6 Job Search Tips for Nurses

Are you ready to try a new direction?

A nurse in casual clothing is sitting at a desk typing on her computer and writing things down

Whether you’re a new graduate or a seasoned nurse, job hunting can be a stressful, overwhelming experience. Making a change and jumping into a new challenge is both scary and exciting. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the stress of a career change, but there are a variety of points to consider before you hit the job postings and start sending out resumes.

Follow these six tips to be prepared and find the job you’ve been looking for.

Ask Yourself What You Want

This may seem like a rather obvious question, but the reality is that many people begin a job search without seriously considering what they truly value in their work. Sometimes, you are so eager to leave your current position that you want to apply to just about any opening for which you are qualified. Other times, you have your heart so set on one specific hospital or unit that you might overlook a perfect opportunity elsewhere.

You should also consider whether you want to remain in your current specialty or branch out in some other direction. For me, deciding to leave the bedside was a big decision because I loved taking care of patients, but after carefully considering all of the factors, I realized it was time to take the next step in my nursing career. Ask yourself if you feel the same way.

Make a List

Make a list of your wants and needs in a potential job and employer. What are the things you absolutely must have, such as no weekends or scheduling flexibility? Separating the musts from the wants can help keep you focused on what to look for and what to avoid. Schedule is an important consideration for nurses when job hunting.

Fortunately, there are lots of options: Direct patient care roles can range from 8–5 office hours to 12-hour night shifts on holidays and weekends. Some roles may have on-call requirements, while others do not. Figuring out your willingness to work different schedules and envisioning how they would fit into your home and family life is a critical step in your job search process.

Check Your Social Media

Before hitting “send” on those resumes to potential employers, take a moment to assess your digital footprint. Studies show that as many as 70 percent of employers check candidates’ social media prior to hire. Employees are considered representatives of the organization, so employers want to know how people behave when off the clock. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t have a social media presence. In fact, it can work to your benefit if used correctly, such as maintaining a complete LinkedIn profile.

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Take the time to check your privacy settings, remove provocative photos or posts (or at least make sure they aren’t visible to the general public) and ensure that your accounts reflect your professionalism and ethics as a nurse.

Ask Questions during an Interview

Applicants often think of job interviews as high-stress interrogations, but in fact they should be as much of an opportunity for you to learn about the hospital as for the hospital to learn about you. Take full advantage of that time.

While there are some questions that are better left until after you have received a job offer, asking questions about organizational culture, how long the interviewer and/or team has been at the organization, what a typical day looks like and what potential challenges the position may entail are all great ways to gain insight and show your interest. This is also your opportunity to learn more about the orientation process for new hires. If you are a new graduate RN, this is critically important, as there may be additional opportunities such as new nurse residencies.

When asking about orientation, include these questions:
  • How long is the orientation process and what does it consist of?
  • How long would you be paired with a preceptor?
  • Are there fellowships or residencies? If so, are they accredited? (For more information about the ANCC’s Practice Transition Accreditation Program, visit www.nursingworld.org.
  • What resources are available to orientees?

Taking time to evaluate whether or not the organization is a good fit for you can save time and frustration in the future. While the job description itself might seem perfect, other factors such as work environment, schedule and organizational culture can make or break a position.

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Do Your Homework

You may not be able to get all of the information you want out of a first or even a second interview, but between those interviews and your preparation for them, you should develop a good idea what the organization is all about. A great opportunity to learn more about the role and the hospital is to shadow a current employee. Many hospitals and acute care settings offer a shadow experience as part of the interview process, but if even they do not proactively offer one, consider asking if it is a possibility. Shadow experiences allow you to learn more about the day-to-day than a job interview or job posting reveals.

Here are some other considerations:

Staffing/Patient Ratios:

While California has mandatory minimum nurse-to-patient ratios, the actual staffing of a particular institution or unit can vary widely. You should get an idea of the current staffing situation prior to accepting a job there.  Are they chronically understaffed? How many patients does each nurse have on average? How often does the unit rely on travel nurses to meet the minimum staffing requirements? Is there the possibility of mandatory overtime?

Retention/Turnover Rates:

Asking your interviewer how long they and their team have been in their roles can tell you a little bit about retention, but asking your shadow and their coworkers the same questions can be illuminating. High turnover or poor retention is not a good sign. If you can, find out why the turnover rates are so high.

Professional Development Opportunities:

Asking about professional development is a good way to demonstrate your interest in growing within the organization and show your commitment to improving your skills — positive attributes in a potential employee. Leadership development and mentoring programs, access to free continuing education and an emphasis on obtaining professional certifications are all ways the hospital can promote nurses’ professional growth. Consider how these opportunities fit into your goals.


Networking has played a crucial role in helping me land several of my jobs over the years. Attending events, joining committees, meeting others in the field and staying in touch are effective ways to learn about new opportunities. A simple introduction and brief conversation can have a big impact on your career. Keeping an active, up-to-date LinkedIn profile is another great way to stay connected and network with even more individuals.

Finding a new job is never easy. There are always going to be pros and cons to every position, but at the end of the day, what matters most is how well the job fits your goals and values. The exciting thing about nursing is our ability to work just about anywhere, doing a multitude of different things, with the common goal of improving health. Never stop seeking new opportunities that bring you closer to your professional goals and keep you fulfilled!

JESSICA DZUBAK, RN, MSN, is the director of nursing practice for the Ohio Nurses Association. She is also a freelance writer specializing in the healthcare industry. She enjoys her two dogs, who add commentary to her articles by laying their heads across the keyboard while she’s writing.

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