The Nurse's Guide To Finding A Job
By Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC
When searching for a nursing job, there are a number of strategies that can be helpful in conducting a successful search and finding the right position.
Nurses and other professionals seeking a job will usually spend 80 - 90% of their time looking through online job boards and applying for positions. This is the most obvious tactic in a professional job search. However, other strategies can also be employed by the nurse seeking a successful outcome.
When launching a job search, nurses must be sure that every tool in their nursing job search toolbox is sharp and ready for action.
A nursing job search can be stressful, and there are many moving parts to consider, from resumes and cover letters to interviews and networking skills. In this guide, we’ll discuss important job search strategies and the tools that can make that search less stressful and more fruitful.
Assess Your Skills And Qualifications
When embarking on a job search, it’s important to first assess your skills and qualifications in order to market yourself in a savvy manner for appropriate positions.
First, make a list of your clinical and non-clinical skills that are pertinent to your search. Next, make a list of your certifications and educational achievements. For your own self-knowledge, also list your personality traits that make you an excellent nurse job candidate.
Having these lists in your mind can be helpful when crafting a resume, cover letter, or LinkedIn profile, as well as during job interviews.
In terms of self-assessment, you may also want to conduct a SWOT analysis of yourself as a nurse and healthcare professional. SWOT stands for Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats. These analyses are often used by career coaches as a way to discover your personal competitive advantage.
Your strengths and weaknesses are self-explanatory, and these are good to understand since you may be asked about them in job interviews.
Opportunities are those areas where you feel you may have traction and forward movement as a nursing professional.
Threats can be personal characteristics, family obligations, unreliable transportation, legal struggles or a pending divorce, chronic illness, a tight job market, a blemish on your nursing license -- anything that could pose a threat to your finding your niche and landing a job.
Additionally, make a determination in terms of what type of employment you are looking for (full time, part time, per diem), and what type of setting you’d prefer to work in. Being clear on your desires and goals will assist you in being strategic and focused in your search.
Research Current Job Openings
Understanding the current job market is an important aspect of your search. This is where online job boards can be quite useful. You want to understand the lay of the land, the types of positions that are being posted, and the qualifications being requested of applicants for those positions.
If you are planning a move to a new city, town, or state, doing your due diligence in relation to the job market is crucial. You can use LinkedIn and your personal network to seek out professionals in that area who might be willing to shed light on the employment situation in your desired location.
Assessing which facilities or agencies are hiring will give you a leg up in terms of doing advanced research on those employers. Look at these employers’ websites, searching for clues about their organizational mission and vision, Magnet status or accreditation, recent awards, and other recognition received.
Understanding as much as possible about a potential employer allows you to craft your cover letter and resume accordingly. You can also strategically leverage such information during a job interview in order to showcase the fact that you’ve done your homework.
The Nurse’s Job Search Toolbox
When we think of a job search, the first tool on our list will most likely be a resume, and that’s as it should be. Resumes are still widely utilized across the majority of professions and industries, including healthcare and nursing.
Although many applications are now commonly done online, most still request that a resume is uploaded even though most of the information on the resume has already been entered on the application. For some positions, the applicant still simply submits a resume and cover letter by mail.
Furthermore, when attending a job interview, the nurse applicant should always have a few fresh copies of his or her resume on hand.
If you are planning to apply for jobs in several relatively unrelated areas of nursing practice (for example, home health and dialysis), then you will want several versions of your resume that are maximized for those particular specialties.
The heading of your resume should include the following:
- Name and credentials
- Mailing address
- Email address
- Phone number
- Custom LinkedIn profile URL (web address)
Always put your credentials after your name. Don’t make the resume reader search through your resume to find out what credentials you have -- tell them right away. You earned your credentials, so flaunt them.
If you have an email address like “firstname.lastname@example.org”, create a new address specifically for your professional career, networking, and job applications. Something like DaphneDuckRN@gmail.com or Brown.CharlieBSN@hotmail.com is fine.
Objective vs. summary
Some resumes begin with an objective such as, “Skilled registered nurse seeking a position in home health care.” An objective truly states the obvious and should be saved for your cover letter. Rather, use a professional summary at the top of your resume in order to highlight your accomplishments, credentials, experience, and special skills.
Make your summary as non-generic as possible and brand your resume as a document unique to who you are as a nurse. If your summary could be applied to most any other nurse, it’s definitely too generic.
If you are applying for a position where specific qualifications are required, make sure those qualifications are clearly reflected in your resume. Further, if certain keywords in a job posting appear to be very important for this particular position, consider utilizing some of those keywords in your summary.
