7 tips for landing the best nursing jobs

You know the nursing job you want. This is how to catch a hiring manager's eye.

7 tips for landing the best nursing jobs

Ensure you’re a top candidate in your job search.

Nursing remains the largest segment of the health care workforce, and that’s not changing any time soon. There are more than 3 million nursing jobs, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS)—and that number continues to increase thanks to our aging—and active—population, older nurses retiring, new specialties surfacing as our approach to care shifts, and increasing rates of chronic disease.

Think about it: Technology may replace certain jobs and enhance our treatment options, but it can never replace a nurse’s compassionate, personalized care.

Here’s how to ensure you’re a top candidate in your job search—whether you’re launching your nursing career or starting a new chapter in your health care profession.

1. Be passionate

Ask any veteran nurse what it takes to succeed in the field and you’re bound to hear one word: passion.

“The most important thing a nurse should consider when applying for any position, regardless of the setting, is their passion and interest in a particular specialty area or type of patient,” says Robin Hertel, EdS, MSN, RN, CMSRN, President of the Academy of Medical-Surgical Nurses.

“Nursing is a stressful occupation, especially in the in-patient setting. Without a passion for the job and the specialty area, nurses are at increased risk for burnout and, potentially, patient harm,” she explains.  “Consider why you entered nursing in the first place. Was it because of an experience you or a family member had? Do you like caring for children or do you prefer the geriatric population? Are you interested in a particular disorder or body system? Perhaps you enjoy evaluating cardiac rhythms, and a position on a cardiac care unit may be perfect for you.”

2. Speak up

Connect with nurses who are already working in the specialty you are considering. This is a great way to quickly identify if you’re a good fit for the field.

When asked what qualities her position requires, cardiac care nurse Kristen Cline, BSN, RN, CEN, CPEN, CFRN, CTRN, TCRN, answers, “You have to be a type-A personality. It also helps if you’re very organized, calm under pressure, and comfortable with chaos! We are also very inquisitive.”

To be a successful ER nurse, explains Graig Straus, MSN, APRN, CEN, FF/NREMT, “You must have a strong stomach, not be afraid of jumping into any kind of procedure, and love to be active. I am generally on my feet all 12 hours of every shift—and so are most of the ER nurses I’ve ever worked with. We have a lot of energy and hate to be bored!”

“There are numerous options within nursing and it can be overwhelming to narrow it down to one specialty,” says Trissa Lyman, FNP-S, Brigham Young University. “I dare to say you do not have to narrow it down to one specialty indefinitely. You can evolve as you progress in the field of nursing.”

3. Get started

When you’re in nursing school, try to find a part-time job in the health care field. Look for a position that complements your degree and helps you experience the nursing culture. For example, if you ultimately want to work in geriatric care, an entry-level job in a nursing home can give you excellent exposure (and future job leads).

Also consider volunteering, which provides hands-on experience, as well as the opportunity to meet potential colleagues. Volunteer positions are also a good way to gauge your field of interest. “I was a volunteer EMT,” Straus recalls, “and once I got a taste of what [emergency] medicine was like, I was hooked.”

4. Grow your network

Use your college career center and develop connections online. Also, join professional nursing organizations. Don’t just be a member, but also participate and attend sponsored events.

“Joining a professional association like the American Academy of Ambulatory Care Nursing (AAACN) is smart. You can get so much out of a community of nurses—support, networking, affordable education,” says Kristene Grayem, MSN, CNS, PPCNP-BC, RN-BC, President of the AAACN. “My own career trajectory totally changed because I got such great advice from other nurses in AAACN. I was able to network and succeed in ways that I didn’t know even existed.”

Form strategic alliances with other students, nurses across various settings, and of course, management.

“Be ambitious and proactive,” Lyman says. “Ask nurses about their specialty and let them know your interests. Someone told me once it's not always about who you know, but who knows you. I have found this to be true.”

5. Be open to relocation

Launch yourself in every possible direction. Even while you’re in nursing school, don’t place limits on yourself. While the nursing field is growing, location remains a significant factor in hiring opportunities.

For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services projects that there will be a significant shortage of registered nurses in California, but a surplus in Florida, by 2030.

Average salary also varies across states. California, Hawaii, and Massachusetts are the states that currently pay registered nurses the most, says the BLS. Monster’s salary guide can provide valuable information with regards to where your salary will go furthest.

6. Stay savvy about certification

In the health care field, more education generally means higher pay and more opportunities. “In medicine, it all comes down to your paper,” says Straus.

If you’ve already made the investment to earn your Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), you’ve increased your prospects in positions of management and leadership.

Also, look out for trends in the field when choosing your next training or certification. For example: “With the shift in care delivery moving from inpatient to outpatient settings,” says Grayem, “there are many skills that nurses may need to develop if they are coming from the inpatient setting or straight from college.”

7. Embrace the journey

Allow yourself time to explore what satisfies you professionally and works for you personally. 

Lillian Robarge, BSN, RN, has spent time as an infusion nurse, labor and delivery nurse, and, currently, a homecare nurse. “Stay open to possibilities and learn what makes you feel fulfilled in your work—and what doesn’t,” she says. “In nursing school, I always loved studying critical care and solving complex clinical problems while working on critical-thinking skills. These are valuable nursing lessons, however I discovered that nursing in a critical care-emergency room setting was not what I liked about nursing at all. The high-adrenaline setting was not good for me and left me with a poor work-life balance.

“Working in an outpatient setting with complex patients allowed me an environment where I could utilize my puzzle-solving interests while also having the time to educate my patients and go home feeling accomplished,” Robarge says.

As a nurse, there are countless opportunities to grow and learn—all while being a significant part in a person’s journey to health. “This is the beauty of nursing: the possibilities are abundant and you can create your own career path!” says Lyman. Could you use some help taking the first steps on your journey? Join Monster for free todayAs a member, you can upload up to five versions of your resume—each tailored to the types of nursing jobs that interest you. Recruiters search Monster every day looking to fill top jobs with qualified candidates, just like you. Additionally, you can get job alerts sent directly to your inbox to cut down on time spent looking through ads. Monster can help you find your ideal nursing job quickly so you can start to do what you love (and get paid for it)!