Getting RN Experience After Graduation

Employers look for at least a year of RN experience in nurse candidates. Here’s how to get it.

All Nursing Schools Staff

male nurse getting rn experience by working in community outreach innoculating kids
nurse meeting with young boy patient

It’s a common Catch 22 for college graduates: Employers are interested in candidates with RN experience, but few are willing to give it to a new graduate.

This situation has plagued the nursing field, in particular, in recent years. Not only are employers looking for RNs with a few years of experience, but jobs are less plentiful than before. Since the recession caused many older nurses to delay their retirement, jobs haven’t opened up at the expected rate.

But new nursing school graduates shouldn’t get discouraged. There are strategies you can use to get RN experience and differentiate yourself in a sea of applicants. If you’re a current nursing student, keep these pieces of advice in mind and start preparing early.

How Can I Stand Out?

You’ve got the degree, but not enough RN experience. Here’s what you can do:

1. Volunteer

Volunteering won’t put any money in your pocket, but it could pay off in the long run. Volunteering your time in a hospital or other medical facility allows you to gain hands-on experience required by many employers. If you’re interested in a certain type of nursing, volunteer work gives you the opportunity to handle real-life scenarios and learn necessary skills.

Volunteering also has another benefit: You will meet nurses who can offer advice and networking opportunities.

During your volunteer hours, meet the nurse managers. These are the staff members who often make hiring decisions and some will be more apt to hire someone they have trained or worked with before. Working hard as a volunteer could spell employment in the future.

2. Showcase your nursing school accomplishments

Take a look back at what you accomplished during school. Were you part of a large research project that speaks to your skills as a nurse? Did you work with a renowned professor? All of these things can give you an added boost when employers look for qualified applicants.

If you’re in the midst of earning your nursing degree, now is a good time to take an active role in organizations such as the National Student Nurses’ Association. Or, work on a unique nursing project which could help beef up your resume in the future.

3. Network

Networking may be one of the most important tactics for finding an RN job. Plus, you can get started even before you graduate.

The National Student Nurses’ Association suggests that current students contact their school’s alumni organization before graduating. Talking to former students is a great way to network and let them know you’re starting your job search.

It’s important to know that networking comes in many forms. Attend conferences and career fairs and ensure your social media profiles, like LinkedIn, are up to date.

4. Further your education

In recent years, NSNA found that graduates holding bachelor’s degrees in nursing (BSN) or with higher qualifications tended to have slightly better luck finding a job.

If you have an associate’s degree, consider earning a BSN to improve your chances. Have a BSN? It may be time to look at MSN programs.

If heading back to school isn’t an option right now, you can also take shorter certificate programs to learn special skills.

What Else Can I Do?

Consider a few other tactics in your job search and you may land an entry-level position.

Look for “New Grad-Friendly” employers

It may take some searching, but there are medical facilities interested in hiring new graduates. According to a CNN article, one Los Angeles consortium of hospitals has a program set up with the goal of hiring 10 new graduates each year.

If you find an employer like this, but they’re not offering a nursing job you necessarily want, be open-minded. You can still gain valuable experience which can help advance your career later.

Take a non-traditional route

Perhaps you’ve always envisioned yourself working in a fast-paced hospital. Guess what? So have the majority of other nursing students flooding the job market.

The NSNA suggests looking “outside of the large acute-care setting for entry-level positions.” This includes rehabilitation facilities, school nursing, long-term care and rural communities. In fact, some believe these environments can offer some of the best experiences for new nurses.

Judy Honig, associate dean of student affairs at the Columbia University School of Nursing, told that these types of settings can make new RNs more creative.

“You have to know your material, you have to know what nursing is [in non-hospital settings], “Honig said. “The nurse in those situations in rural areas may be the most educated health professionals in the near area.”

Some days it may feel like finding a job is impossible, but don’t give up. With factors like the Affordable Care Act and nurses starting to take their retirement, the field is expected to grow faster than average through 2032, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics current Occupational Outlook Handbook.


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