With the increasing demand for more highly educated nurses and many hiring requirements now mandating a BSN, the nursing job market is in the midst of a massive shift.
The BSN figures prominently in the nursing field, especially since the Institute of Medicine’s report The Future of Nursing called for 80% of nurses to have a BSN by 2020. More nurses are attaining the degree, but many of them wonder just what advantages the BSN can bring.
According to recruiters, a BSN automatically raises both your professionalism and your marketability. Recruiters, who act as a link between job seekers and the organizations looking for staff, also say a BSN is only one piece of the professional package needed to land your first job out of school.
“More and more, a BSN is becoming the minimum requirement, as opposed to the preferred idealistic requirement,” says Amanda Bleakney, senior managing director of health services operations with The Execu|Search Group. In fact, many top-tier hospitals won’t hire a nurse without a BSN. “Nurses who aren’t getting a BSN are ruling themselves out of job opportunities,” she says.
Recruiters can help new grads find a job, but as a job seeker, you still have work to do. Recruiters want a BSN backed up by experience, but they also want to hear about any special skills you might have. They are trying to keep their clients happy and send them candidates they need, so the more precise and polished you are, the better the fit will be.
“Anything we can use as a selling point to the client helps,” says Bleakney. “When it comes to the candidate side, we always have a selling point.” So if you’re looking for a job in the Bronx and you speak Spanish, you might be more valuable than someone who has a little more experience, but isn’t bilingual.
However, no matter how great your experience is, it means nothing if you don’t present yourself well. A recruiter can open the door for you, so it’s just as important to show them your best, most professional self.
“A recruiter is a gatekeeper,” says Terry Bennett, president of the National Association for Health Care Recruitment. “Recruiters are helping to screen candidates the managers will then interview. Where graduates can present their best selves is by helping to qualify what they will bring to an organization.”
Your resume is your first introduction, so use it to tell your story. “Tailor your resume,” Bleakney advises. Anything you want to highlight, such as your bilingual skills, your experience with specific populations, or your electronic medical record training, should be at the top.
“Bad or poorly formatted resumes will rule nurses out of a job,” says Bleakney. Even if a nurse hires a pro to craft her flawless resume, Bleakney says it shows that she is someone who cares about presentation and likely has strong administrative skills, too.
Recruiters want candidates whose preparation and professionalism will shine a light back on the recruitment firm. “We want to send the highest quality, top candidate as we can because that candidate stands out for us,” says Bleakney. Very often, an initial phone screen will be followed up by an in-person meeting to go over all the candidate’s qualifications and background checks.
If you have anything that could be interpreted as even slightly negative, be upfront with your recruiter, suggests Bleakney. “It’s always best to disclose something,” she says, or it can cost you a job instantly.
“Reputation is everything,” says Brenda Fischer, PhD, RN, MBA, CPHQ, FACHE, senior director of clinical education programs with AMN Healthcare, a workforce solutions firm, so watch your social media posts and appearances carefully. “Employers can be very selective,” says Fischer, and they will look at a candidate’s online information.
Recruiters want people who represent them well, and they use your first meeting to assess how you will present yourself to a client. Although it’s not an actual job interview, it is your first step in getting a job. Don’t be late, dress professionally, and bring your resume and any other requested documents, recommends Bleakney. “Half of getting a job is showing up and being prepared,” she says. “If someone cancels continuously or is a no-call and no-show, I know if they do that to me, they will do that to my clients.”
When you advance to an interview your recruiter sets up, do your research. “Know about the organization,” advises Bennett. “For the unit, what types of patients are there?” Make sure the organization knows why you want to be on that unit, with that manager, with that organization, and why you are the best person for the job, she says.
What Does a BSN Do for a Nurse’s Career?
“Students should realize what they are getting from a BSN that is special,” says Hayley Mark, PhD, MPH, RN, an associate professor and the director of the baccalaureate program at Johns Hopkins School of Nursing. “The degree means they have the ability to think critically. They can evaluate evidence and apply it, and that skill is critical.”
Critical thinking means a nurse can assess the quality of care, says Mark. “It goes beyond the skills,” she says. “A BSN gives a system-wide perspective and helps nurses look beyond the one-on-one.” For instance, if there’s ever a medical error, a nurse can gather the reasons why it happened, can use that information to understand why it happened, and will then take that knowledge to implement changes to make sure it doesn’t happen again.
A BSN also opens doors for other prospects. “The future of nursing is with a BSN,” says Julia Taylor, a BSN grad who works at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on an in-patient gastrointestinal surgical oncology unit. “You’re more of a well-rounded nurse and will have more opportunities down the road to pursue a master’s or doctoral degree.”
When you are interviewing, highlight not just your BSN but also the knowledge that comes with it. As with any education, a BSN gives you more in-depth nursing knowledge, but the specific training from a BSN also means you know how to look at the whole system and you have the skills to work in a leadership role across all systems, says Mark. “Generally, if a company is comparing a BSN nurse to a less educated nurse, they will hire [the one with] the BSN,” she says.
