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What do I say in an interview, especially about a past termination?

Friday February 11, 2011
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Dear Donna,

I am an RN who graduated in December 2008. After graduation, it took me a while to find a position. I ended up taking a nursing home job on the night shift. The pay wasn’t all that great, and I wanted more experience. I was offered a position at a much nicer nursing home making $4 more an hour. I never quite fit in there, and after a few months I made a mistake by not documenting a “lowered to the floor” event. I was fired one month later for not signing off on one of my treatments. Four months later, I’ve had a dozen interviews but no luck. I’ve decided to go back to school to further my career and education. I’ve lost my confidence, and I feel as though I’m slowly losing my skills. I’m not sure where to go from here, nor am I sure what I have to offer a hospital. I’ve decided to no longer consider positions in nursing homes because they are not a good fit for me, even though I worked as a nursing assistant in nursing homes. What do I say in an interview about my termination? What am I missing in my interviews that’s preventing me from being hired?


Dear Donna replies:

Dear Dani,

It sounds like you’ve gotten off to a rocky start in your nursing career as many do. But with some patience and a commitment to get it right, you'll be able to get your career back on track.

For starters, the hospital job market for nurses, especially newer nurses, is not great in many parts of the country. Using this time to further your education is a smart thing to do. You don’t mention what degree you have, but having a minimum of a BSN is really the way to go to stay competitive in the future. This also will boost your confidence and clinical competency.

Look for a volunteer position where you can gain nursing knowledge and experience while you seek paid employment. This will help to build your confidence, keep your skills sharp, make valuable professional contacts, and give you some recent relevant experience to put on your resume. Besides, volunteering often leads to paid employment. For volunteer opportunities, consider free clinics, hospice, adult day service centers, assisted living facilities and even hospitals.

Join and be active in your state chapter of the American Nurses Association (www.ana.org). It is imperative that you immerse yourself in the community of nursing for success. Read “Lean on Me” (www.dcardillo.com/articles/leanonme.html).

As to what to tell employers, mention that you started with one nursing home position because of lack of hospital jobs, and that you were then offered another nursing home job you thought would afford you better clinical opportunities. But in retrospect you realize you did not have the orientation and support there you needed as a new graduate and unfortunately were let go for a procedural/documentation lapse, not for patient care reasons (if that is correct based on what you tell me). How you present this to prospective employers can make or break the interview. I recommend you read “Your 1st Year as a Nurse” (www.nurse.com/ce/7250) and/or “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses” (www.nurse.com/ce/7010) to better learn how to market yourself in a competitive job market and overcome this hurdle.

Beyond that, you need to focus your attention on networking, aka word-of-mouth. Networking is well known to be a great way to find and get a job, especially when you have obstacles to overcome. The books listed above will walk you through the process and give you more detail about navigating through your situation.

Persistence and determination will always win out in the end.

Best wishes,

Donna Cardillo, RN, MA, well-known career guru, is Nursing Spectrum/NurseWeek’s “Dear Donna” and author of “Your First Year as a Nurse: Making the Transition from Total Novice to Successful Professional” and “The ULTIMATE Career Guide for Nurses: Practical Advice for Thriving at Every Stage of Your Career.” Information about the books is available at www.Nurse.com/CE/7010 and www.Nurse.com/CE/7250, respectively. To ask Donna your question, go to www.Nurse.com/asktheexperts/deardonna. Find a “Dear Donna” seminar near you: Call 800-866-0919 or visit http://events.nursingspectrum.com/Seminar.