We tapped recruiters, HR pros, career coaches, and others who regularly hire nurses for their insights on navigating the job search maze. We asked for their guidance on everything from tracking down job openings to advice for hard-to-place nurses, such as new graduates and returning nurses. Here’s what we learned—it may surprise you.

Finding a Job

Creating a Linkedin profile, blogging, and using social media professionally is a great way to actually bring jobs to you without any work on your behalf. You can also connect directly with recruiters to help find the perfect career opportunity. Twitter is also a great resource for finding employment. You can connect with companies and recruiters directly and build relationships that can help get you hired.
Brittney Wilson, RN, BSN, informatics nurse, social media influencer, and blogger at TheNerdyNurse.com

When doing the clinical rotations, network with everyone you meet—connect on LinkedIn, and get business cards. Think of your rotations as working interviews. After graduation, use your network, including professors. Call and ask, “Hey, do you remember me? Do you know of any openings?” They’re more likely to help you because of your connection.
—Amanda Bleakney, senior managing director, The Execu|Search Group

In the VA system, many jobs are posted online via USA Jobs. This national system allows nurses to apply for federal jobs all over the country. For USA staffing postings, there is always a VA contact person listed on the posting. You can contact that person (the HR specialist) and ask any questions. For all other inquiries, a general call to the VA and ask for HR usually can get you to the right person. I often get calls from the outside for people looking for information on how to apply and/or what nursing positions are currently open.
—Linda Zaneski, RN, MS, BSN, nurse recruiter, Wilkes-Barre VA Medical Center

Call the nurse manager with an opening after hours and leave a message: “Hey, Jebra, I have great news for you. I heard that you’re short staffed, and I know you’re spending a lot of money calling in extra people to come in. I’m available and I have [these wonderful qualities] that you’re looking for. By the way, my name is Carmen and I’ve already applied in HR. If I don’t hear from you, I’ll drop by and I’ll leave my resume for you with someone in the department, but it’s already at HR. I’ll come by in three days.” Don’t show up when the nurse manager is there—give it to a staff member instead. Then call again: “I have great news for you again. I talked to your staff and they were so excited about my background and they put my resume under your door.” You can’t interrupt the business process [and] have to follow guidelines, but you’re doing something that will stand out. Show up; tell her what’s in it for her; follow through.
—Carmen Kosicek, RN, MSN, nursing career coach and author of Nurses, Jobs and Money


Don’t be afraid to reach out to your network for referrals to recruiters; they benefit too. I know of many travelers and other nurses receiving a referral bonus—$500-$1,500 for a travel nurse is standard, but staff nurse jobs in critical-need locations and specialties can easily earn a bonus of $15,000 if the new nurse stays for an extended time, typically two or more years.
—Jake Schubert, RN, BSN, travel nurse and executive director at Nursity.com, a NCLEX prep course

Volunteering is my secret to success. I learned about a group fighting childhood obesity and offered to take blood pressure at their annual event. I’ve been doing that eight years now. That’s lead to experiences and activities that I couldn’t have imagined. For instance, I met other nurses that I ended up working with later.
—Christine Mathurin, RN, director of clinical services, The Execu|Search Group

As a travel nurse, we work with a multitude of recruiters. It’s important to find a recruiter that you connect with and more importantly trust. Ask for recommendations from peers, join in on the online resource groups, and ask about the agency and recruiter. Know the right questions to ask; find them here.
—Candy Treft, RN, aka Gypsy Nurse at TheGypsyNurse.com

Join industry groups. Women in Health Management is an ideal group to network with because it’s made up of hiring managers. Nurses can be members too, since it could be considered that they’re managing the health care of patients. Or maybe the National Association of Hispanic Nurses is a good group for you. Or the New York Association of Ambulatory Care. Be sure to network on the local level especially.