When a nurse looks at the industry systemically, issues such as cost effectiveness, patient centeredness, communication skills, awareness of the latest in patient safety, and familiarity with information technology are most pressing, says Fischer. That scope often mirrors an organization’s approach as well, so hiring nurses who think that way benefits the entire company.
How Does a BSN Translate to Real Work?
The BSN degree prepares students for the broad thinking required of future nurse leaders, but any hands-on experience a new grad has or can get makes recruiters take notice. Many organizations are looking for a couple years of experience, says Bleakney, but are willing to consider new grads who can demonstrate how their clinical—or even their volunteer work—prepared them best.
A practicum in a similar unit will increase your chances as you will gain similar skills, says Bennett. But even work outside of health care is helpful if you frame it right. Did you manage a restaurant? Then you have great customer service skills, says Bennett. Did you head up an Eagle Scout group? You also fine-tuned your leadership skills in the process.
As a minority nurse, you can also highlight your diversity skills. In most organizations, the ratio of cultural diversity with patients and providers is not representative of the population. If you are a minority nurse looking for a job, recruiters in certain locations want to see your resume because health care organizations are seeking a more diverse staff. “I would use that in crafting my resume and present it as a strength,” says Fischer.
Farzana Abed, a recent graduate of the Johns Hopkins School of Nursing, chose a BSN program for the breadth of the studies, but her own background offers employers a valuable perspective. “A BSN offers a more comprehensive program with the social, cultural, and political aspects of nursing,” she says. Combining her education with her life experience as an immigrant from Bangladesh who knows the challenges of language barriers, financial difficulties, and even racism makes her very aware of the challenges some patients face.
If your cultural or racial background gives you a better understanding of what minority patients might need or how they approach health care, your life experience combined with your BSN is going to be a sought-after skill. If you understand various cultural traditions surrounding health choices or if you are bilingual, let recruiters know those skills up front.
What Can You Do?
“Get any work experience on the unit and do the job well,” advises Mark. A shadowing experience also helps you boost your knowledge and get yourself noticed, she says. Bleakney suggests seeking out professional organizations that mirror your ideal job, whether that brings you to the Case Management Society of America or with the Nurse Practitioner Association of New York State, so you can meet leaders and connect with others in the field.
Networking, although it can be difficult for some, is a vital step when you are looking for a job. Get in touch with people through your alumni network or call a nurse manager or a nurse recruiter and impress them. “Every opportunity for volunteerism or professional development helps,” says Fischer. “Build every relationship through your clinical experience or through your school. Use every experience to form good relationships.”
Fischer acknowledges the special barriers of nurses who are going back to get a BSN after several years on the job. Unless they have actively worked at keeping their industry networks vibrant, it’s going to be harder for them to get out there and make the connections. They likely have pressing family obligations or more job responsibility than a new grad and less time for networking. “Make your own network,” Fischer advises, saying a group of colleagues can give specific career advice and family and friends can help out.
Where Are the Jobs?
The need for BSN nurses is great and will continue to rise as tougher standards are adapted. “Your educational background is first and then your work experience,” says Bennett. But for new BSN nurses, flexibility with location or setting plays a big role in your job search.
Talk with recruiters in different areas of the country to find out about job prospects and consider relocating, even if it’s only for a short while. For instance, suburban and rural areas are traditionally less competitive job markets than the big cities like New York or San Francisco, says Mark, so you might land a position that matches your interests, even if it’s not your first location choice. “Once you come in with experience, it makes you a totally different candidate,” says Mark.
Be open to different options, but even if you consider a placement as a temporary stop on your way to something else, don’t treat the job as a place marker, advises Bennett. Recruiters and employers want a candidate who is committed to the job, so give it your all to gain the experience you need.
If your field is especially competitive, consider all the places where you can gain skills first. “As nurses, we have to be proactive and strategic,” says Fischer.
A long-term care facility, a school, or a substance abuse facility can offer enough experience to make you that much more marketable, says Bleakney. “This is not the time to be particular,” she says. “This is the time to get the experience on your resume. Nurses who get the experience and then apply for their dream jobs are ahead of all the others who don’t have the experience.” Even working at a smaller community hospital might just give you enough knowledge of certain cultures or neighborhoods to make the difference in your next interview.
How Do You Find a Recruiter?
Finding a recruiter is not hard. Ask around to find out who colleagues have worked with or who your school recommends. You can also call the human resources department of your dream organization and ask which recruiting firm they work with or even the contact information for the recruiter, says Bennett. “If you really want to work somewhere, call that recruiter and ask what the process is,” she says. Do they have rolling starts or is it a month of interviews? Do they welcome calls after you have applied or are calls a no-no? Are new grads considered?
By asking relevant and specific questions, you can help shape your own process to maximize the recruiter’s time and resources as well as your own.
When you meet a recruiter, use the time wisely and be organized and open-minded. Your different skills can help recruiters recognize other areas that would offer a good fit for your skills. Even roles you may not have ever entertained might turn out to be an excellent prospect, says Fischer. Health coaches, care coordinators, and clinical documentation specialists are just a few roles emerging for nurses, says Fischer.
“Flexibility is key in health care, especially as a new graduate,” says Bleakney.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.