Networking for Nurses: How to Get the Job You Really Want

Katie Zweber, a registered nurse working in maternal child healthcare at a hospital, reflects about how she landed her job six months after earning her BSN.

The secret to her success: face-to-face networking.

Katie graduated with a bachelor of science in nursing from a CCNE-accredited university in Washington State and earned BLS, ACLS and PALS certifications through the American Heart Association. Zweber’s nursing school faculty named her as an Outstanding Clinical Practitioner, a title awarded to 2 students in her class upon graduation

We spoke with Katie, who is working in the competitive San Francisco Bay Area, about what worked and what didn’t in her quest to get the nursing job she wanted. This interview has been edited for space and clarity.

Why did you decide on nursing?

My family is pretty traditional, and my parents always encouraged me to pursue higher education after graduating high school. They were understanding of my interests, but also urged me to pursue a degree that would lead to practical career opportunities.

My mother is a medical doctor, and the medical industry always fascinated me growing up. She suggested I explore other options in the medical field.

I love the idea of healthcare. There is such a beautiful balance between the art of being present with people emotionally, and experiencing part of their lives, while also getting to dive deep in the science part of it as well.

Plus, knowing I could be a nurse after four years of undergraduate schooling was very appealing. Not to say it wasn’t hard, two years of intensely competitive nursing school was grueling.

It’s very exhilarating, and stressful, in the best sense.

Describe your experience in nursing school.

My nursing class was a class of 50 students. Nursing school was two years (junior and senior year). Since I went to a small liberal arts college, I felt comfortable to contact my professors with questions or concerns.

Having a tight-knit community on such a small, intimate campus was a huge benefit during nursing school.

How did your school help you complete your program?

I felt very well taken care of while I was completing the nursing program. We had practice and tutoring to help prepare students for the certification test required of all nurses. That indirectly helped me be more marketable for the real world of nursing careers.

Did your university offer guidance for post-graduation career options?

We didn’t spend a lot of time on career planning during nursing school itself. My school did host a nursing career fair where local hospitals would come to share job opportunities for new graduate nurses. My personal relationships with professors connected me to a few people currently working as nurses in the Bay Area.

I was able to reach out to the dean of my college, who was able to pass my resume to one of her past colleagues in the Bay Area. Without the hard work I did to get in touch with these people, I’m not sure how far my resume would have gone.

Every student at my school, regardless of program, has a faculty advisor. It’s the person you go to when you have questions or plans for your future. My faculty advisor gave me some insight about future plans and aspirations.

But a lot of my networking experience and interview experience was all about who you know.

What sources do you reference when you need professional advice, tips or support?

I’ll do research online to help me answer specific questions or situations that occur during a shift. However, it’s important that the resources I’m referencing are evidence- and fact-based.

Recently I joined AWHONN, which is a professional organization that offers academic and science journals that keeps up-to-date information on current skills or developments in maternal-child nursing.

Also, having someone at work called a clinical nurse educator, who helps with specific training and orientations with other nurses are very helpful when it comes to experienced advice.

However, I have to remember that I’m getting information from sources who are speaking from mostly experience, instead of facts.

How do you feel about the online networking available to professionals searching for jobs?

My main objective when networking with potential employers, was to get in front of them physically.

I believe face-to-face interactions are so powerful when networking professionally.

When I first started my networking process, I sent out applications via online portals and heard nothing back. I started to get discouraged! For nursing, applicants can very easily look the same on paper. We all had to take the same classes, pass the same tests, and get certified the same way. How were nurse managers going to remember me?

So I changed my process, and aimed to meet people in person, or invite them to chat over coffee. Someone’s demeanor and presence does a world of difference when networking and connecting with professionals.

The over-the-screen connection wasn’t working for me, or my profession.

What were your priorities when looking for a job?

I broke up my job prospecting into steps.

  • First, graduate from nursing school.
  • Second, get my RN license.
  • Then, devote 30-50 hours a week networking and job seeking.

My part-time job during that time allowed me to put all my attention onto job prospecting.

Rank which networking efforts were most effective for you.

  1. In-person meeting
  2. Phone call
  3. Email for an appointment
    1. Informational interview with them
  4. Shadowing nurses at the hospital

How did you go about networking?

First, I determined a few nursing areas that I was interested in working in. For example, I considered acute care pediatrics and adult oncology before deciding solely on maternal child health nursing.

Next, I drew up a geographical boundary around the Bay Area where I was willing to work. This helped me narrow the search of who specifically to contact about job positions.

Then, I told everyone I knew! I told my family, my friends, instructors and professors what my requirements were when job searching, and asked they share my information with anyone in the healthcare industry, particularly hospital administrators or nurse managers. If people I knew had potential contacts for me, I asked if they would be willing to connect them with me either by email, phone call or in person.

Based on my own research, I reached out to healthcare contacts in the hopes of speaking with them. My goal when I found contacts this way was to get more information, build a good reputation with the contact, and communicate my immediate professional desires.

I also researched new graduate nurse training programs, focusing on institutes that were structured around academic and transition-to-practice programs.

I decided to become involved in local communities, like volunteering in different medical settings and nursing organizations, in the hopes of meeting new people who share my similar interests.

I also used this time to become certified in additional skills to make myself more marketable as a nurse. I earned certifications in:

  • Basic life support (BLS)
  • Advanced cardiac life support (ACLS)
  • Pediatric advanced life support (PALS)
  • Planned to enroll in a neonatal resuscitation program (NRP) before I was hired.

These classes are often hidden networking opportunities!

Did anything surprise you during your networking journey?

I was surprised by how willing people are to get you where you want to be. Especially if you are kind and grateful. When you express genuine kindness and gratitude, people can tell.

You won’t get what you want without asking. This whole process encouraged me to be straightforward with what I was asking, while staying humble and genuine.

I had to be realistic, while still striving for the situation I wanted.

Do you have any advice for current nursing students?

Nursing clinicals are a great way to network! Nursing students should do their best to make a professional, lasting impression with others they work with, something that’s not easy to do amidst our demanding schedules. Here are tips I found effective:

  1. Look professional
  2. Come in early
  3. Thank the nurses you work with
  4. Have a good attitude
  5. Don’t look at your nursing clinical as a chore
  6. When you start, introduce yourself to the nurse manager in your unit

What are your hopes for your next career steps?

I’m always thinking about how I want my quality of life and work life to be. I really am enjoying my work-life balance.

Right now I’m only trained to work in postpartum. I get to work closely with new moms and their newborn babies.

I’d like to be able to switch to day shifts. And I’d like to be trained in labor and delivery, which is on the horizon. I’d like to learn all I can in order to broaden my skillset to make me more marketable.

I’d also consider pursuing an advanced degree, perhaps to be a nurse practitioner. There is a multitude of career opportunities available in the healthcare world.

Any final thoughts for nurses beginning their own networking journey?

Kindness is never out of style. It’s always a good decision to write a handwritten thank-you note to someone who took the time to help you.

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