Looking Out for Our New Nurse Grads

Laura A. Stokowski, RN, MS


June 17, 2011

In This Article

Advice for New Graduate Nurses

Chris Jackson, Director of Recruiting for a large, mid-Atlantic hospital is still taking resumes from new graduate nurses to fill full-time, internships, externships, and part-time openings when the needs exist. "About 25% of our resumes are from new grads," explained Jackson. I asked Mr. Jackson what was the most important attribute in the current tight job market. "Flexibility," responded Jackson. "The applicant who is flexible on working hours, shifts, and unit will have an advantage." Jackson also places a premium on a combination of the right technical skills, compassion, and commitment.

The National League for Nursing and the National Student Nurse Association have published a brochure titled, "Your First Position in Nursing. Realities of the Current Job Market,"[14] which is full of helpful information. Here are a few tips for the new graduate who is looking for a job:

Plan ahead. Don't wait until you graduate or take boards to take action toward finding a job. Working as a certified nursing assistant (CNA) while you are in school can give you valuable experience and expose you to people who might be valuable to you later on when you are searching for a job, especially if you make a favorable impression.[15] While still in school, look for internships and externships that may lead to future employment.[9] If you do get a position as a CNA, intern, or extern, try to find a mentor and cultivate that relationship.

Before you graduate, take advantage of any services offered by your school's career center. Take the NCLEX as soon as you can. You won't be considered without passing it.[15] Get your resume in order and don't neglect to portray your specific skillset. Make sure your resume is tailored to the job you are seeking.

Hunt efficiently. New positions are usually posted first on hospital or agency Websites.[14] Don't neglect newspapers and nursing publications. Attend job fairs in your area, and expand your area to include cities and counties further afield. The job situation can be very different across state lines and in rural vs urban areas.

Align your expectations with reality. Depending on where you live, you might have to consider jobs other than your preferred "dream job" in the hospital. Don't discount positions in primary care, ambulatory care, rehabilitation, or home health. Look at the Veteran's Administration facilities in your area.

Be flexible about location and shifts -- and don't ask "how long will it be before I get on days?" Jackson has observed that, as a consequence of the economic downturn, fewer new graduates come into interviews these days with completely unrealistic expectations about the type of position they can get.

Get some experience. Jackson emphasizes the urgency of getting some type of nursing experience -- as much as you can -- whether it is an internship, externship, outpatient setting, or even volunteer nursing work. Many students fear that having short-term employment in a clinic or long-term care facility on their resume will harm their chances of being hired. However, Jackson explains that this is not always true. In evaluating the applicant's employment history, he explores the reason for the short-term employment and makes judgments on a case-by-case basis.

Continue your education. If you have an associate's degree, consider going on to get your bachelor's degree now, rather than later. Many hospitals have the luxury right now of hiring only nurses with bachelor's degrees. Consider pursuing advanced education to prepare you to work in areas of emerging or growing demand such as geriatrics, chronic disease, genetics, and informatics.[9]

Network. Join your school's alumni association, state nurses' association, or a national nursing association's local chapter. Attend meetings and meet people who might have tips on where the jobs are in your area. If you know nurses who are employed, keep in touch with them so that they will let you know of job openings.

Interviewing. You've heard it all before -- get your resume in shape, dress professionally, be prepared, and arrive on time. However, in a tight job market, the importance of the little things is magnified even more. You will be asked all the usual questions -- your career goals, why you became a nurse, your strengths, your weaknesses, your flexibility, -- and the classic, "Where do you see yourself in 5 years?" In addition to those questions, be prepared to express your awareness of and commitment to the issues that really drive the entire healthcare institution: quality, safety, teamwork, evidence-based practice, civility, professional ethics, and customer relations. An understanding of the issues critical to an organization's success will set you apart from others who may be applying for the same job.

Jackson agrees. "I favor behavior-based questions to see if the applicant can articulate how he or she would react in a certain situation. I might pose a hypothetical situation to delve into how the nurse would behave with respect to important issues of customer care or patient safety."

What about the applicant who has no previous experience on which to formulate a response to such a question? "The applicant can describe a student experience that he or she might have had," says Jackson. "For example, if they have ever made an error, what would they change if they were in that situation again? What did they learn from it?"

If you aren't asked questions of this nature, you may still be able to demonstrate your grasp of these important issues by raising them yourself and sharing an anecdote about how you have put these principles into practice as a student. Interviewers nearly always give the applicant an opportunity to ask questions. Ask if the unit has quality or safety committees, and if new nurses have the opportunity to serve on them. Not asking questions implies a lack of interest, so prepare a few questions in advance.


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