Landing Your Dream Job in the ICU

Greetings everyone and welcome to my blog! My name is Tekelia (pronounced like the drink…haha) and I am a Medical ICU nurse! I graduated with Honors from Chamberlain University in September 2018. Landing a job in ICU as a Graduate Nurse can be challenging and a huge HEADACHE…trust me I know! Conversely, I am here to help you overcome some of those challenges. Hopefully, this post will assist you in scoring your dream job in the Critical Care setting *fingers crossed*!

Working as an ICU nurse


First things first: Why do you want to be an ICU nurse? Yes, working in the Intensive Care Unit has some nice perks; conversely, it is serious business. You will be dealing with the sickest of the sick. As an ICU nurse, you will be required to think quickly on your feet, as well as know how to remain calm in stressful situations. Hiring managers LOVEEE to ask this question during interviews to weed out the good from the not so good candidates. Here is a tip: When asked this question, DO NOT…I REPEAT DO NOT mention CRNA school, becoming a Nurse Practitioner, etc. Hiring managers aren’t interested in you using their unit as a stepping stone for one to two years and then leaving. Yes, we, myself included, may be interested in these programs; conversely, employers want to know that you truly have the heart to be a great beside nurse. It’s okay to mention wanting to further your education; conversely, don’t let that be your sole purpose for wanting a job in the ICU.

Chamberlain University Grad

For me, I loveeee the fear of the unknown! In the ICU, your patient can be stable one minute and then coding the next! Whewww chile…talk about stressful! Haha! Therefore, critical thinking skills are essential in the intensive care setting…but we will get to that part later 😊 I also love the fact that you are never alone. In the ICU, you ALWAYS have support around: Physicians, Nurse Practitioners, Respiratory, your nursing coworkers, etc. It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a strong, supportive TEAM to provide quality and efficient patient care.

How Can I Set My Application Apart from Other Candidates?

Let’s be honest: Most Graduate Nurses want to specialize!! We are moving away from the idea of working on a Med-Surg unit for a minimum of one year and then specializing. Now don’t get it twisted, there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with working on a Med-Surg unit! I worked as a Medical Surgical Personal Care Assistant for 3 years while in nursing school. Working as a Med-Surg nurse will assist in enhancing your nursing skills and clinical judgment. Although I mainly had exposure to the Med-Surg world, I knew that Critical Care nursing was my passion. Working in the ICU had been a dream of mine for the longest. I pride myself for being determined and head strong. Even as a first-year RN student, knew that I wanted my first nursing job to be in the Intensive Care Unit, and I wouldn’t stop until I accomplished my goal.

Sooo…you know that you want to specialize…but the thing is HOW?! Let’s be honest, most specialty units are against hiring Graduate Nurses…sucks… but it’s true! Guess what??? TOO BAD! Haha! Most facilities are required to hire so many new grads a year, especially with New Graduate Residency Programs.

Here is a tip: APPLY TO EVERY SINGLE NEW GRADUATE RESIDENCY PROGRAM THAT OFFERS AN ICU POSITION! If the ICU is your passion, a residency program will be your BESTFRIEND in the long run. Also, you must be open minded. Apply for the unit…not the hospital! Yes, everyone wants to work at a nice, nationally recognized Magnet Hospital; conversely, you might not land a position at that specific hospital fresh out of nursing school. Get the experience first and then move around. Once you get some experience underneath your belt, the sky IS NOT THE LIMIT! So my advice to you is apply everywhere.

TIP: Prior to applying, make sure that your portfolio is all the way together! Some things that should be included in your portfolio includes but is not limited to: Cover letter, Resume, Letters of recommendation *preferably one from your critical care instructor and one from your clinical instructor*, Awards/ Certifications, and Volunteer experience. I will attach a copy of my portfolio below as a reference. Finally, make sure that your resume includes the highlights and not your entire life story-keep it short and sweet! Most candidates will only submit their resume…but we aren’t basic 😊 When applying, submit a cover letter, resume, and at least two letters of recommendations if possible! TAKE MY ADVICE ON THIS! Never be afraid to go above and beyond…it may be your last opportunity to really wow the hiring manager prior to the interview!


Next, let’s discuss elephant in the room, GPA’s! I’ve already mentioned how competitive Residency Programs can be, especially for candidates interested in the Intensive Care Unit. Let me be the first to tell you, YOU DO NOT NEED A 4.0 GPA to score a job in the critical care setting! I graduated from a program that used the (+/-) system; therefore, a B+ would bring your GPA down *sighs*☹. Don’t let your G.P.A deter you from your dream job! I graduated with a 3.4 G.P.A; conversely, I know people who graduated with a 3.0 and still scored an ICU position! Your grade point average does NOT justify whether you will be an extraordinary nurse! You are NOT your grade point average! Now, don’t get it twisted, STILL TRY YOUR HARDEST IN NURSING SCHOOL! Don’t go telling your homeboy/homegirl, “Tekelia said we can just breeze through nursing school with the bare minimum and still land an ICU position.” Noooo dude! Still try your absolute HARDEST to maintain a good-standing grade point average! Some hiring managers actually pay attention to grade point averages, class ranks, etc. Conversely, most only want to know that 1) You have a RN license 2) You will be a competent and safe nurse and 3) You have the compassion and heart for nursing.

