If you’re a newly minted Nurse Practitioner, finding that dream job – especially within a specialty – can feel like an impossible task. But you have every reason to feel optimistic: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts a 31% growth in NP jobs by 2022, much faster than many other occupations. You might be one of the lucky ones, starting your NP career as a specialist straight out of training, but if you’re not, don’t fret. It isn’t easy, but if you follow some strategic steps and are persistent, you’ll be well on your way to landing the Nurse Practitioner job you want, tailored to your skills and interests.
1. Start your search early
Ideally new Nurse Practitioners should start their career search a year to 18 months in advance of completing their training. That may seem super early, but this allows enough time to evaluate multiple opportunities (at a comfortable pace), so you don’t feel like you must jump at the first job you’re offered. It will also give you more of a chance to feel out different work environments and cultures, research the local cost of living, and compare benefits and compatibility with your personal life.
2. Decide what type of setting you want to work in
Where you work can make a huge difference. If a large hospital in a major city sounds overwhelming, you might want to consider a rural, or at least suburban, area that has a shortage of nurse practitioners. Different areas of the country have needs for different type of NPs, so depending on your specialty area of interest, it might make your location decision even easier. And deciding on a setting can have a big impact on your work-life balance. Here are some settings where job opportunities might be available:
- Clinics and independent physicians’ offices
- Health insurance agencies
- Nursing homes, assisted living facilities, or rehab centers
- Home health care agencies
- Travel nursing agencies
- Local government health departments
- Research laboratories
- Schools and colleges
3. Decide if you want to do a residency program (if you haven’t already)
As a new graduate with an NP degree, you might first want to take part in a residency or fellowship program to gain more experience and expertise in your chosen specialty. Many programs allow NPs to choose a sub-specialty to focus on, such as oncology, psychiatry, emergency medicine, or dermatology. It will certainly help you develop your resume, grow your list of professional references and show potential employers your enthusiasm for your specialty.
4. Know your state laws
Some states allow you to work as an NP prior to having your advanced practice nursing license if you work under the supervision of a doctor. This can give you super valuable on-the-job experience while simultaneously going through the certification process, which can tend to drag on. At the very least, knowing your state laws will help you come across as knowledgeable and prepared during a job interview.
5. Know how to look for the right jobs
There are a lot of cookie-cutter job listings out there, many of which seem to refer to NPs as generalists, even though they’re looking for specialists, which makes finding the right listings to apply to even harder. Use terminology directly related to your specialty, like “pediatric” “geriatric” “rehab” “dermatology” or “urology” to weed out the junk and find quality job ads. Look for clarity in the role being described and how well the work environment and any bylaws are being described – you really want to make sure it’s the right fit before you apply. Medical or nursing-specific job boards are an even better place to start, some of which allow you to search by specialty, or post a profile so employers can find you, not the other way around. Reputable recruiters and nursing agencies are also a great option, as they often already have jobs to fill, and you benefit from their marketing efforts. But don’t rule out contacting employers directly, either. Showing that you’re motivated and interested in a organization or practice can give you a big leg up on the competition.
6. Network, network, network!
It’s OK if you can’t stand the thought of it; many people recoil at the mere mention of networking, especially clinicians. But put any two Nurse Practitioners in the same room, and they’ll most likely bond immediately over shared experiences and give each other advice on common job problems. One of the best ways to meet professional contacts is at local, regional, and national conventions and conferences. If attending one of these isn’t practical, joining online communities or NP LinkedIn Groups can be very effective (and low maintenance) ways of making new professional connections with people who are happy to do the same. Don’t forget, many jobs are filled by word-of-mouth or through people the person hiring knows. Many polls have shown most people find employment primarily through people they already knew. If you’re on the job hunt, it really helps to market yourself.
7. Make sure your application stands out from the competition
You’d be surprised how few people customize their cover letter and resume to the specific job they are applying for. Tout your credentials, license, skills and experience on your resume, and on your cover letter explain how your experience matches the key requirements of the NP job to which you’re applying. A generic cover letter that just promotes your skills and work history won’t feel as relevant or connect with the specific needs of the employer. If you can’t describe exactly how you fit their qualifications, you can’t expect them to make the connections for you. And always proofread – get a friend to check for errors or use the free grammar checker at Grammarly.com.
8. Do your homework
Once you get called for an interview, it’s time to prepare. A nationwide study by CareerBuilder found that over half (51%) of interviewers knew if a candidate was right for the position they were hiring for within the first five minutes. Study the employer’s website, read their mission statement and think of ways the job might contribute to that mission. Read their recent press releases or do a search and see if there’s any recent news you might want to comment on to show you’re enthusiastic and knowledgeable about their organization or practice. Finally, if you’re lucky enough to get the names of your interviewer (or interviewers, for panel interviews), do some digging on LinkedIn to get a better sense of what they do and their work history so you can ask pertinent questions. People love to talk about themselves, and it will not only make you look more engaged and interested but give you more insight into what it might be like to work with them.
9. Practice potential interview questions
Everyone gets asked many of the same questions, so you’ll be at an advantage and have much less anxiety if you come prepared with thoughtful answers and real-life examples from your experience. Here’s a list of sample questions you might get asked:
- Why did you want to become a Nurse Practitioner?
- Why did you want to focus on [insert specialty here]?
- What makes you the right choice for this role?
- What interested you in this position?
- What are your greatest strengths/What are your biggest weaknesses?
- How did you handle a conflict at a previous job? What did you learn from it?
- How do you handle difficult or angry patients?
10. Follow-up afterwards
Amazingly, some people don’t follow up after a job interview. Make sure your interviewer or interviewers know you appreciate them taking the time out of their day to talk to you and consider you for the position. Even if you’ve decided the job isn’t for you, it still shows professionalism and thoughtfulness, and will leave people with a good impression. You never know if something else at that organization might interest you later. And if you are interested, it’s a great opportunity to underscore why you’re the best fit for the job. It’s a small but meaningful gesture that just just might give you a slight advantage over the competition. It certainly can’t hurt! If you follow some strategic steps, you’ll be well on your way to landing the Nurse Practitioner job you want, tailored to your skills and interests.