back to top
What did the winning applicant have that you didn’t have? What did that person do that you didn’t do? If it seems that you’re getting passed over for every nursing position you apply for, it’s time to get an edge.
Whether you have loads of nursing experience or you’re a new grad and this is the first position you’re applying for, the truth is that you have to market yourself because the competition is tough for those coveted nursing jobs. Here are four ways to get an edge.
This is all about making and maintaining connections, and you can do this in so many different ways, like the following:
a) Create a business card and hand it out to people who are in administration positions or might have lines on nursing jobs. Collect their business cards and send them occasional messages (e.g., at Christmas or whenever you make a job transition) to let them know what you’re doing. The day may come when you’re the perfect fit for a position they know about.
b) If you’re planning on applying for a posted position, call the unit manager or the HR person to whom you’ll be sending your application. Introduce yourself, express enthusiasm about the position and give a quick pitch about yourself. Tell the individual that you’ll be sending in your application, and when it lands in front of that person, he or she will be able to put a voice to a name and think, “Oh yes, this was the person who….”
c) If you’re a new grad looking for a job or you’re between jobs, do some volunteer work at the hospital or clinic where you’d like to work. If you eventually apply for a job opening there, you’ll have an “in” because you’ll know many of the hospital staff and you’ll know the culture of the place.
d) After you’ve been interviewed for a position, send a thank you letter to the interviewing team. Even if you don’t get the job, these people may be there for a while and will likely remember you should you apply for another position in the future.
2. Targeting your cover letter, application form and resume for the position you’re applying for
The first impression you give a potential employer hinges on your application package, so take your time preparing it, and include everything you’re asked for. This is going to determine whether or not you get an interview.
“Though it sounds very basic, the first steps toward getting an interview include making sure that you meet the requirements for the position you’re applying for,” says Chris Wilson, MSN, RN-BC, Director of Clinical Education & Professional Development at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. “For example, if there is a minimum GPA, make sure you meet the requirement. Submitting your materials with attention to detail, completeness and according to directions is also key.”
But more than that, you absolutely have to target your application package for the specific nursing position you’re applying for. If you’re applying for a nurse educator position, for example, play up your experience and certifications related to—you guessed it—educating. If you’re applying for a position in geriatrics, play up your related experience and certifications. If you have none to play up, you might want to reconsider applying because there will undoubtedly be applicants much more “qualified” than you are, and there may be other positions you’re better suited for. Better yet, consider expanding your skills so that you’re qualified for the positions that come available and appeal to you.
3. Possessing skills that are in demand
“Nurses have a better chance of being employable throughout their careers if they stay abreast of healthcare trends and can respond to those trends by expanding their skills,” says Amy Bernard, RN, Director of Continuing Education at Western Schools, a nationally accredited online provider of continuing education for healthcare professionals. “While certification demonstrates expertise, it won’t help if those skills are no longer needed.”
Bernard cites several trends that should motivate nurses to expand their skills. “For example, the number of surgical cases is shifting from acute care hospitals to ambulatory care settings,” she says. “Acute care nurses who have never worked in an ambulatory setting may be at a disadvantage over nurses with broader backgrounds and experiences.”
The growth of the geriatric population is another trend. “As baby boomers transition into older adults, the number of older adults requiring healthcare in 2030 is expected to double to 72 million and represent almost 20 percent of the total population in the U.S.,” Bernard points out, advising that now is the time for nurses to take continuing education in this area so they’ll be ready for the inevitable demand for geriatric nurses.
4. Mastering the interview process
So you’ve submitted a smashing application package for a nursing position and you’ve been selected for an interview because—on paper, at least—you have what the employer is looking for. It’s time to prepare because the interview is your ultimate marketing tool.
The interviewers will know the facts about you from your application package. What they’re going to put to the test during the interview are your communications and interpersonal skills, because no matter what type of nursing position you’re applying for, those skills are critical.
“Practice is key to answering these behavioral-based questions,” says Cynthia Christie, Assistant Dean for Career Services in the School of Health Sciences at Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. “Some of the areas that employers look for include teamwork, communication, initiative, and integrity and ethics. I recommend applicants give examples from a variety of settings, including both their academic and clinical experience. It has been said that past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior. Therefore, employers utilize this type of questioning to identify candidates who have competencies in the areas that will make them successful new hires.”
The questions will be tough—unless you’re prepared. Here are interview prep tips for nurses, which include:
Your past nursing experiences
Specific cases or people that have challenged you
How you have dealt with difficult people (doctors, coworkers, patients)
How you would deal with tough situations, such as being shortstaffed or having a coworker who is not a “team player”
Detailed examples of your accomplishments
Practice answering these and you’ll be ready for just about anything the interviewers throw at you. And prepare at least one question to ask your interviewers, whether it’s about professional development opportunities, organizational structure, or the priorities and goals of the specific department or the facility. Sure, the interviewers are trying to figure out if you’re the right person for the position, but at the same time, you need to be sure that the position is right for you.