The Interview

Next, lets discuss the interview. After DAYS or even WEEKS of waiting, you finally get a call or email to schedule an interview with the Intensive Care Unit’s Director of Nursing or Hiring Manager! At this point, you’re LITTYYYY! You are ONE STEP CLOSER to becoming an Intensive Care Unit Graduate Nurse! BUT PUMP YOUR BRAKES SIS (Or BRO for my fellas)! You still have to ace your interview, WHICH YOU WILL 😊 Okayyyy so let’s first discuss attire. Now, if you follow me on IG, you will know that I loveeee my long bundles, cute nails, etc. That’s cute…real cute…but not for the interview. First impressions leave lasting impressions! The ICU is typically compared to a sorority. I will just leave that there to marinate on your brain. Long story short, THEY WILL JUDGE YOU. You must look “the part.” Ladies, you want to make sure that your hair is pulled back and well groomed. Sis, I know you love your cute highlights and colored hair…but save it for AFTER the interview. You want to ensure that your hair color is as natural as possible. Makeup should be minimum to none. I loveeee my hawt pink lipstick; conversely, for the interview, you should keep the lipstick colors either nude or clear. Nails should be short and clean. No long stiletto nails with the diamonds. Cuteeee girl…but leave it for AFTER the interview. Make sure that your clothes are not too tight/ revealing. Keep it cute and professional.

Guys: You all should already know the interview attire Do’s and Don’ts. Hahaha! We woman can just do the most sometime. 😊

Secondly, let’s discuss interview questions. Most facilities like to focus on questions like, “Name a time that you made a mistake and what did you do to fix it” or “Name a time that you went above and beyond for a patient/ family member.” My suggestion to you would be to google some of these questions, type out your answer, and memorize your answer to the best of your ability. **TIP: DO NOT GO IN THERE SOUNDING LIKE YOU MEMORIZED YOUR ANSWERS!!* Haha. Don’t be in the interview sounding like a robot. You want your answers to flow as naturally as possible. Also do not incriminate yourself. Please don’t say, “I gave a patient the wrong drug.” Nooooooo! Haha! You can always mention almost administering a medication without checking the 6 rights! BOOM! GREAT ANSWER!

You may want to elaborate on your clinical experience during your interview. For instance, during my interview, I mentioned learning about the ECHMO machine during my ICU clinical rotation. Now, if you mention something, PLEASE BE ABLE TO ELABORATE in detail if the hiring employer asks you to explain a certain procedure/ skill.

Lastly, it’s okay not to know everything! I will be the first to admit that I do not know everything but I ASK QUESTIONS! If you are asked a question during the interview and you do not know the answer, BE HONEST! I know someone personally who interviewed with three other candidates and was offered an ICU position because she was honest and told the hiring manager that she wasn’t sure about a specific subject but would be happy to do some research get back to them. She was HONEST instead of trying to look like a KNOW-IT-ALL like the other candidates. One of the things that my coworkers admire about me is that I am not afraid to ask questions.

I am a BABY ICU NURSE. I work with people who have been Registered Nurses for 10+ years. If there is something that I do not know, I ask. Even the most seasoned nurses still ask questions. If there is a specific question or scenario presented to your during the interview that you just don’t have an answer to, I would suggest that you state, “I would use my charge nurse or a more experienced nurse as a reference” or “I would get a second pair of eyes if I am uncertain about a specific situation.” BOOM! The hiring manager would appreciate your honesty than you just attempting to be a KNOW-IT-ALL, which may result in you making a detrimental mistake.

Final Remarks

Scoring a job as a Graduate Nurse in the Intensive Care Unit can be challenging, but it is POSSIBLE! While in nursing school, study hard and try to maintain a decent grade-point average (3.2-4.0). Also, network…network…NETWORK! Sometimes, it’s not always what you know but WHO you know! Also, work hard in your Critical Care courses/ clinicals. Those letters of recommendations will help set your application apart from other candidates! Lastly, always believe in yourself and never settle. If the I.C.U is what you want, push for that specific unit! Do not allow others to convince you to settle for a unit if you heart isn’t truly there. Most facilities require Graduates Nurses to sign a minimum 1-year contract. Let me tell you, 365+ days is a longggg time to be unhappy! Remember, what God has for you, will ALWAYS be for you! Peace and Blessings


IG: DuchessDiaries

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