Author: Traci Heaps, RN, BSN
As a recent graduate of a nursing school known for its stringent program, I was so happy to be done and ready for the next phase of my career. Nursing school brought such overwhelming emotion to my life, and what lay ahead was something that many schools do not adequately prepare you for. You work tirelessly for years, knowing the end payoff will be big, but you don’t think about the fact that finding a job in itself is also a huge task.
How to Set Yourself Apart
I was very fortunate to have found a job fairly fast. I graduated in June, took my state boards in July, and started working in August. I live in an area where there are three nursing schools in a two county, 30 mile radius. Approximately 75 nurses graduated from these three schools in June and all were competing for the same jobs. After talking to graduates from classes before me, and prospective employers I learned a few tips that I would like to share with anyone who is entering the health care field.
- First and foremost, create an awesome resume that really sells your skills. Think about the skills you have that are most important to perspective employers and highlight them in some way on your resume.
- Use the resources available to you at your school. All schools have career resource centers that can help you come up with great strategies for job hunting along with a resume that really shines. They are trained professionals who want to help you be successful in the job search.
- Another great resource in our state is WA Worksource. There is an equivalent program in every state and they too have trained professionals who will help you create that perfect resume. They will also help you by doing mock interviews if you feel intimidated by the thought of sitting down one on one with a prospective employer.
- Make connections. Every quarter or semester of school that you are placed in a clinical setting, get to know the employees, ask them what they like and dislike about their jobs. If you find a place you feel you really want to work after graduation, go out of your way to introduce yourself to the managers, make your name known. Ask for letters of reference from anyone who tells you that you are doing an exceptional job. Hold on to these and any other student reviews that are filled out about you. One of my best resources when I applied for the job I wanted was a stack of student evaluations that the nurses from the hospital I was applying for had filled out about me when I was a student. The manager was able to look at the evaluation her nurses had filled out about me and see that they felt I was qualified to do the job.
- Don’t just turn in your online application and pray it gets to the right person. I have developed the opinion that online applications go to some great abyss never to be seen again. If I did not follow up, I did not hear from the prospective employers at all. Call the department you are applying for and ask for the manager’s name, phone number, and email address. Send them a letter letting them know you applied for the open position and give them some info on yourself and why you are right for the job. Attach a cover letter and resume to the email. If you don’t hear back in a day or so, call and ask to speak to the manager directly. Ask them if they received your email. This was the hardest part for me as I am not an aggressive or overly outgoing person. When I was precepting in my last quarter of school, the manager of the department where I was precepting had just filled two positions right before I started, she was sad she didn’t have any openings left for me because I was able to prove myself while working on her floor. She did however give me some great tips. She told me that the people she had hired for those two positions were persistent. They called and emailed her regularly and made it known they would go the extra mile for the job. She said at one point it was almost annoying how much one girl called, but because of the gals persistence she interviewed her and then hired her. I used this info during my job search and applied these tips, and I can assure you, that my persistence paid off.
Come to the Interview Prepared
Once you get an interview, don’t just show up. Go the extra mile and arm yourself with knowledge, and dress for success.
- Dress appropriately for your interview. I don’t care if you are applying to be a ditch digger or burger flipper, if you want the job you will need to go to the interview dressed like a professional. If you don’t know how to dress like a professional, use one of the resources above like the school career center or worksource to help you figure it out.
- Research the company you are applying with. Know what they stand for and what their motto is. Make sure their goals match your goals.
- Research interview questions commonly asked in your line of work. I did this and it paid off big. I knew the answer I wanted to give when the questions were asked because I wasn’t caught off guard. Number one question I have heard from all friends and associates was: “How do you handle conflict”. Really think about this question and how you want to answer it. It really is important when you are working in a place with many different personalities, especially when you throw sick patients into the mix.
Getting through school in your intended profession is the hardest part, arming yourself with knowledge about how to get a job beforehand makes the search so much easier in the end.