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How to find your first nursing job

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So your nursing course is quickly coming to a close. You’ve learned a lot, but are you ready for your next big challenge - finding your first job in a tough economy? Here’s how to make an easy transition from student to nurse

Plan ahead

Don’t wait until you’ve passed your last exam to start planning for your first job.


Keep a career journal - or maybe even a blog - throughout your course, jotting down notes about the areas of nursing you’ve most enjoyed and your latest idea of the perfect career.

“It’s a matter of being flexible and thinking outside the box”

If you need some inspiration, try this online career planner for nurses, these case studies, or these resources.

Don’t worry if your plans change once a week. Try to consider as many possibilities as you can, even if you end up crossing most of them off the list. Paediatric ICU nurse, memory nurse, practice nurse? Nursing abroad in Australia or South Africa? Working as a bank nurse or in the private sector? There are hundreds of different paths you could take, so don’t limit yourself too soon.

Alan Simmons, careers consultant at NHS Careers, says: “[When it comes to finding your first job], it’s a matter of being flexible and thinking outside the box.” He advises that nurses looking for their first job shou ld consider all the possibilities open to them and be willing to try something they hadn’t considered or move to a different region of the country.

By the time you’ve reached your final year, you should be armed with plenty of ideas. If you’re still stuck, try this personality quiz from NHS Careers. And NHS Careers has lots more information about careers in nursing here.

Make connections

Sometimes it’s who you know that can make a big difference when you’re looking for your first job. When you don’t have much experience to flesh out your CV, recruiters might rely on recommendations from people they trust.

With this in mind, make sure plenty of people know you as a top student and a reliable worker. Get to know your lecturers and tutors, talking to them one to one

writing in a career journal

whenever the opportunity arises. Not only will it help you do a great job on your assignments, it will ensure you’re remembered as an eager and motivated student when the time comes to ask for references and job-hunting help.

The same applies to the people you meet while on placements. They could well be your first line of enquiry when it comes to looking for a post, so make sure they remember you in a positive light.

And don’t rely on your memory too much. Make a note of names and contact details of those who might be able to lend a hand later in your career journal. You’ll thank yourself three years down the line.

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Research, research, research

So you’ve scoured your career journal and made a note of nursing roles that would suit you to a T, you have a list of friendly lecturers and mentors you can call, and you’re dying to put your nursing skills to the test. It’s time to start finding vacancies to apply for.

Mr Simmons says a worthwhile port of call is your university: find out if it offers special programmes to help new graduates find work. There may already be structures in place to provide you with a range of resources and contacts.

“The more flexible you can be, the more likely you are to be successful”

And remember to join the newly qualified nurse pool, which aims to help you find your first job.

The web is another obvious source of leads. There are a few tricks you should keep in mind when searching job listings sites.

“Not all entry level vacancies will have a title of ‘staff nurse’,” Mr Simmons says. “Use the advanced search to add more criteria and search for all Agenda for Change band 5 jobs.”

“Likewise, not all jobs have nurse in the job title. Roles such as ‘theatre practitioner’ wouldn’t come up in a search for ‘nurse’.”

The key, though, he stresses, is flexibility. “The more flexible you can be, the more likely you are to be successful.”

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