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Essential Early Career Advice for Nurses

7 Min Read

Nursing is a career where you have excellent job security and many options for the type of career you want. However, the choices you make early in your nursing career have a huge impact on your options later on.

As everyone knows, nurses can specialize in exactly what they want to do. Making that decision early helps nursing degree candidates get more out every course they take in college. When it finally comes to applying for jobs, being fully prepared in one area or for one type of institution helps tremendously.

Sean Dent, a nurse for 20 years, says most people really do know what nursing career they want to pursue, based on one thing. “The bottom line is, you already know where you belong,” Dent writes in Scrubs Magazine. “You already know where you don’t belong, and where you don’t want to be. You only have to remember the ‘feeling’.”

Work on these six nursing advice steps to shine as a nursing career job applicant and to be a better nurse once you land the job.

1. Thoroughly Research Where You Want to Work

Do you want to work in a hospital or an out-patient practice? Is clinical practice the place to be, or would you rather move to administration or teaching? There are many nursing career options to consider.

As an online student, you might be in an area of nursing already. In that case, you know whether you like what you’re doing and whether you would like to stay where you are. Or advance in the same organization.

If you’re not already, read nursing blogs. These give candidates great insight into the life of nurses, their different roles nurses and their day to day work. Look for blogs in your planned specialty and don’t hesitate to ask questions. Nurse Journal’s “15 Awesome Nurse Blogs to Follow” is a solid place to start. Bookmark them all and read them.

If you want to be able to do something different, do something many students are afraid to do; call up health care facilities where you would like to work and simply ask if you can help out by volunteering. Even asking to observe every-day treatment or surgery gets surprisingly positive results.

Often that initial call can translate into working there as an intern or nursing assistant. And later, when you apply full-time for a position, they already know how you work and how you fit in. Think ahead at all times when working on career options for nurses.

2. Create a Stunning Online Career Profile

Show practical, hands-on experience to prospective employees. Being a certified nursing assistant, working in a retirement facility or anything similar allows you to demonstrate how you care for patients .

When you do the work you then have to be able to show prospective employees. Make a profile on a site like LinkedIn or Nurse Together. This is your presence on the internet that helps connect you with the positions you want in the settings that fit your needs best. Then, make it a habit to revisit your profile regularly and reach out to people in the hospitals and practices where you would love to work to help you pursue nursing as a career.

3. Continually Update Your Credentials

When you go to an interview – or want to add skills at your place of work – you should be able to produce a list of your credentials, your immunizations, licenses and other certifications and details.

Every time you complete a new certification, receive an award or increase your education, update the list and your online profiles. This way, you have something that details your achievements ready to go for every interview.

4. Keep in Touch, Networking With Colleagues

When you hit it off with a fellow nurse or a supervisor, talk, and then don’t forget to exchange social media and other contact information. Nurture these relationships over time. Send notes now and then to say that you are thinking of them, take a lunch to catch up on business and stay reasonably active on Facebook, Twitter or your social network of choice.

Following social media guidelines, as developed by the American Nurses Association, keeps you on the right side of ethics and law when it comes to what you can or should post.

Many times, networking can provide you early notice about new positions before they are ever posted. It also always helps to have someone on the inside to put out the good word about your skill and work ethic.

5. Nursing Interview Tips

There are a few standard interview questions that will come up in place after place. Develop answers to questions like:

  • How have you handled an emergency situation?
  • How do you perform under work pressure?
  • Why did you want to become a nurse?
  • What nursing specialties interest you?
  • What is your approach to balancing life and work?

Consider these and more questions. Discuss them with friends and colleagues until you are able to produce answers that feel easy and natural. Coming up with a good answer is rooted in your experience. It’s not buzzwords that help you land the job, it’s expressing the values of a great nurse, nursing administrator or any other position for which you are applying: caring, compassion, empathy, ambassador for health, organized, and a calming influence to name just a few.

A good answer to the, “How do you perform under work pressure?” question could start with saying how quickly you learned that in tough situations people looked to you first for advice and to know what to do. You gave direction to people to help in specific areas, they performed accordingly, and the situation improved.

Tell your stories. You should have at least one anecdote about a patient who underwent medical troubles and you stayed focused on helping them while simultaneously trying to avoid feeling overwhelmed. As you move along in your career, you will have more work-related examples at your fingertips to draw upon.

6. Continue Learning, Newsletters and Conferences

In nursing, the career that you wind up with is limited only by your ambition. Keep up-to-date on news through email newsletters or online sources. Dear Donna on is one example. Just 30 or so minutes a week, can keep you abreast of what’s going on in nursing, technology or new laws.

Develop some professional friends and in-depth knowledge of your specialty by attending nursing conferences and continuing education programs. Continuing professional conversations with others in your line of work gives you a much broader perspective that can illustrate whether something is not working well at just your place of work or if it’s a more widespread concern. And vice versa, if something is working well, say scheduling where you work, but is a problem at many other places then you have a positive to build on.

thriving Alumni Association can jumpstart that networking knowledge, as well.

Consider yearly events like the Women’s Healthcare Conference (organized by Nurse Practitioners in Women’s Health) or the National Conference on Pediatric Health Care (organized by the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Practitioners) or those specific to your interests and your development.

By knowing what area you want to work in and creating a work history and examples of professional development that shows how capable and motivated you are, you can move into the area that fits you best and allows you to reach your full potential.

One more piece of advice – pick the best nursing degree that can get you where you want to go and a school that offers networking and post-graduation support. Sacred Heart University, a regionally and CCNE-accredited university, has several online degrees in the nursing field, from RN to BSN and MSN, to several specialties, all of which offer convenience around your schedule.

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