easily. It’s therefore easy to become anxious about the process, and judgmental towards ourselves or others. You’ll do much better, and maybe even enjoy the process, if you can learn to let go of your need to see the final outcome of your search. Trust yourself, find support from friends and families, and have faith that you’ll end up somewhere that’s right for you – because you will.