Forging your career from the start

Author(s): Susan Rux, PhD, MSN, RN, PHN, ACNS-BC, CHEP, CNE, CPRW, NEA-BC

Takeaways:

  • Start your career planning early with guidance from instructors, mentors, and clinical staff.
  • Every day on the clinical unit is a job interview.
  • The interview is an important time to showcase your accomplishments.

In nursing school, grades and test scores measure accomplishment. Students are keenly aware of the program’s academic expectations, but they also must consider their careers from the very first nursing class by mapping out a career plan with guidance from instructors, mentors, and clinical staff.

Your future starts now

You can never start networking and building relationships too early. Every day on the clinical unit is a job interview. Use these strategies to propel your career forward:

  • Journal your clinical rotation activities so you have a personal record of your skills. Reflective journaling can help you learn from past experiences and promote a richer understanding of your thought processes.
  • Hone your networking skills. For example, when you meet new professional contacts, request their business card to demonstrate your interest in what they do and create a conduit for future connection and outreach.
  • Research and reach out to organizations you might want to work for.
  • Consider internship or volunteer opportunities. They can help advance your clinical learning experience and competency.
  • Prepare a draft of your résumé and cover letter, and ask your career services specialist or a faculty member to provide feedback.
  • Before you graduate, join your school’s alumni association so you can connect with other alumni. Connecting with alumni and taking advantage of career support the association may offer can help you
    • learn strategies for getting your foot in the door
    • find out what hiring managers look for in candidates
    • get tips on the job application process.

Choosing a specialty

Start your specialty search by visiting the association websites of specialties that interest you. Talk to nurses already in the specialty to learn more about training and education, career opportunities, and the work itself. In addition, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What work setting do I feel most comfortable in? For example, do you prefer outpatient or inpatient settings?
  2. What brings me joy and keeps me motivated at work? For example, do you like to work with chronically ill patients or do you prefer a fast-paced environment such as an ambulatory surgery center?
  3. How important are salary and benefits? For example, are you willing to take a slightly lower salary in exchange for greater opportunity for advancement? Are you looking for “must-have” benefits such as tuition reimbursement?
  4. Am I willing to relocate? Being willing to relocate will open up greater opportunities, but that may mean being more geographically distant from friends and family.

Job interview: Before, during, and after

Your first nursing job interview is scheduled. Now what?

Before the interview

  • Identify your personal and professional goals. Be able to tell the interviewer why you’re a good fit for the organization.
  • Research the organization. Be familiar with its mission, vision, and values.
  • Schedule a mock interview with your career services specialist, faculty member, and a trusted peer. Include behavioral-based questions in your practice, such as
    • Describe a situation when you were upset while assisting a patient or customer. How did you handle this situation?
    • Give an example of a time you had to make a quick decision. What were the results?
  • Prepare questions to demonstrate that you’re serious and invested in the process.
  • Verify the name of the interviewer(s) and the location and time of the interview. To avoid being late, do a timed test run to the location, factoring in traffic patterns.
  • Review your résumé and take extra copies to the interview.

To view an interview tool that can help you prepare, visit click here. And the American Association of Colleges of Nursing offers advice here.

Interview day

  • Arrive at least 10 to 15 minutes early.
  • Be confident and display your professionalism via your attire and demeanor.
  • Answer interview questions honestly. If you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to say so. When necessary, ask the interviewer to repeat the question.
  • Focus on your unique patient care experiences and educational preparation. For example, be prepared to respond to a question such as, “How has your education prepared you for a nursing career?”
  • Highlight special training that might give you an advantage over other applicants. The interview is an important time to showcase your accomplishments and how your skill set positions you more favorably compared to others.

After the interview

  • Send a thank-you email to each of your interviewers within 24 hours.
  • If a week goes by and you don’t hear about next steps, follow up with the organization’s human resources department. You don’t want to be a pest, but you do want to advocate for yourself and make your interest in the position clear.

Positioned to make a difference

Your education has primed you to make a difference, but how do you want to shape your career? These tried-and-true methods can help position you on your journey.

  • Lead others to improve healthcare delivery and treatments. You can start building your leadership skills by serving on unit-based committees.
  • Work collaboratively with clinicians in other professions.
  • Exercise resilience and model teamwork and collaboration to ensure a healthy work environment.
  • Persevere—turn setbacks into catalysts and inspiration for achieving your goals.
  • Strive for a healthy work-life balance that incorporates self-care. Consider the resources available through Healthy Nurse Healthy Nation™.
  • Practice lifelong learning and leverage data to inform healthcare policy and practice. For example, consider joining a quality improvement taskforce to become a practice change agent.
  • Be sure you understand the organization’s values and how you impact them.

Prepared to participate

Healthcare will continue to present challenges. As you transition from student to a professional practicing nurse, take steps to ensure you’re ready to actively participate in facing those challenges and moving the profession forward.

Dr. Susan Rux is the dean of academic affairs at Chamberlain University in North Brunswick Township, New Jersey.

References

American Association of Colleges of Nursing. What Every Nursing Student Should Know When Seeking Employment. aacn-nursing.org/Portals/42/Student/what-every-nursing-student-should-know-when-seeking-employment.pdf?ver=2017-07-28-083316-627

Hargreaves J, Pabico C. How to choose your first nursing job wisely. Am Nurse J. 2020;15(5):30-1.

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