For newer nurses without clinical experience, listing details of your clinical rotations is permissible. As you gain actual professional experience, your clinical experiences in nursing school will be less relevant and can be removed entirely.
List your education clearly in your resume. It is not necessary to include your GPA. Non-nursing education is also appropriate to include.
Finally, avoid common resume mistakes and create a resume that counts.
Over the coming decades, resumes may fall out of favor in some industries due to a growing movement towards online applications and electronic portfolios. Until that time, every nurse needs a robust, well-written, flawlessly designed resume that will help him or her to stand out from the crowd.
THE COVER LETTER:
Cover letters are both an art and a science. A cover letter should always be printed on the same paper, and be designed with the same font and general style as your resume. It should also have the same heading and contact information at the top. This way, if you mail your resume and cover letter or deliver them personally, they make a nice cohesive visual package and personal branding statement.
Do your best to learn the name of a specific person to whom your letter should be addressed, if at all possible. For some reason, many employers refuse to provide such information -- in this case, ask for the title of the person who will be reviewing resumes for the position. Thus, while you may not be able to address the letter to an individual, you can at least write “Hiring Manager” or “Nurse Manager” rather than “To Whom It May Concern.”
Cover letters have a basic format that can’t go wrong if adhered to. In the first paragraph, tell the reader what position you’re applying for and where you saw that position posted. Express your enthusiasm for the position and consider saying something positive about the facility or organization that you know to be true and significant (for example, their recent Magnet designation or their reputation for robotic surgery, etc).
When reading a job posting, search the ad for keywords that you can repeat in your cover letter (and in your resume as well). For example, if the position requires experience with delegation, be certain to point out your specific experience with delegation.
The middle two paragraphs should be as specific as possible, focusing on the aspects of your skills, experience, knowledge, or education that make you the ideal candidate for the position and the organization. Rather than repeat information from your resume, use the cover letter to go a little deeper and call attention to crucial aspects of your resume. The cover letter and resume should work hand in hand to empower and strengthen one another, not just regurgitate the same information in the same way.
The closing paragraph of your cover letter reiterates your enthusiasm and interest, and thank the organization or individual for their interest.
Always close with an appropriate professional salutation (for example: “All the best,” “Sincerely,” “Sincerely yours,” etc.
YOUR BUSINESS CARD:
You may not own a business, but you are essentially the CEO of your own company, your own personal brand. A business card is like a miniature resume that you carry with you at all times.
If you meet a colleague or well-connected professional in a cafe, restaurant, or on the street, you’re not going to have a copy of your resume in your back pocket. Giving them your business card demonstrates that you’re a savvy professional who goes the extra mile and is always prepared.
In an interview, it’s also a nice professional touch to give your interviewer(s) your business card along with a fresh copy of your resume.
Your business card should be two-sided. On side one, you have the same credentials and contact information as the top of your resume or cover letter. On the back, you can have four to six bullet points about what makes you special as a nurse, including certifications, specific experience, skills, etc. Make the bullets short and to the point.
YOUR LINKEDIN PROFILE:
LinkedIn is the largest online professional network in the world. Having a LinkedIn profile shows that you’re a serious healthcare professional who wants to connect with like-minded colleagues.
There are many tips and strategies for creating a strong LinkedIn profile. Think of your profile as a resume on steroids, a place where you can say much more than you can on a resume, as well as give and receive written testimonials and endorsements from colleagues, professors, preceptors, and managers.
Create a customized URL (web address) for your profile and use that URL on your business card and the header of your resume and cover letter. If your LinkedIn URL is http://linkedIn.com/in/marysimonrn, you can write it as:
This looks much nicer and is easier to read.
You can use LinkedIn in a targeted way to meet professionals involved in a particular specialty area of nursing practice. The site may also be used to find other healthcare professionals or nurses who live in a particular geographic area. This can be helpful for making connections prior to or after relocating to a new city or town.
LinkedIn also offers groups where like-minded nurses congregate for support, advice, or discussion.
While you may spend a great deal of time combing through online job boards and applying for nursing positions, it’s also a smart strategy to participate in professional networking throughout your career, as well as during the job search process. You never know when you may need a reference, a recommendation, or some career advice, and having a robust network is a smart strategy.
Building a professional network should optimally begin as soon as you begin nursing school (or sooner). Every professional or non-professional you meet -- even those who work outside of health care and nursing -- could know someone important, influential, or well-connected who would be good for you to know.
