10 Things You Need to Know About Landing a Nursing Job

Listen to these nursing grads — they went after their ‘dream’ jobs fresh out of school and got them Successful job hunting in any field requires qualifications, of course, but also a go-getter attitude. And the same is true for nurses, especially when looking to land that first job after graduating. These recent grads pulled out all the stops, exhibiting traits like confidence, leadership and commitment — all of which no doubt played a part in their professional victories. Today, they are working full-time in their top choice of nursing fields at their pick of employer. Here’s their advice.

  1. Try to identify your preferred nursing ‘field’ as early as possible. RN Fiona Proctor knew she wanted to be a public health nurse back when she was still in school. “So I started jockeying for student placements in that field.” She literally ‘hounded her placement coordinator’ which is something she says students are told not to do. “I disagree with that wait-and-see mentality. You have to advocate for what’s important to you.” For more information, check out “Types of Nursing — Which Will You Choose?”

  2. Problem: I’m really not sure what type of nursing I want to do. “It can be a challenge to know what route you want to take,” admits Proctor. In that case, she also recommends you advocate for as many experiences while in school as you can. “Network. Ask to tag along with a nurse for one day. Really think about a job in terms of where you want to live and what you want to get out of it.” The point is to zero in on a field that you’re really motivated by early on so you can focus and target your job hunting energies.

  3. When necessary, consider starting out in a different field with internal transfer in mind. RN Caitlin Brown graduated in 2012. At the time she knew she wanted to be an acute care neonatal nurse, and so she applied to a lot of different positions where she knew there was a neonatal practice. “It’s a lot easier to transfer from within than to get in later from the outside.” After working for eight months in a placement at Mount Sinai Hospital in acute care, she learned of an internal posting for the neonatal unit. That posting — she applied and got the job — was only made available to internal staff.

  4. Do not skip the cover letter — and make it personalized, detailed, personable. The Mount Sinai Hospital manager who hired Brown for her student preceptorship admitted that she normally chooses local university grads over out-of-towners (Brown lives in Hamilton and went to McMaster University for nursing). “But she said it was my cover letter that got me the job.” Brown’s secret? She studies the job description in a posting and makes specific references, even using the same language, to match it with her own experience. “If a skill or kind of experience is preferred, and I don’t have it, I even mention that I am happy to learn the skill.”

  5. Seek outside sources to assist in cover letter, resume and interviewing. Billy Kevin Macaroyo got his job as Nurse Manager at Leisureworld Caregiving Centre-Brampton Woods, right after graduating from Ryerson University. “I started applying to jobs a month before I graduated.” But he believes researching how to write a cover letter and resume also helped him land two call backs — for which he got offers on both jobs. He bought a book Anatomy of a Job Search: A Nurses Guide to Finding & Landing the Job You Want. He also asked one of his professors to go over his resume and cover letter. “New grads should get their professors to help them.” Now that Macaroyo actually reviews candidate applications at Leisureworld, he also strongly encourages new grads to pay attention to details. “I can’t tell you how many resumes I see that contain typos. It just leaves a bad impression especially in today’s age of automated spell check.” And if you are still not confident in your resume and cover letter writing skills, invest in an expert. Proctor went so far as to hire a professional resume writer. Was it worth the $300? “Every single time I put that resume out there, I got an interview,” she says.

  6. Apply to a lot of jobs. “Apply to anything and everything, even if you’re not 100 percent sure where you want to work,” says Brown. Even before her first interview where she works now, at Mount Sinai Hospital, she wasn’t sold on it being the right fit for her. “When I went to the interview I had such a connection to the organization, I realized how much I would love working there. You never know for sure what you will find, and how it might be right for you, until you do an interview,” she adds.

  7. For more information check out, “What Nurses Should Look for in A Prospective Employer.” Macaroyo agrees. “When you are a new grad it is important to get your foot in the door somewhere. It’s so much easier to switch employers if you see it is not a good fit, than searching for work with no experience.”

  8. Research as much as you can pre-interview. Proctor says that after her initial placement on a contract term (she stopped working to have a child), she missed out on a few opportunities because she didn’t know enough detail about the job she was applying for in the interviews. “Employers want to know you that you know what the job entails, specifically, for example, the program content, and that you are passionate about it.”

  9. Show don’t tell in the interview. In advance of the interview for Proctor’s current job, she prepared a three-dimensional interactive presentation of the 13 principles of community health nurses and matched them with things she’d done in her career, all in a puzzle format. “This was a really unique way to show them I understood the principles of this field of nursing.” Similarly, Proctor says you need to be prepared to answer situational questions—real past examples of situations that show your breadth of skills.

  10. Be driven, but also show you want to learn. Proctor encourages nurses to be bold and open about their own career goals in the interview. Employers want to know you’ve thought about what you want and how you plan to get there. But they also want to see that you recognize you are a learner. “You need to be confident and show that you know your stuff, but you also that you have growing to do.”

  11. Send a thank you letter. “As soon as I get home after an interview, I send a thank you email,” says Proctor. She mentions particular aspects from the interview that show why she is deserving of the job and adds on anything she may have not had a chance to share. It’s a polite and memorable way to leave one last good impression, she adds.