One of the biggest questions I receive is about how to get your dream job right out of Nursing School. This blog will go over the key points you’ll need to know in order to nail those interviews!
Nurse Residency Programs
So if you’ve already started applying to jobs, you may find that all hospital jobs have a “1 year minimum” work experience requirement. This is upheld at pretty much every hospital and usually, you won’t even receive as much as an email back if you apply to these positions. WELL THEN… how do you get the experience?! Hospital systems created Nurse Residency Programs for this very reason! Nurse Residencies are only for new grad nurses with less than a years worth of HOSPITAL experience. I say “hospital experience” because, I want those of you who are starting out in nursing homes or home health to realize you may still be requested to apply to a nurse residency program. Even if you did home health or a nursing home for several years, hospitals still typically have you do the residency regardless.
Nurse residency programs are HIGHLY competitive and all of them have specific application requirements. I attached an example of one of the hospital systems in Houston and it’s requirements. If you want your dream job, then you need to be ready to put your absolute best foot forward! A lot of these residency programs receive up to 400 or more applications each admission period. Unfortunately, small careless mistakes in your application process can put you out of the running. But don’t worry, I will go over mistakes to avoid (cause believe me, I made a ton). You’ll want to look at your dream hospital requirement ASAP because, not to be a dream crusher, you may not even be qualified due to the requirements. I recommend this for all nursing students so that you can have realistic expectations very early on. Most residencies have GPA requirements, with the most common requirement being 3.0. Remember, the higher the risk or the more desirable the job, the higher the GPA requirements may be. Texas Children’s Hospital has a GPA requirement of 3.5 and they are pretty serious about this (again be realistic with yourself). Some hospital systems even prefer higher GPA over work experience.
I’m sure I’m probably stressing some of you out right now, but if you haven’t started taking this process seriously, then now is the time to start! Another big thing to keep in mind is APPLICATION DEADLINES!!! You DO NOT have to be graduated or passed your NCLEX to apply to these residencies. That’s the whole purpose of them, so that you can acquire a job before graduation. Missing an application deadline is a “no exceptions” type thing that you really want to avoid. Each hospital system will have different deadlines so do your research!!!! Waiting till the last minute will most definitely play against you.
Residencies will vary on job acceptance requirements from hospital system to hospital system. For example, I had to sign a two year commitment contract with my hospital but in return I received ALL my ER certifications for free, free books, free training, and a years worth of free classes and mentors to help assure I was doing well. Certifications can often cost $200+ to go out and get on your own and my nurse residency program gave me 4 certification classes! Now other hospital systems MAY NOT have a 2 year commitment contract you have to sign, but generally most do. In Houston, I believe Harris Health and Texas Children’s do not have a contact requirement. Breaking contract usually comes with a hefty fee. Say you quit your job before your two years are up, you will be obligated to pay up to $10,000 back to your hospital. This is also true if you happen to get fired, which does happen guys soooo don’t start slacking just cause you think you’re safe in contract. Residents have been fired for being late on the first week, and for just being plain lazy. Be sure to apply to all residencies to keep your options open!
Alright enough ABOUT residencies, lets start learning how to get INTO residencies!
Let’s Talk Resumes
This will be the first impression you’ll be giving and, at this point, all you are is a name on a paper. Remember when I said they receive close to 400 applications each admission period? Yeah… that’s why making mistakes in this phase will be detrimental (trusssttt me). Layout is everything and cutting the “bla bla” will be important too. Short, simple and with your most important information at the top.
Here I’ve attached a copy of my resume that I made in Microsoft Office. Keep in mind that I probably went more “fancy” with my resume than I should had. Using a fancy templet like this may be pretty, but it doesn’t always load well on others computers. For example, I went to one interview that printed it out before I arrived. The layout was all screwed up and it printed out as 3 pages.. YIKES. Got the job anyways though lolz. Some places will be cool about it, but some will eat you alive over every mistake you make. This was actually the resume I created after being turned down from two other jobs. I want to point out some key mistakes I had made in my previous resumes (and lets keep this a judge free zone folks). First, make sure to properly place your educational degrees in the correct order.
STORY TIME!! After not receiving an email back from a particular hospital system whom I shall not name, I emailed them multiple times asking what was the reason I hadn’t heard back. I finally received an email, from a recruiter, that said “excuse me but this position is for BSNs only. Not ADNs”. I just kept reading the email in disbelief like… my resume clearlyyyy says I went to Chamberlain and got my BSN… So I sent this lady back one of those professional but the “you got me fucked up” type of email and included another copy of my resume. She emailed me back to tell me “oh sorry.. I read that you went to Lonestar and assumed you only had your ADN. I see lots of applications everyday and I don’t have time to read every resume word for word”. OKAY WOWWWWW. I can’t make this shit up guys! It happens, so my advice to you all is to learn from this experience of mine. That was one interview I never got and part of it is really just my fault! Proper education degree placement is your latest degree FIRST. So your BSN degree needs to be on top of the list! Also, if your resume can live without it then don’t put it! Did my job reallyyyyy need to know I got an Associates Degree in Science?? Prob not and it back fired on me for not knowing the proper order.