Remember that your fellow nursing students may someday be your supervisors or colleagues, so having them in your network is important. Your professors, coworkers, preceptors, and mentors are also part of your network, as are physicians and other allied health professionals with whom you collaborate. Use LinkedIn to get connected with these individuals, and build goodwill by giving testimonials and endorsements on LinkedIn.
Informational interviews are a powerful form of deep, targeted networking, and these can be strategically used during the job search process in order to gather information and learn from professionals who have information, referrals, or resources that will help you find the right position.
Potential networking venues/opportunities may include:
- Your local, state, or regional nursing organization
- Nurse meetups in your area
- Alumni meetups and reunions
- Local, regional, national, or international nursing conferences
- Seminars and symposiums
- Local healthcare provider networking events
And remember that your business card is an essential networking tool in any networking environment.
Social media is a potential tool for strategic networking. We’ll now dive a little deeper into your “digital presence”.
Your Digital Presence
Your digital footprint is enormous, and nurses of any generation may find themselves surprised at how much a potential employer can learn about you with a simple Google search. You can rest assured that most organizations will, in fact, Google you prior to or following an interview, thus you should be certain that your online presence is as spotless as possible.
As a 21st-century nurse, it’s prudent to be vigilant about your digital presence, curating your own online content so that an employer or hiring manager will not see something that you would rather they not come across.
It also must be mentioned that nothing you post online can ever truly be deleted. You may erase an embarrassing photo from Facebook, but it may have already been downloaded by someone or stored in a server somewhere you’ll never know about. Paranoia isn’t necessary, but thoughtful awareness is recommended.
As mentioned above, powerful networking can be accomplished via LinkedIn. Since it is strictly focused on connections between professionals, LinkedIn users generally don’t post photos of themselves with family, hanging out with friends, or drinking Pina Coladas in Mexico. In this way, LinkedIn is a safe, clutter-free space for online networking.
Other social media sites like Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook can also be platforms for meeting other nurses, with some warnings to bear in mind.
If you have the habit of “friending” professional colleagues on Facebook (especially managers, supervisors, or other leaders), realize that everything you post will potentially be seen by them -- and others -- unless you alter your privacy settings. Bear in mind that being connected to colleagues can pose some risks if you’re not careful about your digital presence.
Facebook allows users to customize which friends can and cannot see each individual status update that you post -- maintain awareness of who can see your updates if you’re connected with colleagues and professional acquaintances.
The general rule for your online presence is to curate it carefully so that nothing negative can come back to haunt you in terms of your nursing career, and to be savvy enough to use your online connectivity to your professional advantage.
Staffing Agencies And Recruiters
Many nurses find positions through recruiters and staffing agencies. Recruiters generally earn a commission from the employer when a position is successfully filled. The nurse should never be required to pay a fee to a recruiter.
Some recruiters will use LinkedIn and other online networks in order to headhunt qualified candidates. Recruiters will also use their own professional networks and contacts to find candidates for positions they’ve been hired to fill. Recruiters may also have information about positions that have not been posted publicly.
Recruiters and staff agencies will post positions on job boards that may target certain specialties and locations, although most offer positions in a multitude of locations.
Some recruiters and agencies will specialize in a particular area, like travel nursing, management, leadership, or executive positions.
Many nurses experience anxiety about job interviews. If you’re desperate for a job, an interview can understandably feel like a high-stakes situation. However, keeping cool and calming your job interview nerves is important for interview success.
If you have specific health conditions that may interfere with certain aspects of your job performance or that you’re afraid to bring up, give some thought as to how to approach the subject (or not).
Being prepared for interviews is crucial. Our blog post about interview preparation for nervous nurses offers some important bullet points:
- Know where to go
- Get some sleep
- Learn about the company/facility/employer
- Practice the hard questions
- Consider it a conversation
- Understand your weaknesses and strengths
- Take your time
- Take notes
- Dress comfortably
- Eat and hydrate well
- Be aware of body language
Following an interview, always send a thank you note, preferably by mail rather than email. If you’re interviewed by more than one person, each interviewer should receive a thank you.
Your thank you note can be hand-written on your letterhead or on a simple thank you card. You can send a typewritten letter that follows up on aspects of the interview, clarifies your strengths, confirms your interest in the position, and asserts your opinion that you are the ideal candidate for the job.
Many nurses are understandably uncomfortable with salary negotiations. When you’ve been looking for a job for a while, you may be tempted to just say “yes” to anything you’re offered. However, remember that a job offer and salary negotiations are business, and negotiation is an intrinsic part of doing business.
