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How do I get my first nursing job without having a BSN or experience?

Monday June 6, 2011
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Dear Donna,

I graduated from an associate in applied science program in June 2010. I have been searching for a job since September 2010. It’s been discouraging to be told, “I’m sorry, but we need someone with experience,” or, “We’re only looking for applicants with a BSN.”

What’s worse is that shortly after one of the rejections I heard that one of the hospitals in question hired several associate degree nurses. I am left to wonder what I am lacking.

I do not have the money to go back to school for a BSN without a job, and I cannot get the experience that everyone is looking for without someone first hiring me, so how do I land my first nursing job?


Dear Donna replies:

Dear Antoinette,

Although many hospitals are hiring only experienced nurses or new nurses with BSNs, there always will be exceptions for the right candidate. Read on.

Hospital jobs are in short supply in many parts of the country. Although you might have envisioned your nursing career starting in a hospital, there are many other places to work as a nurse. Healthcare is changing and so is the role of the nurse. All predictions are healthcare will continue to move out of the hospital and into the community, so why not get ahead of the curve?

You must look in new directions for employment and use new methods to find and get those jobs. Consider outpatient hemodialysis with private dialysis companies (find them online), school nursing, inpatient rehab facilities, public health, home care (many agencies have special mentoring programs for new graduates), psychiatric facilities, cancer care centers, etc. Whether this is what you had in mind or not, it is imperative you find work in nursing and not stay unemployed for long.

Volunteer somewhere medical while you look for paid employment. Volunteering is a great way to get your foot in the door, find opportunities to learn and expand your network. It also gives you recent relevant experience to put on your resume and discuss during an interview. Also, volunteering often leads to paid employment.

Next, you need to activate and build your network. This means contacting everyone you know, in and out of healthcare. Let them know what you’re looking for and request their help to get referrals, recommendations, introductions and leads, if applicable.

You also need to attend chapter meetings of nursing professional associations such as the American Nurses Association (www.nursingworld.org) as a guest, if you are not a member, and talk to people. Have business cards made, dress in your professional best, shake hands and make connections. Networking is a great way to get a job, especially when you have obstacles in your path.

You also want to present yourself as one of the best, if not the best, candidate for every job you pursue and in every networking situation. Buy or borrow a business suit and practice using a firm handshake with a sincere smile and direct eye contact. Speak professionally and enthusiastically about the profession, your career goals and yourself. Even in a tight job market, employers are willing to take a chance on the right candidate – someone who has an upbeat, can-do attitude and professional demeanor. Read “New Nurse, New Job Strategies” (www.Nurse.com/Cardillo/Strategies) and “The RN Jobs Squeeze” (http://News.Nurse.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=2009310050036).

Set up accounts on social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook, and start creating a professional presence online. There is a large nursing and healthcare community on these sites, and they present a great way to network.

Start working on your BSN or MSN, whichever is applicable. There is plenty of scholarship money available. Read “Master the Scholarship Game” (www.DCardillo.com/articles/scholargame.html).

This is not the first time the job market has been tough for new graduate nurses. As in the past, things likely will change for the better in the near future. In the meantime, rather than getting discouraged, be more proactive in your approach, focus your efforts on networking, polish your self-marketing skills and start volunteering in a medical setting. If you create enough positive momentum in your professional life, you eventually will get to where you want to be.

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.