Finding a Job as a Nursing School Graduate
In this guide, our contributors provide advice on how you can stand out to employers and secure entry-level nursing jobs in your specialty immediately after graduation.
Navigating the job market as a nursing school graduate requires proactive planning, even in a growing field that offers great career prospects at every degree level. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects a 7% nursing job growth rate through 2029. In 2020, registered nurses earned a median annual salary of $75,300, with the top 10% making more than $116,230.
In this guide, our contributors provide advice on networking during clinical rotations and making the most of your college's career resources. Keep reading to learn how you can stand out to employers and secure entry-level nursing jobs in your specialty immediately after graduation.
How to Prepare While in School
Nursing students can improve their chances of finding a job that suits their interests if they begin applying for positions early. Colleges offer a variety of career resources and industry contacts to help place students in hospitals and healthcare companies immediately after graduation. Career counselors can help students fine-tune their resumes and search for jobs, while faculty and practicum supervisors can write letters of recommendation.
Nursing programs also offer practical experience through clinical rotations. Clinicals provide students with great opportunities for one-on-one networking with healthcare employers.
Hadley Vlahos, a registered nurse who also works as a prospective payment system coordinator in a nursing facility, explains that nursing students should start looking for job openings in their senior year.
"The main way to network in nursing school is through clinical rotations," she says. "Be friendly to the nurses you train under and be willing to help them out. The students who stand out in a positive way will definitely be mentioned to the manager."
Echoing that sentiment, registered nurse Thea Stadden emphasizes the importance of making connections through college. "Network within the school to get to know other students and teachers, who can help refer out to positions out of school and later on in your career," she says.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do nurses need to be licensed before applying to jobs?
No. You do not need a license to apply for nursing positions. Some states permit graduates to work for a grace period while they pursue licensure and take the NCLEX. All registered nurses must have graduated from an approved program with a bachelor's degree, an associate degree, or diploma.
When do nursing graduates take the NCLEX?
While employers may hire nursing graduates before they pass the NCLEX, hospitals often give graduates a set deadline to take the exam. Nursing students take the NCLEX about a month and a half after graduation. Each state specifies the earliest date applicants can take the exam.
Do all nursing students get a job at the hospital where they complete their clinical rotation?
No. According to our contributors, it is unlikely that students get placed at the hospital where they complete their clinical rotation. However, they may try to do so by making a good impression and demonstrating a strong work ethic. Leaving your resume with clinical supervisors also does not hurt.
What are ways to gain experience through working while in nursing school?
While in nursing school, students can gain experience by joining organizations, such as the National Student Nurses Association to find out about upcoming career or social events. Volunteering at healthcare organizations, or even non-health related companies, also shows a commitment to learn. In addition, candidates can hone their technology skills through college resources.
When to Look for a Nursing Job
The last year of school presents an excellent opportunity to look for job openings. Vlahos suggests, "If you have a speciality you would like to get hired into, start looking at how many job openings there are in that speciality and which hospitals have those openings." She says identifying a hospital that offers jobs in your specialty can also help when selecting a practicum site.
Each school offers different career resources. Clinical instructors often help candidates in their last semester of college find entry-level nursing jobs. Oftentimes, representatives from hospitals, hospices, home healthcare centers, and surgery centers visit colleges to discuss opportunities with students.
Most schools offer in-person and virtual career fairs throughout the academic year, with employers on hand to take resumes or answer questions.
Where to Look for a Nursing Job
Colleges provide many resources and pathways to the best nursing jobs for new grads. Campus career fairs allow students to meet with employers in person or online. Nursing school faculty also serves as a great resource to help students find internships or job opportunities.
Louise Weadock, the president and founder of ACCESS Nursing Services, says, "Much like Wall Street firms, many nursing schools are affiliating themselves with large healthcare systems to create feeder internships for future strong candidates."
Students can often tap alumni networks to make connections that may lead to employment opportunities. It also helps to browse job boards, such as Indeed.com, NursingNetwork.com, and Monster.com. However, the enormous volume of job listings can prove overwhelming.
Weadock suggests searching directly on hospital websites to find career openings. Recruiters can also help graduates with no nursing experience.
Networking During Clinicals
Clinical rotations allow students to make a lasting impression on their future employers.
"The main way to network in nursing school is through clinical rotations," Vlahos says. "The students who stand out in a positive way will definitely be mentioned to the manager."
The practical learning experience in a hospital also provides candidates with the opportunity to build confidence in their abilities and skills.
Besides maintaining a pleasant relationship with managers, Weadock also suggests talking to other hospital employees about job opportunities. You should also stay active on your nursing school's Facebook page and keep your LinkedIn profile updated with your graduation date.
Entry Level Nursing Jobs
Graduates with any level of college education can land entry-level nursing jobs that offer upward mobility. According to the BLS, positions like nursing assistants and orderlies should grow by 8% through 2029. The top 10% of nursing assistants make more than $44,550 a year.
Home health aides, a field increasing employment by 34% through 2029, make a median annual salary of $27,080. Medical assistants earn a median annual salary of $35,850 and are projected to see a 19% job growth rate through 2029.
Check out this page to learn more about different types of nursing degrees and the careers available to graduates.
Jobs and the Nursing Shortage in the United States
Aging baby boomers increasingly rely on healthcare services, fueling a growing demand for educated nurses. Employers need trained nurses in hospitals and long-term healthcare facilities across the United States.
The BLS identifies the nursing industry as one of the nation's fastest growing fields. Employment of registered nurses is projected to grow by 7% through 2029. In fact, the demand for nurses has created a shortage. Over the next decade, the BLS projects about 221,900 new job openings for registered nurses every year.
While this shortage offers ample opportunities for nursing graduates, it also has created a more competitive job market. Candidates who specialize in areas like gerontology or those who hold at least a bachelor's degree in nursing enjoy more employment opportunities.
Meet Our Contributors
Thea Stadden has been a registered nurse for three years. Before becoming an RN, Thea earned her certified nursing assistant (CNA) credential and worked as a CNA for two years. In her free time, Thea runs Nurses of Tomorrow, a site dedicated to providing resources for nurses throughout the country.
Hadley Vlahos is a registered nurse working as a PPS Coordinator in a skilled nursing facility. She is a former nurse manager in a skilled nursing facility and has also specialized in palliative care. When she's not working, she enjoys blogging and spending time with her husband and kids.
Louise Weadock, MPH, RN, is the president and founder of ACCESS Nursing Services, the leading regional provider of healthcare personnel to individual patients and prestigious healthcare systems throughout New York and New Jersey. ACCESS Nursing Services includes five city-center offices and seven hospital-based offices, employing more than 2,000 nurses and caregivers.
Brandy Gleason, MSN, MHA, BC-NC, is a nursing professional with nearly 20 years of varied nursing experience. Gleason currently teaches as an assistant professor of nursing within a prelicensure nursing program and coaches graduate students. Her passion and area of research centers around coaching nurses and nursing students to build resilience and avoid burnout.
Gleason is a paid member of our Healthcare Review Partner Network. Learn more about our review partners here.
Feature Image: SDI Productions / E+ / Getty Images
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