Most organizations will want to offer you enough money and benefits to attract you into accepting employment, but they simultaneously want to hold back just a little in order to save some money. In your position, you’re empowered to negotiate in your own interest.
Do some research:
The first thing to know is how much nurses in comparable positions with similar experience and education earn in the local area. Job databases, online salary calculators, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and other resources will help you determine some ballpark figures.
You can also use your networking skills to talk with other nurses who work in similar positions. Since you may hesitate directly asking a nurse how much he or she earns, you can instead ask for an opinion regarding what a reasonable salary would be for you in a particular position. If you’ve been conducting informational interviews and getting to know other professionals in your area, you should have plenty of contacts and opportunities for gathering some helpful data.
Find out what the offer is:
Many career experts recommend that, if asked, you do not offer a range of salary that you would find acceptable. Rather, ask your prospective employer to tell you the salary or salary range they’re offering.
Nurse career expert Donna Cardillo advises that nurses being offered a job ask the employer how much has been budgeted for the position. You can also ask what the previous person in that position was earning.
Consider the big picture:
Some nurses will hesitate to accept a job that will result in a pay cut from their previous position. This is understandable, of course, but there’s more to a position than the salary.
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the lowest salary that I can accept and feel good about based on my experience, education, and skill?
- What is the relative value of the proposed benefits package (health insurance, disability insurance, vacation, holidays, 401(k) or retirement plan)? If your spouse’s insurance is much more costly and the insurance at your potential new workplace will save your family thousands of dollars per year, a small pay cut may be worthwhile. If the proposed package is astronomically better than what you currently have, this job may benefit you in more ways than just money in your bank account.
- What kind of experience will this job give you that you wouldn’t have had access to otherwise? If this position will move you along your desired career path towards a larger goal, slightly less money may not be a significant sacrifice in the bigger scheme of things.
- What kind of education benefits does your potential employer offer? If a handsome tuition reimbursement package is on the table, think about the value of furthering your education.
Ask for what you want:
Salary negotiations are expected. Period. No one will be angry if you make a counter-offer. One rule of thumb is to always request slightly more than you feel comfortable asking for but still remain within reason. If you don’t ask for more, they’re not going to offer, and once you mention a number, you can’t negotiate back up.
Remember that they are likely offering you the lower end of the potential pay scale in order to save a little money -- if you really want this job, push them a little bit and see if you can squeeze a slightly higher salary out of the deal. The only thing they can say is no, and they’ll likely offer you something more in response (unless it’s a state-funded position where salaries are determined in advance or legislated by the government).
If salary cannot be negotiated up, consider negotiating for more paid vacation, a higher shift differential, better tuition reimbursement, or other benefits.
Finally, it’s advisable to never accept an offer on the spot. Always ask for time to think it over.
While branding may be a concept that you associate with companies and corporations, you yourself have a brand, and you can cultivate that brand in a savvy way in the interest of your nursing career.
In business, a brand is the feeling or experience that a consumer has when they interact with that company’s products or services. Apple, Starbucks, Facebook, Ben & Jerry’s -- they all have a brand that elicits a certain response in consumers.
As a nursing professional in the job market, you have a personal brand, and you can create a brand that feels authentic and true for who you are and what makes you tick.
The design, content, and “feeling” of your resume, cover letter, business card, and LinkedIn profile help to establish your brand. How you conduct yourself in an interview, respond to emails, or talk on the phone with a Human Resources professional about a potential position also contributes to your brand.
How do colleagues feel about working with you? What type of feedback would you receive from your supervisors if you were to ask them what type of nurse they perceive you to be?
In fact, your brand has a great deal to do with others’ perceptions of you. When you’re in the job market, applying for positions, going for interviews, or chatting with recruiters online, your brand precedes you.
Create a personal/professional brand that feels authentic. Create a brand that shows other professionals who you are and how you conduct yourself in the world. Make your brand speak for you.
Engage In The Process
Searching for a nursing job can be as straightforward as applying for a position on a job board, being called for an interview, and then being offered the position. It can also be a more complicated affair involving networking, personal branding, and other strategies for creating the career you want.
The savvy nurse will fully engage in the job search process, which can include making sure all of the tools in his or her nursing career toolbox are ready to be used at a moment’s notice.
If you approach the job search process with an open mind and a sense of curiosity and adventure, there’s much to learn about both yourself and the nursing profession along the way.
Next Up: The Highest Paying States For Registered Nurses
Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC is a Board-Certified Nurse Coach, award-winning blogger, nurse podcaster, speaker, and author. Based in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Nurse Keith’s work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications.
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