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How to Succeed in a Difficult Job Market After Graduation

Outdoor portrait of a smiling female nurse.
Cathy Yeulet/123RF.com

Completing a degree in healthcare is quite an accomplishment. Years of rigorous courses, studying and memorizing large amounts of information, and attending countless hours of clinical experience can feel like climbing Mt. Everest, but the excitement and anticipation of a new career upon finishing is a welcome reward. Unfortunately, sometimes that eagerness to get to work with your new degree is quickly replaced by discouragement over the job market, the interview process, and the lack of reciprocal excitement from the clinics and hospitals in your area. 

A tough job market and struggling to find a job fresh out of school are becoming increasingly common issues. With the changes in healthcare, experience has become one of the preferred traits of applicants, and it often seems that WHO you know is more important than WHAT you know, with personal connections being one of the best ways to even be considered for an interview. This article will explore some of the common challenges with finding employment in healthcare after graduation and offer helpful suggestions for finally landing that dream job. 

 

The Need for Experience

One of the most common difficulties as a new graduate in healthcare is the lack of experience to sell yourself to employers. Many job applications now are online and ask you to indicate your years of experience at the very beginning. The choices are often set up with “0-2 years” as an option, lumping even those with a few years of experience into the same category as complete novices. This designation as “inexperienced” can be frustrating, as many new graduates are still quite knowledgeable and capable and would make excellent contributions to a diverse team. 

One of the best ways to express your skills and knowledge base even without years of experience is to include your clinical experience on your resume. Put a section about your “Skills and Experience” just after your education details so that hiring managers will see this before even getting to your work experience. This is a great place to list hours of experience, particular areas of interest or skill, any equipment or technology (especially Electronic Medical Records) you are familiar with, and any teams or projects you may have participated in, even just as an observer. 

When interviewing, sell yourself as a clean slate that is excited and willing to adapt to a particular clinic or unit and become their ideal team member. Give specific examples of things you may have accomplished or learned throughout your clinical experience and show passion for continuing to learn. Make it known that, even without years of experience, you can be a valuable asset to the team. 

 

Lack of Available Positions

Depending on your geographic area or specialty area of interest, there may be very few jobs even posted for your particular qualifications. The market may be saturated, turnover at surrounding companies may be low, or jobs may be being filled internally, leaving little space for a newcomer. 

This is where thinking outside of the box becomes useful. Do not limit yourself to applying only where open positions are made obvious. Think of any office, private practice, clinic, health department, or other less traditional facility in town and call to inquire if they have any openings. Visiting a clinic or hospital in person is a good way to drop off a resume and provide a face with a name. Call or email companies and ask to speak to someone involved in the hiring process; even if they aren’t currently hiring, tell them you’d love to help carry out the mission of the company, and ask if you can send a resume for future reference. Often this personal touch will make you memorable or even someone that they don’t want to risk losing. I have personally landed two different jobs at companies without posted openings just by “cold-calling” and having a friendly conversation with a manager and following up with a thank you email and my resume. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

 

Lack of Connections

Having a connection to an individual that works for a company already, or even someone involved in the hiring process, can definitely help bypass some of the red tape of an anonymous application. Knowing the right person can help get your resume pulled from a large stack and get you a chance to interview and really sell yourself. But what can you do if you have no such connections?

Networking is a skill anyone can learn and should be practiced even throughout your education program and clinicals. Introduce yourself often, try to remember small details about others, go to lunches or meetings with your preceptor and just generally try to make yourself known. If you have already missed this opportunity or perhaps moved to a different area than where you completed your education, it is not too late! Volunteer at the hospital or facility where you wish to work and start meeting people this way. Go to job fairs put on by the company or apply for an internship program there. Every person you meet who is affiliated with the company is one more person with whom to network and possibly provide more connections. Even an interview that did not result in being hired was a networking opportunity! Finally, don’t be afraid to utilize the connections you do have. Ask respected professionals you know to use them as references and include them in your resume. You may have someone on your side who has a connection you didn’t even know about. 

 

Being Too Specific

One of the more subtle things that may be holding you back is your own preconceived ideas about what exactly you want to be doing. Perhaps you are a nurse and want to work on a hospital unit, maybe even a particular floor. By only looking for and applying to these kinds of jobs, you may be missing other areas that you could be enjoying. You will have the rest of your career to settle into a “dream job,” but may not necessarily start there. If you are having difficulty finding work in a specific place, consider broadening your search. Down the road, if a position is available in your desired area, you will now have gained valuable experience while you waited, making you more likely to land that dream job when it appears. 

 

Conclusion

Overall, try not to get discouraged in your search. Many newly graduated professionals struggle to find employment in the beginning and eventually go on to have very satisfying careers. Don’t be afraid to branch out of your comfort zone with your applications and networking, spruce up that resume, and change your perspective. There are countless opportunities out there, and the right tools can help you find the best one for you.

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About Sarah Schulze, CPNP

Sarah Schulze is a board certified pediatric nurse practitioner. She has 8 years of healthcare experience, 4 as an RN and 4 as an NP. She has worked in a variety of settings including intensive care, post anesthesia care, mental health, and pediatrics.

Sarah has a pediatric mental health specialty certificate and is also a certified lactation counselor. She enjoys helping breastfeeding mothers reach their feeding goals with their children. The majority of her experience is with a low socioeconomic population and she enjoys bringing quality care to underserved children and helping to tackle their unique challenges.