You breathe a sigh of relief as the doors of the nursing school close behind you for the last time. You’re ready to embark on a career that you:
- Know will be challenging
- Expect will be reasonably well paid
- Hope will be fulfilling
What are the next steps to actually making that dream a reality?
We asked our readership of seasoned nurses to give their recommendations. The standard job-hunting tips were offered (make sure your resume is in order, get a nice interview suit). “Pass the NCLEX” was another commonly proffered piece of advice. Some commenters suggested less conventional ways to ensure career success such as praying, marrying a doctor or finding a different line of work. Others gave advice for how to unwind after nursing school (relax, take a vacation, get wasted, etc.).
Leaving aside the obvious answers and tongue-in-cheek responses, here are three of the most insightful tips for what you should do as soon as you graduate.
1. Build Your Library of Certifications
Acronyms are the name of the game when it comes to putting together an impressive resume. It’s kind of like having some nice extracurricular activities on your college application. Employers want to see that you are well-rounded and willing to go above and beyond the basics to get ahead. The BLS, ACLS, PALS, IVT and EKG are good certifications to start with.
There’s also a dirty little secret about getting your certifications before you apply for work. In some situations, your employer will be able to save money by hiring graduates who are already certified. Your resume may appear more attractive if a potential employer knows they won’t have to pay for too much additional training. Never underestimate how cost-cutting measures affect the hiring process!
2. Network Without Ceasing
This step begins even before you finish school. That’s because you actually get your first “real world” job exposure as part of your education. Clinicals are the ideal setting for demonstrating that you know how to play well with others—an important step in impressing the hiring decision makers. The relationships you build during your education are vital.
Stephanie Murphy echoed the sentiments of many other successfully employed nurses with her tips: “Network during clinicals! Talk to nurses and nurse managers and tell them you’re interested. If you do a Capstone/internship your last semester, utilize that connection! If you have a preceptor, then build a relationship so he or she can be a potential reference. If you work hard at your clinicals, it will help you to get a job. My preceptor talked to nurse directors for me and wrote letters of recommendation.”
Don’t pass up a chance to get your name out there. It puts you in the best position to be selected for hidden opportunities. Elizabeth Stephens Willis points out that you never know where your next job is coming from: “Use your connections. Talk to friends, relatives and acquaintances who work in places you’d like to work and let them know you’re out of school and looking for a job. That’s how I got my job. My sister-in-law works at the hospital where I now work. She talked to the head of nursing administration for me and found out that the hospital was starting a new grad program that they hadn’t advertised yet.”
3. Paper the Planet with Applications
Almost all of our nurse readers agree that you should send out applications for every open position you possibly can. Being choosy isn’t going to cut it in today’s competitive environment.
This doesn’t mean you’re settling for a job that isn’t worth anything. Amber Beezy Carter points out that you get much more than a paycheck at your first job: “Apply everywhere! Even if it’s something that you’re not interested in doing, you will be gaining experience and have your foot in the door.”
Debbie Williams reveals that location isn’t all there is to it when you’re looking for a position. Being willing to accept the least desirable schedule can also help you get your foot in the door: “Take the night shift. That’s the shift that is the hardest to staff. Also, it’s usually a slower pace and you can hone your skills.”
In the end, there’s no substitute for on-the-job experience when it comes to building your ideal nursing career. So take it one step at a time!
For more Career Advice for Nurses pick up the latest issue of Scrubs magazine, available at a retail store near you!