Major Update: I Quit My Job!

I have not posted in a while because I have been busy with some life changes. I recently resigned from my new grad RN job and accepted an offer to work at another hospital. What could have possibly taken me away from my #1 choice hospital and my highly pursued new grad program? A spot in my dream unit, the NICU!

It was tough for me to leave my program since I felt like the people were supportive overall. I truly appreciated the environment, community, and staff. I was learning a lot and growing as a nurse. However, my experience as a new grad RN working in the Float pool with adult patients also affirmed that my ultimate goal is to work with babies in a NICU.

My hospital has a NICU, which was a big reason I applied to their new grad program – I had hopes to move into their NICU eventually, especially after having a NICU preceptorship during nursing school. However, after working as a resident, I learned that the NICU at the hospital where I was employed does not accept inexperienced NICU nurses. The NICU manager recommended I apply to an L&D fellowship after my Float Pool residency, and maybe I could transfer to the NICU afterward. That would mean the earliest I could go to our NICU would be 2023, and that’s with the caveat that I would get accepted into a competitive year-long L&D fellowship. I would be competing with other nurses whose ultimate goal is to be an L&D nurse and other more experienced nurses previously rejected from the L&D fellowship.

After learning all this, I had the opportunity to interview during a mass hiring event for another hospital. The hospital already had my application from earlier in the year, one of the 70+ positions I applied to before starting my new grad program. I shared I only wanted NICU positions – there was no other reason I’d leave my new grad program since it was a great program in a good hospital. I interviewed with the NICU manager at the new hospital via MS Teams in between scheduled night shifts. At the end of the interview, she shared she’d like to hire me. I gave my job three weeks’ notice once I passed the background check and received a target start date. I started orientation for my nightshift NICU position at the new hospital on Oct. 1, last Friday.

I know it’s customary to give two weeks’ notice, but I felt obligated to give my old hospital three weeks. I ended up working four more shifts than if I had only given two weeks’ notice. During those four shifts, I had the most brutal shift I’ve had since coming off preceptorship and working solo. If I had left sooner, I could have saved myself from experiencing the most horrendous shift I’ve had so far. Luckily, my last shift was smooth and helped build my confidence after feeling torn down and broken from the week before – I met my patient’s needs promptly, charted everything on time, gave good shift reports, and my patients had no incidents. At my last job, I ended on a good note and had valuable learning experiences. My horrible shift in the week leading to my final shift taught me that when I’m overwhelmed, not only should I delegate, I should escalate to the charge nurse or nurse leaders. I will remember how awful my experience was on that shift to remind me in my nursing practice: “When Overwhelmed, Delegate + Escalate!”

I will remember this lesson as I start my new job. I am excited to have the opportunity to be in a NICU again. The children’s hospital where I precepted during nursing school opened its new grad program about a month after starting my previous job. Various cohort-mates encouraged me to apply, but I decided I needed to give my program and hospital a fair chance. I passed the opportunity to apply to the children’s hospital NICU new grad program before learning that my hospital would not hire me into their NICU for at least two more years. I don’t regret not applying to that NICU program because I’m grateful for my experience and feel more confident as a nurse because of what I’ve learned working with adults. I gave my program a chance and put forth my best effort, and concluded that I wasn’t willing to wait years to reach my goal to be a NICU nurse.

The earnest pursuit of career goals is somewhat new to me. For years, I didn’t know what I wanted. I knew that I was comfortable but not necessarily excited or passionate about my previous career as an engineer/scientist. During performance reviews, I would dread when my manager would ask what 5-year plan was because I wasn’t inspired by what was around me. I didn’t want my manager’s job, and other than becoming more skilled, building my expertise, and gaining more leadership experience, I wasn’t sure what else to say. Now, it’s nice to have a goal (dayshift NICU nurse) and work towards it.

It’s still a little terrifying:
“What if I don’t like it?”
“What if the staff is mean at the new hospital?”
“What if it’s not what I thought?”
“What if I’m not good at it?”
“What if I can’t handle the long commute?”
“What if I can’t last long enough on nightshift to make it to dayshift?”

Sometimes, you don’t know if you’re going to like something or will be able to handle it until you give it a try. I also have to be open to the possibility of failure or making mistakes with this new job – it’s those moments where real growth occurs, however. That’s how I became a better engineer or scientist. I made a mistake and remembered not to do it again. It’s like doing something wrong a couple of times before you figure out how to do it right, or in the most efficient way.