Here is a great example a nice, simple, straightforward resume. This resume was also made on Microsoft Office and found under “resume templets”. Notice how it’s super easy to read? Also, he decided to include his clinical experience on his resume! This is a great option for anyone with little to no nursing related work experience. It actually does play in your favor if your clinicals were at a place you desire to interview with. Not having hospital work experience won’t set you behind the rest of your competitors either! I know plenty of nursing students who were offered jobs before people with experience. You can see he also included information he was proud to share, such as his GPA and his leadership positions from nursing school. This is a pretty impressive resume!
The most important advice I can give you about your resume is, to have other people look at it. Hand it to your professors, or someone who will critically judge your resume. Take their advice seriously! Again.. KEEP IT SIMPLE!!! You can find lots “resume maker” websites online that can help you get ideas on professional layouts and job descriptions. They often charge money for you to keep the resume so, I would just copy the information onto your Microsoft Office resume templet.
I will only go over this topic a little because it’s pretty self-explanatory. Start getting those recommendation letters people!!!! Your professors are going to have 100 people ask them all at once and suddenly you’ve got yourself a generic LOR that your professor wrote for everyone and literally just changed the names… Start early so your professors have time to make it personal! Get 3 or 4 good ones and ALWAYS offer an LOR even if it’s not required.
So now its been a few weeks since your application submission and now… you’ve got an email invite to an interview! WOOHOO it’s getting real now! So, usually interviews are more than just a one step process. Most larger hospital systems will have a massive interview (hundreds of applicants may be invited), and then you may be invited back to a more serious unit specific interview. Here are some different type of interviews you may be invited to:
Massive group interview: This will be the interview that 100s of applicants show up to. Often, all the different hospital locations will meet at one location to interview masses amounts of applicants. For example, Methodist will host a massive interview at one particular location, but representatives from ALL Methodist locations will be there for you to interview with. So, I interviewed with Houston Methodist downtown and Methodist Willowbrook on the same day. THINGS TO KNOW: these interviews usually last no more than 5 minutes and are NOT typically unit specific. They will usually ask you what unit you desire to work on. Take several copies of your resume, and be prepare to answer questions on WHY you’d want to work for that certain facility. DRESS TO IMPRESS. There are literally 200 of you in this room.. buy yourself something nice to interview in and make yourself stand out (in a good way).
Panel Interview: Honestly.. these are rough! It’s you with 6 people interviewing you at once and I assure you it’s nerve racking. Come prepared and know that this interview is pretty serious. It will be unit specific and will typically include the manager, director, nurse educator, and other staff from the department. If they ask you to bring a series of paperwork, put the paperwork in portfolio folders. Don’t just hand each of them a stack of papers with a paper clip. Don’t beat yourself up if you don’t know an answer to their question. It may feel like the end of the world but it’s not. My panel interview was pretty hard and I didn’t have the answer to one of their questions and I remember thinking “this will be why I don’t get the job offer..”. I was not offered a job with them but in the end I was happier for it. Sometimes, super uptight interviews like that might not be a great sign of the type of management you will want to work for.
Peer Interviews: Okay now these are my favorite!!! A peer interview will often take place after a manger has spoken with you privately. The manager will bring in two or three staff members to come and interview with you. This is great because you get to discover how well your personality matches with the unit. I had two peer interviews! My second one was hilarious!!!! I was super nervous and trying to act professional (not my strongest attribute guys), and this nurse looks at me and goes “okay so I’m a patient… and I tell you to go get me some morphine ya dumb bitchhhhhhhh!! Whatcha gonna say to me??”. I just busted out laughing. Needless to say that interview went awesome and I was hired on the spot. These are the best interviews to go through and give you an opportunity to show more of your true personality.
Shadowing on the unit: So, I don’t have personal experience on this one, so I’m afraid my information to you on this is limited. With that being said, I have had several people from my cohort who were offered a “shadowing” day with the unit they were applying for. I think it’s pretty awesome if you get offered this opportunity but, even if everything goes perfectly right, you still might not get offered the position. I think these are the most painful rejections because you will feel as though you did so much. If this happens to you, keep your head up! It wasn’t meant to be and something better will come along!
Scrubs or no scrubs? Typically, no scrubs, but there are occasions when you may go to an interview after clinicals and they allow you to wear scrubs. Again, if it is a panel interview, come extremely professional. Avoid having chipped nail polish and messy hair. If your hair is naturally frizzy, like mine, then consider a putting your hair up. You want to have a clean and fresh, “put together” look. Go out and splurge a little money on yourself! PSA to all girls... if you have the black interview jacket with the white cuffs that you bought from Kohls or JCPenny… so does everyone else!!! Get yourself a new jacket pleaseeee! Or else, you’ll be like me and show up to an interview matching 50% of the other girls. It’s funny now but was super awk on my interview day.
