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Navigating the Job Market: Strategies for Landing a Nursing Job

Nurse in blue scrubs standing outside with arms crossed

Sponsored by Lewis University.

The United States healthcare system is in the midst of an ongoing nursing shortage, in part because nearly 100,000 registered nurses (RNs) left the workforce during the COVID-19 pandemic because of stress, burnout, and retirements, according to the National Council of State Boards of Nursing (NCSBN). 

“Demand is high for nursing in just about any setting and specialty, which is good for both newly licensed and experienced nurses who are seeking jobs,” said career expert Donna Cardillo, MA, RN, CSP, FAAN. 

RN employment is projected to grow 6% from 2022 to 2032, faster than the average for all other occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). 

The combination of the shortage and the expanding roles for nurses in health care means job seekers are entering an applicant’s market. 

“Services are constantly growing as the population gets older, technology advances, and nurses take on new jobs,” said Cardillo. 

In addition to working in hospitals, nurses can find positions in outpatient hemodialysis, wound care centers, corporate wellness companies, medical weight control, urgent care, public health departments, and more. 

Though job opportunities are increasing, it's crucial for nurses to market themselves professionally to increase their chances of landing a desirable job. 

“There can be a misunderstanding that nurses can show up and get hired because there is high demand, but this is a mistake,” Cardillo said. 

Below are strategies to help you find a nursing job you actually want. 

A resume that stands out

Before submitting a nursing job application, create a resume that shows a variety of work-related experiences. Rather than leading with an objective in the resume, Cardillo recommends opening with a summary that highlights strengths and experience in a few sentences. 

Phrases could include: I am a newly licensed nurse with enthusiasm, drive, and a good work ethic. I have a strong desire to be a capable and professional nurse. I get along well with others and am not afraid to ask questions or ask for help as needed. 

Angie King, MSN, RN, CHCR, a nurse recruiter at University Medical Center in Texas, urges candidates to be concise because resumes that are multiple pages can be hard to follow. Use a bulleted format listing interesting, relevant experiences, such as special projects, quality improvement activities, training new hires, and leadership experience.

Certifications, credentials, and memberships in professional associations will also attract the attention of recruiters reviewing nurse job applications. “This shows that the candidate is an informed and involved member of their profession,” said Cardillo. 

There are many opportunities for nursing professional development, including certifications for adult, pediatric, and neonatal critical care nurses; medical-surgical nurses; perioperative nurses; oncology nurses; and more. 

A tailored cover letter also helps a candidate stand out, said Gina Salazar, a nurse recruiter at University of Kansas Health System. The letter should describe the position you’re applying for and a few sentences describing your passion for the job and why you’re a good candidate.

A powerful interview

Once you’ve finished the nurse job application process and landed an interview, take time to prepare for the meeting. 

  • Research the organization’s website to familiarize yourself with the mission, values, press releases, and other background information. You can mention relevant information during the interview.
  • Learn about the interviewer by studying the person’s LinkedIn profile.
  • Network with people who have worked at the organization to gather information about the company culture, strengths, and areas for improvement. 

First impressions matter, so dress professionally, use a firm handshake, make good eye contact, and smile. “Let your personality come through,” said Cardillo. “Recruiters are not looking to hire a body to fill a slot, but rather someone friendly, who has good communication skills and expresses interest in wanting to work at the facility.” 

She urges candidates to send a thank you note after the interview.

Applying for specialties in nursing

If you’re interested in exploring a specialty within nursing, consider scheduling an informational interview with someone working in your area of interest. Specialty nursing associations also have websites with valuable information. If you currently have a job in a facility, you can ask the manager of the specialty department if it would be possible to float or cross train to learn more about a new role. 

“This also benefits the hospital because managers can call this nurse if the unit is short-staffed,” said Marshall Blue, DNP, RNC-NIC, CNL, Director of Pediatric Services at St. Joseph’s Medical Center in Stockton, California. 

Prelicensed nurses can apply for externships in hospitals to explore specialties, which allows them to work alongside experienced nurses. 

“The externship increases the chances of getting hired in the unit,” said Blue, who has hired all the externs who worked in his unit.

While some nurses have a specific specialty in mind, others discover a passion for a specialty unexpectedly. 

“Positions may come up in areas like nursing informatics, the operating room, or hospice, and sometimes you can follow the job opportunities to try a new specialty,” Cardillo said.

Negotiating salary

Once you have a job offer in hand, there may be an opportunity to negotiate the salary. “It depends on the organization,” said Salazar. “Some have unions that determine the salary, but it doesn’t hurt to ask.” 

Nurse recruiters will know whether a salary or other benefits — such as tuition reimbursement, health insurance packages, and holidays — are negotiable. 

“If the salary is negotiable, we typically ask candidates what they were thinking with regard to salary that we could potentially take back for consideration,” Salazar said. 

Salary negotiations are usually less likely to be an option for new nurses. 

How to find a nursing job with no experience

Networking at career fairs, conferences, and professional association meetings is a valuable strategy while job hunting because the people you meet may have inside knowledge about opportunities. Creating a LinkedIn profile you can send to recruiters or other job contacts is also a good step. 

Though new nurses may not have previous experience, listing jobs in customer service such as retail, restaurants, or grocery stores on your resume shows that a candidate knows how to deal with the public, said King. 

New graduates seeking jobs in their communities can describe their sense of connection and history in the area. 

“If you were born and raised in a diverse community, reference how you know the area is diverse and how you plan to advance community health,” said Blue.

New graduates looking for work will discover that demand is particularly high in medical-surgical units at many hospitals. Salazar has noticed that new nurses often prefer to specialize immediately, but she encourages them to consider starting in medical-surgical units to gain basic nursing skills first. 

“Nurses can specialize anytime in their career,” she said. “New grads who are open to working in med-surg or telemetry units will find that they get a more well-rounded experience with the skills that will be applicable no matter where they decide to specialize later.” 

Thank you nurses. At Lewis University, we share your passion for excellence and commitment to compassionate patient care. We offer a holistic view of nursing that encompasses the physical, social and spiritual aspects of nursing and care of patients. Visit