I think a terrifying part of being a novice nurse is mistakes in healthcare can have a profound and permanent impact on a patient and patient’s family. If I made a mistake as an engineer or scientist, many processes and people were in place that ensured no one would get hurt or injured. Delays or mistakes I made may cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, but they would never hurt someone. As a nurse, I no longer have that sense of security or protection. It’s anxiety-provoking. I’ve met many nurses with high blood pressure, anxiety, or depression due to the stresses of this profession. I don’t want to develop health issues because of my chosen career. I went into this profession to help people, so I try focusing on how I can help or improve care vs. contemplating the many ways I can injure someone or how someone may injure me (a genuine consideration with adult patients).

I’m still a recent grad with less than a year of acute care experience and still developing. Fortunately, my employer views me as a new grad and is willing to train me as a NICU nurse. I consider my new position as an opportunity to learn, grow, and be a better nurse. I’m going to try to focus on that and becoming the best NICU nurse I can be. Wish me luck!

Interview Tips and Tricks for Nursing School, Clinical Volunteer Roles, or Nursing Jobs

Some of you might be applying and preparing for nursing school interviews. December is when I began my nursing school interviews a couple of years ago. Out of the schools to which I applied, only two required in-person interviews as part of their application process. Luckily, I wasn’t a stranger to interviews by that point. Before nursing school, I interviewed for a competitive clinical volunteer program and eventually helped interview and screen applicants when I became a leader. It seems to be that time of year again for interviews because I landed my first new grad RN interview this past week for a local hospital. Since it appears to be interview season for myself and others, here are some of my suggestions for interviews, based on my experience and advice from friends and professors. They include anecdotes of my interview blunders, so you hopefully learn from my mistakes!

Research the organization

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Do your research before the interview:

  1. Research the organization by reviewing its website and doing an internet search. You can research companies and hospitals and see what their current and former employees have to say about them on Glassdoor.com.
  2. Review mission statements. What can you share about yourself that matches or aligns with their mission statement?
  3. If you know any current or former employees/students, ask them about the unit, program, or culture.

Doing this research will help you prepare a more specific answer to the interview question, “Why do you want to be part of this school/hospital/unit/organization?” You’ll also be able to find information about considerations you might have to reduce the number of questions you ask during your interview.

Anticipate the questions and prepare your answers

Be prepared to answer questions from your application essays and be able to speak to your resume. You should be able to discuss or explain anything you have provided in your application. Be prepared to talk about yourself and give them an idea of who you are. Interviews with nursing school, volunteer programs, or entry-level positions do not typically ask many technical questions – people want to learn about YOU. (Although, I did have a couple of clinical-type questions in my latest interview).

What I found interesting is that nursing school interview questions were not much different than job interview questions or even questions from my volunteer program. Below are some common questions one should be prepared to answer or discuss during an interview:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why did you become a nurse? or Why do you want to be a nurse?
  • Why do you want to be part of this school / hospital / unit / organization?
  • Why do you want this position?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
  • Tell me about a time you managed a challenging situation or overcame a challenge.
  • Describe a time you had a conflict or disagreement with a colleague.
  • What do you have to offer? / What makes you different from other candidates? / Why should we hire you? / What can you bring?
  • What would you do if you had a difficult or agitated patient?
  • What would you do if you had a difficult preceptor?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
  • Do you have any questions?

For my volunteer program and nursing schools, other questions I encountered were:

  • How have you prepared for this program?
  • How have you ensured your successful completion of this program?

Finally, for additional interview questions, there are some great ones listed online. I found other nursing school interview questions at https://allnurses.com/common-nursing-school-interview-questions-t553788/. I looked at job applications for new grad programs, even ones to which I wasn’t applying, and I pulled some of the following questions from an application:

  • What academic, clinical skills, and personal attributes do you have that will enhance your success in this program and your professional role as a nurse?
  • Cultural competence and respect for others are important in nursing practice. Describe a few ways that you have incorporated cultural sensitivity and competence into your own nursing practice.
  • Please briefly describe your professional/career goals.

Allnurses.com also has forums for people applying to specific nursing schools or hospital new grad programs – the discussion boards usually give you an idea of interview schedules, formats (in-person vs. virtual), or questions. When applying to specific programs, it’s helpful to know if candidates are already interviewing to assess if the program is still considering your application. It’s also good to keep in touch with your cohort after graduation for this same reason. My classmates received interview invitations and job offers to join a new grad program I applied to, while I heard nothing. It took over a month to receive my official program rejection, but I anticipated it since my classmates had interviewed for the same program a month prior.

