A challenging economy is playing havoc with the job market—and nursing isn’t immune. Hospital closings and budget cuts abound. Older nurses are delaying retirement and others are increasing their hours.
Whether you’re a new nurse seeking your first job, an experienced nurse looking to reenter the workforce, or a nurse who was recently laid off, the following strategies can jolt your job search into high gear.
Activate your network
Networking (word of mouth) is the most effective way to find and get a job in any economy. Get in touch with past coworkers, supervisors, physicians, and others. Let them know what you’re looking for, and ask for referrals, leads, and introductions.
Don’t limit your contacts to people working in health care. The power of networking is that people know people who know other people. Pick up the phone and call, rather than relying exclusively on texting, e-mail, and social media.
Get out there and be visible
Regularly attend professional association meetings, career fairs, recruitment events, seminars, conventions, and community events. Face-to-face networking is the most potent tool of all, giving you a chance to interact on a more personal level with other attendees, prospective employers, speakers, and sponsors. You never know who you’ll run into or when an opportunity will arise. This will also help to keep your networking, communication, and self-marketing skills sharp.
If you don’t belong to any associations, consider going to targeted events as a guest. For instance, attend local chapter meetings of a constituent member association of the American Nurses Association or a specialty association you’re interested in. Always have copies of your updated résumé and business cards with you.
Update and upgrade your professional image
How you present yourself to the world affects your chance of success more than you may realize. Dressing professionally in networking situations, at professional association meetings, and on interviews will boost your confidence and make the best impression. Invest in a good business suit. Have business cards printed with your name, credentials, and contact information to distribute to contacts. Shake hands, make eye contact, and smile. Your credentials alone won’t carry you even in the best circumstances. You need to have a professional image to match the professional person you are.
Try agency and temp work
Even if you want a full-time regular job, agency work is a great way to stay active and generate income while you look for what you really want. Also, agency work often leads to regular employment. And don’t just contact traditional nursing staffing agencies. Consider travel nurse agencies (they may have assignments in your home state) and general employment agencies, which often get requests for healthcare personnel of all types in various settings.
Consider starting a business
Working for someone else isn’t the only way to make a living. Your knowledge and experience are marketable and valuable. Many nurses are successfully operating cardiopulmonary resuscitation training companies and education businesses, running adult day service centers, doing health, wellness, and life coaching—and more. (For nurse entrepreneur profiles, visit www.nurse-power.com/nurseentrepreneurs.htm.)
Do consulting or freelance work
You don’t have to start a full-blown company or corporation to generate income. Depending on your skill set and experience, you might be able to work occasionally on an accreditation project, offer writing and editing services, or lend your expertise to medical software development companies. Doing such work is a good way to get known to people who may be able to hire you in the future. So let your contacts know you’re available for project work, not just for regular employment.
Staying idle isn’t good for your confidence or your résumé. If you’re unemployed, volunteering in a health-related role is a great way to stay active and visible while seeking paid employment. Besides keeping your current skills sharp, it will help you learn new skills while you make new contacts. Consider volunteering with a local branch of the American Red Cross, a neighborhood or inner-city clinic, or your local public health department.
Have you always wanted to work in a particular place? Ask about doing an unpaid internship there (if they don’t have paid work for you). You can gain valuable experience and get a foot in the door. I always say if you can’t get in the front door, try the back door!
Keep your options open
If an opportunity arises to work in a specialty or work setting you’ve never considered or even heard about, look into it further before automatically writing it off. So much has changed in health care that some old standards—long-term care, school nursing, and occupational health, to name a few—are much different than they were even 10 years ago. Talk to others working in the specialty, do Internet research, and tour a local facility before making a decision. Many nurses are so focused on getting a traditional hospital job that they fail to realize all the other exciting and challenging opportunities that exist. Examples include hospice, outpatient hemodialysis, cancer-care centers, insurance company advice lines, and so much more.
Work on your education and training
If you want a patient-care position and have been away from the bedside for more than a few years, a refresher course may be in order. If mother-baby or operating-room nursing is your goal, look for related specialty courses offered by professional associations, community colleges, and area hospitals. Take college courses, even as a nonmatriculated student.
Need to beef up your computer, public speaking, or writing skills? Then engage in self-study or find a course in your community to keep you moving forward and make you more marketable.
Do informational interviewing
Informational interviewing is a formal networking technique you can use to gather career-related information—not just when you’re job hunting but also when exploring career options or simply to learn more about successful people. Target someone who works in a specialty or for a company you’d like to know more about or who’s doing something you’d like to do. Ideally, try to get an in-person meeting with this individual, but a telephone interview will suffice if necessary. Using prepared questions, “interview” this person to find out how he or she got started, what a typical day is like, industry trends and issues, and what someone like you needs to do to get into the same position. End the interview by asking if the person knows anyone else who might be willing to talk to you. Although your primary goal is to gain information and contacts, an informational interview sometimes results in a job offer or lead when done correctly and consistently.
A new direction can mean a new job
With a changing job market, nurses must look in new directions and use new strategies for finding and getting a job. Broaden your view of who a nurse is and what a nurse does. Develop a professional image. Use the power of your connections to broaden your reach. Be creative and assertive in your job search and use every source available to you. Move in a positive forward direction, and the right opportunity eventually will present itself.
Donna Wilk Cardillo is the “Dear Donna” columnist for Nursing Spectrum, NurseWeek, and www.nurse.com. She is author of The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses, Your 1st Year as a Nurse, and A Daybook for Beginning Nurses. Ms. Cardillo also is the creator of the Career Alternatives for Nurses® seminar and home-study program. You can reach her at www.dcardillo.com.