So, you graduated from nursing school, have proudly received your nurse’s pin, and discarded your school uniform. You have your new stethoscope, bandage scissors and pen light. You are ready to join the profession.

But wait. Do you have a job yet?

If you already are working as a licensed practical/vocational nurse (LPN/LVN), a registered nurse (RN) position might already be waiting for you. Or maybe you have worked as a nurse extern at your local hospital since the start of your last semester and your unit manager has promised to hire you into the first available RN position.

Tools of NursingCredit: Trevor LaRene 2014

But what about the students who are not in that position? That is what happened to me when I graduated from nursing school in 1996. I was a certified nursing assistant (CNA) at a local long-term care facility, but I wanted to work in a hospital. I didn’t know how to make myself the best choice when interviewed and that was perfectly clear after the first interview. It was a terrible interview, and that only made the next one worse. At my second interview, I constantly worried about the mistakes I had made a week earlier, because I had arrogantly only applied for two positions. My family was expecting me to work and now I only had one chance to find a job.

They offered me that second position and I accepted it. But that was a long time ago and since that time, I have served on interview teams who of interviewed new graduate nurses. I wish I had known these three “secrets” back when I was searching. And now that I teach at a college of nursing, here are the tips I tell my students:

Develop and talk to your network. It sounds like a basic first step. And it must be your first step. Talk to your nursing clinical instructors. We know people at many area health care facilities, and we know which units are hiring staff. We also are in a position to promote the good students by mentioning names to the department managers.

But don’t stop with your instructors. Talk to your fellow students who are working in the profession if they know who is hiring. Try to keep in touch with recent graduates and ask the same questions.

Also, while you are working at your clinical rotation, try to make connections with staff. If you work hard, and work smart, the staff will remember you and may act on your behalf when a new nurse job opening is posted.

Even before you apply for a staff nurse position, prepare for the interview. This includes many steps, all of which will help you. You should research potential employers. Discover their nursing philosophies and practices. Talk to current employees. Find out if this is a place for which you really want to work.

Then practice potential interview questions. Of course, the interviewer will ask you to “describe yourself” (so be ready to give a good, positive description) but you will more likely be asked many scenario questions. And the interviewer will want details. Common questions will be “Describe a situation when you disagreed with a manager or coworker and how did you resolve it?” Or “Tell me about a specific event when your action brought a positive outcome.” Or “Tell me about the last time you made a mistake on the job. How did you handle it?”

When you hear the classic “Why are you the right person for this position?” you can certainly tell the interviewer that you are a dependable, motivated, enthusiastic team player. Of course, the earlier 10 interviewees have already said that, as will the next 10. Find an answer that will help differentiate you from everyone else. This would be a great place to talk about your leadership in your school’s student nurse association, or the successful fund-raiser for a local charity that you ran, or the business that you helped start. Any of those experiences will show dependability, motivation, enthusiasm and a team mentality, all while giving a hard example of what you have done. It is evidence of your performance, not a verbal declaration of who you are.

Lastly, be ready to not receive a job offer, or at least, not the job you really want. Be patient and realistic. In some areas of the US, the market needs more nurses, but in other areas the need is not as great. A new graduate will almost always have a lower level of consideration if an experienced nurse is also under consideration. You may need to accept a position in a unit that you really don’t prefer, or a shift that is undesirable, or fewer hours than you need. Don’t surrender your goals, but realize that your path to your dream job may not be a straight line.

If you are only offered a part-time position at one area hospital, you may want to accept it. At least in my area, most hospitals hire part-time nurses, but for the first 8-12 weeks, they work full-time during orientation. Then, my suggestion is that when your orientation is complete, try to find a part-time position at another local hospital. Again, this will give you another 8-12 weeks of full-time pay, but there is a more important effect. You will be an employee of two hospitals, and in every facility I’ve ever worked at, when a position is open, internal applicants have first chance to apply.          

Working part-time at two hospitals gives you an excellent chance of a full-time position later, and it may even be in that specialty unit that you really want.

Of course, all other recommendation for just hunting success still apply. Dress for the part, be on time, have good handshake and smile, making good eye contact. Bring a concise one page resume. Make sure you have a good follow-up question to ask the interviewer. But those three tips will help you land your first registered nurse position.