1. Manno, Martin S. RN, APRN, BC, MSN
  2. Fenimore, George RN, MSN

Article Content

Like life, your career is a path; consider taking a position that offers the experiences and opportunities you need to meet your long-term career goals. For example, if you eventually want to be a flight nurse, several years of ICU or emergency nursing experience are required. Learn how to improve your resume, tighten your job search, and refine your interviewing skills to help you make the best decision for your next role.


Resume-building skills

The resume provides the first impression for potential employers. It's the key marketing tool and advertisement that sells your talents to a prospective employer.1 Keep in mind, however, that a well-constructed resume may not be enough. The resume may not be tailored to a particular organization or position. Therefore, just dusting off the old resume isn't enough.


The purpose of a resume is to get you an interview, not a job. Since many employers are interested in hiring individuals who've performed well in their past positions, a resume that's focused on achievement, rather than one that simply describes activities or your positions, may be more effective. The achievement-based resume, written in reverse-chronologic order, highlights successful career progression early in the document.2 It should focus on tangible accomplishments for each position held, and could include areas where you've increased efficiencies, improved workplace safety, increased productivity, or demonstrated cost savings.


Don't write "references available upon request," as this is understood. Instead, use strong professional references from people who know you for your work performance, dependability, and professionalism. Limit peer references to perhaps a mentor, and seek out other references from leadership figures, such as a manager, director, or educator. A customized cover letter will introduce your uniqueness and highlight strengths not covered in the resume. Be sure to review your resume for spelling and/or grammatical errors, and have someone you trust proofread it as well.


The resume should state your qualifications for the position desired. Another option that may highlight your abilities and qualifications is a professional portfolio. A professional portfolio reflects development of knowledge and skills over time, presents evidence of competencies, and may showcase the nurse's background and expertise.3 A professional portfolio doesn't replace the resume, but does provide additional information, such as accomplishments with past projects, publications, or other professional activities.


Initiating the search

When initiating a job search, be prepared to spend time researching information about potential employers. Understanding the nursing practice environment, the resources available (especially on nights, weekends, and in high-acuity areas), and the relationships between nursing and other members of the healthcare team will provide clues to how you may fit in with the organization. Consider your personal preferences, such as a smaller, community type work environment versus a large urban acute care facility. Exploring orientation programs, continuing education opportunities, and career advancement potential will also provide evidence to support your decision to apply.


Consider trying one or more of the following job searches:


[white diamond suit] traditional search. Keep in mind that some companies choose not to post certain positions online, such as key leadership positions. Be sure to list your career objectives or goals in your cover letter, as there may be additional open positions for which you're qualified. Keep in mind that only 10% to 20% of jobs are filled through advertised openings.4 It isn't uncommon to interview for an advertised position only to be offered a different (and sometimes more appealing) position.


[white diamond suit] print advertisements. The classified section of the major newspapers is a good source for healthcare job openings. While you can scan the classified sections for specific job ads, you can also identify employers who are announcing expansions and promotions to key positions. Promotion announcements may indicate the need to hire a replacement or additional staff to support new work initiatives. In addition to print publications, online newspapers are also a powerful resource for the job search. Nursing magazines and specialty journals may also be searched locally, nationally, and internationally for opportunities.


[white diamond suit] Internet search. The Internet has played an increasingly important role over the years as a source of employment information. Popular job boards include Monster, CareerBuilder, and Yahoo!! HotJobs.2 Through these boards you can search open positions, as well as develop cover letters and resumes that can be posted on the sites for review by potential employers. Applicants may also forward cover letters and resumes in direct response to posted positions on each of these job boards. CareerBuilder currently powers the job search engines in more than 130 leading local newspapers (1.3 million jobs) and allows you to scan jobs in a matter of seconds and return only those ads that meet your criteria.5 More recently, vertical search engines, such as,, and, have become important additions for Internet job searches.2



These search engines allow users to simultaneously search job listings from hundreds of sites, and pull postings from popular job boards, in addition to many niche job boards, employer Web sites, and newspaper classified ads. Although cover letters or resumes can't be posted directly on these vertical search engines, a major advantage is that you can save a significant amount of time in not having to manually register and scroll through the many job postings on the various job boards and company Web sites.


[white diamond suit] networking. According to the Wall Street Journal's, companies that track new hire recruitment report that as many as 40% of new hires come from employee referrals.6 Perhaps the biggest advantage of networking is that it may result in access to jobs that haven't been posted to the general public. With some practice, networking can be incorporated into your everyday routine. Start with existing contacts, including friends, family, and former colleagues. From there you can expand your contacts to include referrals from these individuals as well as professional organizations.



