How to Interview for a Nursing Job with Little Direct Experience
Do you recall graduating from high school as a senior and feeling on top of the world? Then you suddenly fell right to the bottom of the totem pole a few months later as a freshman in college. That is similar to what it is like once you graduate from nursing school. Whether you just got your two-year degree, your BSN, or a graduate degree, there is a good chance you are planning on applying for a job in which you have no formal experience. After all the hype and celebration of completing your graduate education (and quite possibly a few student loans later), you find yourself at the bottom of the totem pole again. Fear not. You can have a successful interview, and get the job even without formal experience. Here’s how.
- Pull out relevant skills.
Nursing is a profession that envelops many skills and abilities. That means that other experiences in your life will be sure to relate to your future job. So that leadership role you volunteered for (for example) can be an asset you could highlight about yourself, as it shows that you can lead and influence others toward a common goal. Or maybe you took a role within a previous nursing job that was outside of your daily routine in order to help the organization address a practice problem or develop a new protocol. Chances are you have a plethora of experiences to highlight about yourself. Once you start thinking about it, many experiences might come to mind.
Nursing skills are not just for nurses. Not many jobs use as many skills as nursing, but nursing utilizes many skills for which other industries are better known. Even if you didn’t have a job in college or before college, you could use your school experience and relate that to how it will benefit you as you start your nursing career. You need to make real connections for the interview panel, showing them how your life experiences will help you for the position that you are applying for. Be sure not to make these connections too loose or vague. Package them up nicely, put them all in a box, and wrap it with a bow. In other words, bring you connections down to specific skills that you displayed through specific situations.
- Don’t worry about the strength of your stories. Exude confidence.
When I was applying for jobs, I found myself thinking that other, seemingly more qualified candidates would have better stories to share and more relevant experience, which may have been true. But the fact of the matter is that they are a lot further along than you are. Don’t compare yourself to them— that isn’t fair to you. Instead, consider the impact that you can make to the organization. It makes me think about professional athletes. It seems unfathomable that a 19- or 20-year-old could play in the NBA or NFL (or any professional sport for that matter). Not just play but also contribute to the team’s success, have an impact and perhaps change the outcome of games. Year after year I see rookies come into various professional leagues and help teams win. This should be how you view yourself. You might not be a seasoned veteran, but you could be a rookie who is capable of having an impact on team success. Hopefully, one day you’ll turn into a seasoned veteran, but that’s not today. This mind-set is vital in order for you to exude confidence in your interview and to not act defeated during. Admit the obvious (lack of formal experience) and share how you can overcome it. Don’t hide the fact that you don’t have formal experience. The interviewers don’t want to feel as though you are foolish or naive. Be honest and understand and acknowledge that you have no or little direct experience.
- Intrinsic skills: Character.
There are many skills within nursing that you need no formal experience for. Honesty, teamwork, integrity, dedication, responsibility, empathy, respect— the list goes on. Character is a special skill and is less likely to be developed on the job than skills are. You can teach skills, but character is likely something employers will be stuck with depending on whom they hire. Nursing is a profession that demands a high level of character. If you can highlight some of your character attributes, it will go a long way for you.
How’d you get to where you are? Why did you choose this route? Chances are you led yourself intentionally down the path that led to this interview. Share how you were proactive and intentional in every step of the journey that got you to where you are. Leading yourself well shows that you are intelligent, wise, able to finish things and that you know what you want. You didn’t just stumble into this job interview—or at least you shouldn’t have. More than likely, this job is a culmination of multiple steps that you needed to perform well to get you where you are. Why is that a big deal? Well, your interviewer will likely think that if you led yourself well to get to this point, those same habits are likely to continue and lead to success within this new opportunity. Help the interview panel see how the skills that you have cultivated translate to the position you are looking to fill.
Applying for a job in which you have little direct experience doesn’t mean you don’t have any relevant experience. If they are taking the time to interview you, it means they are open to hiring someone with your qualifications. Taking the next step in your nursing career can appear to be a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. Practicing these principles will help you build your confidence and show you and your employer that you have a lot to offer.