The Application Process

Make sure that you have outstanding references. Nursing is a field with high integrity. If you are in the job market or looking for advancement, references can take you a long way. If you’re good at your job, try to get a reference from your DON or nurse manager. Also, get a charge nurse to give you a reference. They can directly talk about your clinical skills and “sell you” to your future employer. Sometimes I get references that just shine, and it makes a great impression on the manager who is considering you.
—Sunny Gray, health care recruiter, Advantage RN

Put it in business terms for the recruiter: “As a nurse, you know that I provide such great care that patients can go home early, saving the hospital money.” Call up the business department and ask for DRG’s—for gallbladder surgery, say—they generally know. Look at your own EOB’s or your family’s. If you’ve been a consumer of health care you know how much it costs.

I really like using tools like Streak (a free Gmail CRM) to help me see whether or not emails have been opened and to set reminders to follow up if I haven’t already received a response. You can also use Streak to create templates for emails that you can easily recall later. This is a great way to save the general form for a thank you email that you can customize for any interviews or phone calls you have.

The biggest mistake is not submitting a complete application package. There are many things required—an application, federal form, resume, license, CPR card, transcript, etc.—and many job announcements are very specific with what they require. Nurses need to go back in and check that every document was uploaded or faxed and received.

The Interview

Be ready to give clear examples to show how you go above and beyond, how you deal with difficult customers, how you collaborate with others, etc. Having those examples gives you something to talk about and shows the interviewers that you have already faced these situations. Talk about what you did and what was the outcome. The interview is your time to brag and promote why they should pick you!

It’s not your mother’s nursing career anymore. Most women in the 60s and 70s who became nurses were not the breadwinners in the family. Now most nurses are, whether they’re men or women. Hospitals see constant turnover—two out of five nurses leave within three to four years of entering the field. Nurses who stay can expect only a 2.5% annual raise, so you have to learn salary negotiation. It’s a mind shift, but those who get it will do very well.

I’m turned off when I hear “How much is it paying?” We don’t always pay the highest wages. What you get out of a job is more than that, though. Employers are looking for someone who isn’t driven by salary. We’re looking for a nurse who is internally motivated, a team player, someone who gives to the community.


You’re interviewing the employer, as much as they’re interviewing you. New graduates should ask about the orientation program, nurse support, the preceptor, internship and transition training programs, number of nurse educators, etc. Experienced nurses, ask about continuing education, tuition reimbursement, performance and wage reviews, whether you’ll work rotating shifts, weekends, or on-call, and about the retirement plan.
—multiple recruiters

Advice for Nurses Struggling to Find Work

My advice to new nurses: Be flexible in what’s offered to you. If someone offers you a job in a developmental disabilities group home, take it! My advice to returning nurses: It’s almost as if they’re starting over. Hospitals will turn them down because their clinical skills aren’t fresh. They should investigate refresher courses and other training.

Some nurses have so much experience that they’re locked in by that experience. For example, I work with some older nurses who won’t get a Gmail address because they don’t like the Internet. I try to encourage them to get past that; it’s keeping them stuck.

Make sure all of your certifications are up to date. It can be difficult to locate a PALS or NRP class, especially in a rural area. If you let them lapse, it could hinder you when you are applying for positions.

New nurses may need to relocate to other areas, with better odds for employment, such as Texas and Arizona. Don’t overlook: schools, community clinics, hospices, prisons, group homes, military, reserves, VA hospitals, military bases, underserved areas, and reservations.
—multiple recruiters

Don’t dismiss a temporary assignment. Often it’s a long-term, indefinite, full-time opportunity. ‘We need people for a year because we’re going through an ERM implementation and we need to cover shifts for nurses in training.’ When they have a permanent role that opens up, they’re not going to hire from the random applications they get online. They want someone who knows the policies, knows the protocol already.

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Jebra Turner

Jebra Turner is a freelance health writer in Portland, Oregon. Visit her online at www.jebra.com for more self-care inspiration.
Jebra Turner

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