Getting Your First Job Out of Nursing School

  • Benjamin Caleb Williams
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Just like many other individuals who have decided to enter the nursing field, I was told that nurses have their pick of jobs, that high-demand for nurses means I could work anywhere I wanted, and that employers would be constantly contacting me with job offers. While all these things were eventually true, it took a couple years of real work experience before these opportunities came to fruition. Landing your first nursing job straight out of nursing school can pose a challenge, as employers generally want to hire individuals who already have some kind of healthcare work experience, something many students don’t yet have. While searching for that first job out of nursing school may feel overwhelming, you will find something and soon you’ll have the necessary experience under your belt to go onto more advanced positions in nursing.  Let’s breakdown what factors are most important to consider when looking for your first job out of nursing school.

Things to Consider

Without much experience, freshly-graduated nurses may feel like they have to accept the first job that comes their way after nursing school. However, it’s important that new nurses consider certain factors like future career development and work-life-balance before taking any job offers. Here are a few of the major factors to consider when looking for that first nursing job.   

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Schedule

Because nurses are needed 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, work shifts will be very different than the typical 9-to-5 that you may be used to. New nurses will have to get used to 12-hour shifts, working nights, weekends, and even holidays, being put on call, and having a rotating schedule.  I worked the night shift for the first four years of my nursing career, which enabled me to gain a great deal of clinical experience that I might not have had if I’d taken a day shift at a different facility. Understanding how nurse schedules work at your specific facility will be imperative. For example, I worked in an ICU for four months where I was called off (sent home) every fourth shift, essentially resulting in a 25% pay cut. Being aware of how scheduling works in your facility is one of the most important factors to take into consideration when thinking about accepting your first nursing job. Depending on where you work, you may be able to have the same days off each week, schedule yourself for the days you want, or, all of this may be at your manager’s discretion where you have no input. Make sure the job you’re accepting aligns with the factors that are most important to you career-wise.

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Experience

The first job you land upon graduating from nursing school and the experience you gain can set the tone for the rest of your nursing career. If the first job you accept is a position in a nursing home, the chances of getting an ICU nursing position as your second job is less likely. The experience you gain will be important to how your career develops, what opportunities will open up to you, and how you can advance through the ranks of nursing. Typically, a medical/surgical, telemetry, or step-down unit provide jobs that are easier to initially get into and can be great stepping stones into other specialties.

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Pay

As a new nurse, you probably won’t have a whole lot of room to negotiate your initial pay, however, it’s still important to know your worth and take into consideration as many offers as you can and compare the pay being offered. Newly-graduated nurses can sometimes influence their pay level by taking on evening and night shifts, or by choosing a schedule that includes more weekends or holidays.

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Reputation of the employer

The reputation of the employer is important to consider when getting your first job. Bigger, more well-known networks are more respected and will provide you with more long-term opportunities in your career. You can ask experienced nurses or your clinical instructors about the reputations of local employers or search online reviews. The one downside to employers with good reputations is that they typically pay less because their positions are more coveted.  

How to Get Your First Nursing Job

Landing your first job in the nursing profession after obtaining your nursing license can be difficult and the many career avenues you’re presented with can seem overwhelming.  Getting a job without any real work experience can be a challenge, and getting real work experience without having job is impossible, making getting your first job a sometimes-daunting task. Fortunately, there are several ways to make getting that first job easier.

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Have a connection

Knowing someone who already works at your desired job location is ideal, especially if they are in a management position. When I graduated nursing school, I was accepted into an Ivy League school in a different state for additional education, but struggled to get a job in the area without having any connections there. I started applying for jobs during my last semester in nursing school and still didn’t have an RN job two months after passing my NCLEX because moving as a new graduate from out-of-state made it almost impossible to find a job in the nursing field. In the first months I was struggling to find that first nursing job, I made a passing comment to someone I knew, and found out that her cousin was the director of nursing in one of the largest healthcare networks in the state. She connected me with her cousin and I had multiple job offers within a week. Networking with the right person can make the job finding process much easier!

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Get a job in the facility

If you already have a job as a nursing assistant, phlebotomist, or any other healthcare position, you will have opportunities that many may not. If you are applying as an outsider, your application will go to human resources, who will then pass it on to the hiring manager, who will then compare your application to the competing applicants. However, if you have the ability as an employee to walk into the manager’s office and briefly introduce yourself as someone who is already an employee, you will be far ahead of most applicants. If you still have some time left during nursing school, you should consider applying to your desired employer as a nursing assistant to get that initial connection and enhance your chances of landing your dream job.

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School connection

Many times, your nursing school will have connections with employers in the area and may be able to help you obtain a job with a local employer. Speak with the director of your nursing program or one of your nursing professors to see if these school connections are available to you.

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Submit a traditional application

If you don’t have any connections where you are hoping to work, you’ll need to submit an application and wait to see if you are selected for an interview. There are a few things that you can do to enhance your chances of getting an interview. First, make sure that your resume is up-to-date and exemplifies your clinical experiences, even if it just your preceptorship. Call human resources about a week after you submit your application to make sure the manager has the chance to review it. Sometimes applications will sit in the HR systems and never make it to the hiring manager. If you are chosen to come in for an interview, be sure that you are prepared to talk about your clinical experience, answer standard interview questions, and ask insightful questions about the position.

While landing that first nursing job can seem daunting, by carefully evaluating your options and networking with those already in the field, you can start your nursing career in a position you’re passionate about.

Meet The Author

Caleb is an Ivy League-educated nurse consultant with a strong clinical background, including supervisory positions within ICU and ER settings. In addition to his clinical work, Caleb practices as an expert nurse consultant and nurse writer, having written hundreds of healthcare-related articles and blog posts. He is a member of the Emergency Nurses Association and the American Association of Critical Care Nurses and holds multiple advanced certifications in emergency and trauma nursing.

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