In a difficult job market, the news about the need for nurses is encouraging. Due to changing demographics, increased access to health care and retiring nurses, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts more than a million new jobs for nurses before 2020.


To someone entering nursing school or looking to advance in their career, the expected need for nurses is a powerful motivator. Landing a job after school should be easy, and there’s even a chance that you could have your choice of several positions.

Unfortunately, getting a job after nursing school isn’t quite as easy as showing up to the local hospital and declaring yourself ready to work. While there are certainly more opportunities in the nursing field than almost any other, and you’re likely to find a fulfilling position after earning your MSN degree, you still need to put work into finding work. The most desirable positions are still competitive, so before you begin applying for nursing jobs, take these steps to stand out from the crowd.

Adjust Expectations

One of the main frustrations for many new nursing graduates is that the local job market is tighter than they expected. Or they might find plenty of open positions, but none of them meets the expectations of their dream job. It is important to realize that you will still have to make yourself stand out among many applicants and that you may have to take a job that isn’t exactly what you want in order to gain experience and pay the bills, since not all jobs are appropriate for new or inexperienced nurses. Keeping your expectations in check before you start looking for a job will help prevent disappointment; you do not have to give up on your dreams and goals, but understand that you will need to work to get where you want to be.

Be Flexible

A nursing degree puts you in-demand, but it doesn’t mean that you can make demands. You must be willing to be flexible in order to find a job. That might mean working nights or weekends or taking a job on a floor other than where you ultimately want to work. You might also need to be flexible in where you actually live and work. There is a nationwide nursing shortage, but it is not equally distributed. Some areas have a greater need than others, meaning you might need to commute or even relocate to find a great job.

Get Advanced Education

The provisions of the Affordable Care Act place a greater emphasis on advanced nursing practice and quality care. This means that more health care facilities are seeking nurses with advanced degrees and higher levels of experience. Because most units can only accommodate a certain number of new or inexperienced nurses, the more training and experience you have the more likely you are to be able to land a position.

Volunteer

Because experience is such an important factor when it comes to opening up a wider array of opportunities, you’ll need to find ways to gain that experience yourself. Volunteering, such as with the Red Cross or a public health organization, helps you hone your skills and gain valuable experience — and it helps fill gaps on your resume while you search for a position.

Network

In addition to skill building, volunteering also builds you network, which is vital to your career success. You need to begin building your professional network before you even finish nursing school. While completing your clinical assignments, introduce yourself to nurse managers and other power players who can be important allies when it comes time to apply for jobs. Stay in touch with people you work and study with, and spend some time on your online profiles, especially LinkedIn. Having the right connections can make all the difference when it comes time to find your first job.

Make Your Application Shine

Finally, when you are competing against dozens — or even hundreds — of other applicants, you have to make your application shine. Tailor your resume and cover letter to the position and highlight how your experience fits the needs of the job. Develop a nursing portfolio that contains all of your licenses, commendations and copies of other work that demonstrates your experience, so a hiring manager can see everything at a glance. In short, put the same level of effort into applying for a job that you will to doing the job.

No degree or license is ever a guarantee that you will find a job, but earning a nursing degree is about as close as one can get these days. By taking the right steps and keeping your expectations in check, you can avoid disappointment and frustration and still land a great job.