Practicing your interview question will play a major role in pulling off a successful interview. I highly recommend you all downloading an app called “Glassdoor”. You’ll be able to look up hospitals and click on the “interviews” tab to review common interview questions. I did this for several of my interviews. I wrote down each question and then I practiced my answer for each! Some questions may seem repetitive, but don’t give the same answer for both!
Majority of your questions will be behavioral based question. An extremely hard question that was VERY popular in my interviews was “name a time you made a mistake in your clinical setting and how did you handle it? What was the outcome?”. Most of us will struggle with this question because… well, we are trying to put our best foot forward and now I have to admit a mistake I made?! Yes you do! They want to see that you take responsibility for a mistake made and that you went about proper actions to fix it (even if your fix is made up for this interview…). You need to display your honestly, integrity and your willingness to learn since these qualities are EXTREMELY important as a baby nurse. I found that saying “if I have questions, I won’t be hesitant to ask them”, was really positive in my interviews. Every time I brought that up, someone interviewing me would say “good cause a nurse who doesn’t ask questions is a killer nurse”.
You’ll be asked questions on what you know about the hospital, and you better know. Like for Methodist, a HUGEEEE mistake I made was NOT knowing their “core values”. Remember that interview question I knew killed my interview? Yeah… well that was it. If you’re asked what the hospitals core values or mission statement is and you go “uhh I donno..”, you might as well walk out cause the interview is done. Some hospitals take this extremely seriously!!!!!
Scenario based questions. Yeah we all hate these.. Often it will be question regarding the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, stroke, or infection. Answer these questions to the best of your knowledge and don’t be ashamed to say you don’t know. Not all interviews will have scenario based questions but if you’re interviewing for ER or ICU positions then you should expect them. A few questions I remember being asked:
- Patient comes in complaining of chest pain, what actions do you anticipate taking? Labs you will be monitoring?
- You have an elderly patient with a new onset of confusion. What conditions may you be concerned about? *hint think infection*
- You have 3 pts with *insert conditions here*, how will you prioritize your care for them?
- You have a child who needs life saving measures. The parents are wanting to leave AMA with the child so they can take the child to church and pray for her to be healed. What actions will you take? *hint, its call CPS. Parents are not displaying ability to care for child and putting Childs life in danger*
Wow have we finally reached the end?! I know I probably stressed you out by thinking about all this and I won’t lie and tell you the process is pretty… For some of you, you’ll strike gold on your first interview! For others, you’ll face rejection maybe once, twice, or even more. Here are my last few tips for y’all.
Be realistic, not hard, on yourself. I’m not gonna lie, the rejection is going to hurt! Getting a rejection letter on interview you thought you nailed will have you questioning yourself. What did I do wrong? Was it my GPA? Was it the way I responded to that one question? My hair (which was straight up grey at this time)? You’ll probably cry cause it’s just so damn frustrating!! For me, I felt like my GPA was great, I had work experience, and I even went to Haiti as a nursing student!!!! WHYYYY WAS NO ONE PICKING ME!? I cried several times, which is why I’m telling you to be realistic. There are hundreds of you fighting for the same jobs. There is only a few openings and sometimes just one opening. You will never know why they picked someone else and you don’t need to know. Pick yourself up and move on to the next.
If you’re wanting ER, you’ll need to verify your state even allows it. Some states don’t allow new grads to start in the ER and I’ve heard rumors that Memorial Hermann will no longer be hiring for the ED either. It sucks if that is your situation, but just do your time elsewhere and move to the ED as soon as you can!
*Advice given to me* Hire for the unit you want, not the hospital. I can’t stress this enough!!! Finding a job will be hard, but don’t get desperate and start applying to units you have no interest in. I interviewed for a cardiac IMU and I was so disappointed when I didn’t get the position. The thing was, I had NO interest in cardia IMU or ICU! I just wanted a job at this particular hospital. Two years is a long time to be committed to a unit you never even wanted in the first place.
Attend all and any job fairs in your area! Get your name out there and get recognized. The people working harder than you will get the job before you!
Alright guys! I’ve come up with just about all I can think of. If you don’t have a great GPA or job experience, expect that finding a job might be more challenging! If you know your GPA is lower than you’d like, start looking for shadowing or job opportunities in the area you would eventually like to work. For example, several students took a part time job as a tech in the ED while in nursing school. These students had no trouble getting the Nurse Residency job offers in the ER. But my advice is, if you want ER, don’t take a job as a tech in the ICU. I was surprisingly asked at EVERY job interview as to whyyy I was applying to the ER despite working as a tech in the ICU. Y’all I was a tech in the ICU before nursing school and I was still challenged on it!!
Lastly, if you happen to not get a job offer before graduation, it’s totally fine! No one is better than you just because they got a job before you. Nothing is wrong with you either. You WILL get a job, but maybe the right opportunity has opened up just yet. Good luck to all of you and do not hesitate to send any questions you may still have my way!