Other networking venues include job fairs, open house events, and professional organization meetings.7 Many healthcare, educational, and business organizations sponsor job fairs and open house events as a means to recruit qualified candidates. These present immediate access to specific opportunities and on-the-spot interviews. If you plan to attend a job fair or open house, dress professionally, have copies of your resume ready, and be prepared to explore, compare, interview, and possibly be offered a position. Once you make a network connection, it's important to quickly follow up to improve your chances at a job opportunity.


On the interview

Be sure to learn about the organization before the interview; check its Web site, review literature about the organization, and talk to colleagues who are familiar with the organization. You may even question individuals who have used services of that organization to gain a customer or end-user perspective. Knowing about the organization is empowering and builds your confidence to be successful in the interview. As you formulate your questions and think about your answers to the interviewer's questions, don't make assumptions, and allow your thinking to be open and flexible. You might find it helpful to practice answering questions such as "Tell me about yourself," and "Describe where you see yourself in 5 years."


Professional image is important when you present yourself to prospective employers. Proper business attire is customary when interviewing in the healthcare industry, whether it's for a staff nurse or administrative position. It's important not to be under- or overdressed, as this will trigger doubts about how you'll fit into the organization. Conservative style is always best, because during an interview it removes attention from appearance and helps the interviewer focus more on your qualifications to do the job. A conservative appearance prevents personal prejudices and preferences from influencing an interviewer.


On the day of the interview, it's extremely important to be prepared and on time. If a situation arises that will prevent you from being on time, always call to let the interviewer know that you'll be late and offer to reschedule if appropriate. Remember that interviewing is a two-way street, so show interest, and ensure that you have all necessary items. Most importantly, be honest and be yourself. Asking questions during an interview helps demonstrate your passion, energy, motivation, and interest. Being a good listener is essential during an interview, but make sure to ask questions and provide examples when possible, which will better prepare you to make an intelligent career decision. During the interview, be sure to smile, use firm handshakes, make eye contact, and be aware of your facial expressions and posture.


After your interview, sending a follow-up or thank-you letter to the main people you met with during your visit reflects your professionalism and continued interest. Be sure to address your letter personally in a typed business format. It's appropriate and acceptable to reiterate your qualifications, strengths, and interest in the position in the follow-up or thank-you letter. If, after the interview, you decide you don't want the position, send a letter thanking the interviewer for the opportunity and explain that the position wouldn't be a good fit at this time. Don't share any negative impressions regardless of the circumstance.


Assessing the offers

The overall goal of the job search, application process, and interview is the right fit for both the employer and prospective employee. While it can be argued that finding a job is the primary goal of job-hunting, finding the right job extends beyond simply accepting a position for which you're qualified. Ask yourself the following questions:


[white diamond suit] Do I have the education, skills, and knowledge required to perform the job well?


[white diamond suit] Will I be personally challenged, and will the job meet my needs for continued growth?


[white diamond suit] Do I have the motivation and desire to perform this job well?


[white diamond suit] Are there enough professional development opportunities beyond orientation, such as mentoring, continuing education, and management training?


[white diamond suit] How will I fit in with the culture and values of the organization?


[white diamond suit] Can I align myself with the existing management philosophy and leadership style?


[white diamond suit] What are my expectations of the organization and the leadership, and is it reasonable that these expectations will be met?



Once these self-reflective questions are addressed, you can begin to consider other employment essentials, such as salary and benefits. If you're offered a position, you'll need to decide whether or not to accept it. Regardless of your decision, always contact the employer by telephone.


Deciding among several job offers and weighing the options will guide you to the right choice. Avoid an impulse decision to accept a position, especially if you're unsure. It's acceptable to think about your decision for up to several days. Be sure to give careful consideration to the pros and cons of each job offer.


Making the right choice at the right time is the secret to professional fulfillment and landing the best position.




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3. Oerman MH. Developing a professional portfolio in nursing. Ortho Nurs. 2002;21(2):73-78. [Context Link]


4. Federwisch A. Sweet dreams: Don't just fantasize about your dream job-land it!! Mod Nurse. 2006;2(3):44-51. [Context Link]


5. About us. Available at: Accessed November 12, 2007. [Context Link]


6. The Wall Street Journal. Career Journal. Available at: Accessed November 12, 2007. [Context Link]


7. Cherry B, Jacob S. Contemporary Nursing: Issues, Trends and Management. 2nd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby, 2002. [Context Link]