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Tips for Landing the Nursing Job You Want

Some nurses are finding it more challenging than ever before to land the job they want. Until recently, opportunities were plentiful in almost every nursing specialty and even nurse graduates were virtually guaranteed a job wherever they pleased, straight out of nursing school.

Faced with dwindling incomes, shrinking retirement plans or unemployed spouses, some nurses have been forced out of retirement, while others have delayed their retirement, picked up extra shifts or switched from full-time to part-time work to make extra money. Although the demand for nurses has not gone away, these recent changes have resulted in fiercer competition for the jobs that are available.

The good news, however, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, is that the current hiring trends are only temporary. The bureau's latest projections include nursing in its list of the fastest growing jobs.

In the meantime, what should nurses do to boost their chance of finding the job they want?

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7 Tips on How to Land a Nursing Job

"Create a professional résumé that is tailored to the job," advised Cara Heilmann, recruitment director at health care staffing agency, AMN Healthcare. Heilmann and her team work with a variety of hospitals and other health care providers to handle the entire recruitment process on their behalf.  "Your résumé is your most important marketing piece and should highlight your talents and skills in the best possible light. Tailor the résumé to the job and remove all references to items that do not highlight a skill as it relates to the job."

After your résumé has been noticed, health care recruiters point out that nurses should pay careful attention to how they present themselves during the interview process.

Maria-Jean Caterinicchio, RN, MS, director of workforce development for Orange County Memorial Care University and board member of the Association of California Nurse Leaders (ACNL), said that she concentrates on personality, attitude and talent when hiring nurses.

“We expect our new nurses to have the basic fundamental nursing knowledge and we are also looking for compassion, a sense of teamwork, accountability and communication,” Caterinicchio explained. “We look for an attitude of collaboration and communication.”

Thorough preparation is also a key to success.

"When you are lucky enough to land an interview, take the time to learn about the facility, the culture, the services offered and anything that's unique about the employer," said AMN recruiter Ryan Weeden. "Have some questions ready that show your interest. Employers are not going to hire you just because you show up. These days they want to spend their money wisely and find that perfect fit."

"With every great job, there are great candidates," Weeden continued. "If you are serious about landing a particular job, take the time to learn how to interview successfully. Know what to wear. Don't show up wearing scrubs, even if the manager is wearing them. Prepare and practice your answers to various questions about yourself, your experience, your career goals and your skills. Jobs are won and lost during the interview. It's important to be yourself but don't offer too much personal information. And, always arrive at the interview ahead of schedule."

Heilmann agrees that the interview process is the most important step in your quest to secure the job you want.

"Remember that, for the most part, the employer is looking for a clinically solid RN with a pleasant demeanor," she noted. "Be prepared to talk about your clinical experience in a way that highlights your skills and always stay positive. Do not allow the conversation to turn negative and don’t complain about any past experiences."

Nurse recruiters also stress the importance of being flexible and open-minded in today's challenging job market.

"Don't limit yourself to only certain shifts or areas," advised AMN recruiter Alexandra Royce. "Many nurses limit themselves to a day shift and immediately disqualify themselves for all of the night shift jobs that are out there. Also, if your area is not hiring, perhaps you can look into the possibility of relocating for a few years to an area that has a higher need for nurses, where you can build your résumé and expand your experience and skill set."

Heilmann believes that it's important to not focus on just one aspect of an employment package.

"You need to consider the entire package and not become fixated on one thing or another," she said. "I've seen RNs get hung up on the compensation and in doing so, they forego an amazing opportunity to work at a world-class facility for a wonderful boss."

Recruiter Shannon Flinn, who helps AMN’s clients fill a variety of positions, advises nurse applicants to hone their skills in a chosen specialty to improve their chances of finding employment.

"Get all certifications possible in your field, stay in a specialty for awhile and don't ‘unit hop,’" she said. "The more knowledgeable you are in one specialty right now, the better, especially in the critical care and home health fields."

For RNs who are considering travel nursing, Pat Hayden-Allen, senior recruiter at leading travel nurse staffing agency American Mobile Healthcare, offers sound advice.

“If you are flexible with location, pay and shifts, there are loads of opportunities right now,” she explained. “Another tip for travel nursing success is to apply for a few licenses to make yourself more marketable. Right now, in this current market, hospitals are only giving travel nurse companies a two- to three-week lead time, which means that nurses need to have their references and paperwork ready to land the best jobs.”

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