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Tips for Finding Your First Nursing Job

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In what seems like a flurry of a moment, you graduated nursing school, walked your pinning ceremony, received your nursing pin, and passed the NCLEX. Many years of diligent studying and painstakingly long hours of preparing yourself to be a nurse have brought you to this point. Some of you may be sitting here and thinking to yourself that finding your first nursing job was a cinch. Many others of you, however, may be in the same position I was and instead of putting on your freshly pressed scrubs, you’re tying the strings on your black apron to go wait tables. Part of me wanted to wear my nursing pin on my apron as I went to work each night, simply to remind myself while I served up the soup du jour that I am smart, I will get a job, and I have to be patient. Instead, I kept repeating that mantra to myself and got the customer a few more oyster crackers. Someday, I thought to myself, I will be a real nurse.

The Hunt to Find Your First Nursing Job

It looks fairly simple to apply for jobs these days: you go on a hospital website, search for new grad nursing jobs, fill in the blanks on the posting, attach your resume, press submit. And then stare at your phone waiting for the hospital to call you. Depending on where you live in the country and where you’re applying for jobs, you may receive a phone call from human resources before you even shut off your computer. Count yourself lucky! There are quite a few states and areas of the country that are just plain desperate for nurses. For many, though, they wait weeks and months on end, without hearing a peep from HR. If this is you, I have some advice.

Finding your first nursing job can be a full time job in and of itself, so please don’t think that you’re the only one going through it, or that your years of studying are all for naught. If you’ve been applying and haven’t heard from the hospital, there are a few things you can do. If it’s possible for your living arrangements, be flexible and search other areas of your state or country. New grad nursing jobsare not going to be as common in very popular places to live, such as Miami, New York City, or southern California. Now if you can go two hours northwest of Miami and live/work in south central Florida for a year, then you will have a lot more options for jobs, and after a year you will be so much more marketable. My good friend graduated from school in southern California and moved to rural Kentucky for a year to get nursing experience, then went back home to California where she’s now working her dream job in her desired city.

If you don’t want to leave your city/state and you’re adamant about working in an acute care setting, consider working at a long term acute care facility for a year. You will learn basic nursing skills and get a lot of experience, then when your year is up you can apply for hospital jobs and I assure you they will give you a phone call back. It costs approximately $60,000 for a hospital to train a new graduate nurse, so they are much more willing to hire someone they don’t have to train than invest in those who have no experience.

Landing an Interview as a New Grad

Each night that I went to the restaurant to wait tables, I panicked a little bit. Right after I graduated nursing school, it was okay because I was still studying for my NCLEX and I knew everything would fall into place. But after I passed my NCLEX, and I still wasn’t hearing back from the hospitals, that’s when I knew that I needed to set myself apart in order to find my first nursing jobs a new grad.

One morning, I had enough waiting around. I didn’t have to be at the restaurant for a few hours, so I decided to do something a little unconventional. I put on my most professional looking dress, dug out a pair of matching high heels, and shimmied into a pair of stockings to look even more polished. And yes, my friends, I drove my puttering Honda Civic straight to the human resources office of the best hospital around, and waltzed right in there asking to be interviewed. Granted, the receptionist was incredibly confused when I told her I did not have an appointment to be interviewed but that I was here now so they might as well interview me! She gave me a funny look, but I only sat there for about ten minutes before I was getting a tour of the hospital and scheduling to come back to meet a few of the nurse managers.

If you’re lucky, you won’t have to go to such extreme measures to find your first nursing job. If you still want to be proactive, but want to dial it down a notch, I would recommend calling them to follow up on your application. Apply for positions that you don’t even qualify for, or maybe that you’re overqualified for! Let them know that you’re serious about working for them, and you’re not going to quit before they interview you.

Your First Nursing Job Interview

My first piece of advice: please don’t chew gum. I sometimes have to fill in for management and have to conduct interviews, and I cannot tell you how unprofessional it is to chomp on gum as you’re trying to prove how professional and intelligent you are. The very opposite comes across. Wear something conservative and classy, act confident yet humble. Ask management what the nurse/patient ratio is like, what they do to promote education amongst the nurses (emphasis that you’re always looking for opportunities to advance your knowledge), and why they believe it’s good to work on their unit. The interview is not the place to bring up salary; you can discuss that when they offer you the job.

Finding your first nursing job can be stressful, but with diligent effort, you will land the job and start your fruitful career. Try not to get discouraged and remember to be flexible and open to many different options. Your first job may not be the exact one you want, but that’s the beauty of nursing: one step leads to another and you continue to build upon your skills with each job you take.

And if you haven’t bought your nursing pin yet, take a look here to see what we offer and the many options we have for you! No better time than now to celebrate all you’ve accomplished.

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