One of my friends recently finished her first year and a half working as a nurse and interviewed for a new RN job. She shared possible interview questions with me. For more seasoned nurses, a potential employer may ask the following questions:

  • What do you look for in a leader? How do you emulate that?
  • What do you like about nursing? Dislikes?
  • What do you find rewarding about this profession?
  • How do you deal w/someone unsatisfied w/ your care?
  • Tell me a time about a clinical emergency and how you reacted.
  • Tell me a time you had to deal w/ difficult MD.

Here’s another great interview question I found in a Facebook group: Tell us about a time you had an error in judgement. What happened, what did you learn, and how has this shaped you into the nurse you are today?

Practice and use prompts

One interview preparation technique my friend used was to write out her responses to potential interview questions. She placed the questions and notes about her answers on the wall behind her computer and camera. During her virtual interview, she was able to glance at her notes, when needed, to help her answer questions. I think this idea is genius!

I do not recommend reading word-for-word written answers to interview questions. However, writing answers may help clarify what you want to convey about yourself or allow you to draw upon stories and examples to share more readily. I love my friend’s technique because little notes or prompts help prevent blanking out during an interview. This technique is similar to giving speeches or presentations: Never recite notes or slides, but use them as prompts to remind you what to say or share.

After writing out your responses to potential interview questions, practice sharing your answer out loud. Practice with yourself in a mirror, and later, practice with another human being. I am planning to do this with friends and former classmates. Mock interviews serve as dress rehearsals and allow for feedback for improvement and adjustments before actual interviews.

Dress professionally

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For my clinical volunteer program, applicants were instructed to dress professionally for their interview. I dressed in business casual clothing and opted not to wear a blazer. It wasn’t until I became a leader that I discovered that they docked points for applicants not wearing a blazer or suit to their interview. After learning this, I made sure to wear a blazer (or business suit) during future clinical interviews.

The following year, for one nursing school interview, I spilled tea all over my blazer as I drove to the interview. I set my tea on the passenger seat (it didn’t fit in the cup holder), and somehow my tumbler tipped and spilled its entire contents onto my blazer resting below it. Luckily, my blazer was black, and it was difficult to tell it was even wet. I dried it as best as I could once I arrived and parked at my interview location. I was able to wear my blazer during my interview, even though it was damp. It just smelled fragrant – like lavender earl grey tea! My lesson from this is never to drink colored beverages going to an interview and maybe carry a Tide pen!

For nursing job interviews, job applicants typically do not wear scrubs to an interview unless they arrive directly from a shift or are interviewing during a break in their workday. If you’ll need to wear scrubs to an interview, explain that to your interviewer beforehand.

Bring copies and material for notes

For your interview, bring extra copies of your resume or your nursing portfolio to share with interviewers. Bring material (ex. pen, blank paper) to take notes. Collect the contact information or business cards of your interviewers.

Arrive early

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Arrive early enough to park and walk to your interview! Unfortunately, I was about a minute late to my top choice nursing school interview. I arrived at the interview location 40 minutes early but was unable to find parking. I had been to the site twice before and easily parked at the adjacent parking structure both times. I thought arriving 40 minutes before my interview would give me extra time to park elsewhere on campus if needed. I was wrong.

All lots, even the farthest ones on campus, were full. It was raining and a Tuesday of the first week of the semester; most students were attending class or petitioning themselves in courses. I drove around multiple times and tried parking on all parking lots listed on the campus map. I even went through the nearby neighborhood, but the residential area required permits to park. I finally found street parking outside a restaurant blocks from the campus beyond a freeway entrance. Only 60 minutes of parking was allowed per street signs, but I was willing to take my chances. I could go over a little time and possibly get a parking ticket over missing my interview at my top school!

After I parked, I ran as quickly as possible and called my interviewer to let her know I was on my way but running late. I arrived at the front office out of breath and wet from the rain. Fortunately, I was only a minute late, and they allowed me to interview. Lucky for me, that school accepted me into their program!

These days, because of the pandemic, many interviews are done virtually. Get yourself set up early enough to allow your computer to load, log in to the program used for the interview, and be comfortable. Make sure the background the interviewer is seeing is free of mess and clutter or anything distracting. A trick an old co-worker of mine used was to ensure she seated herself in front of a wall of her awards and certificates during a virtual interview. If you have a place where you hang your diploma(s), awards, etc., consider that wall as your background.

Be confident and calm

If you’ve prepared for your interview, you should be confident. You have made it farther than other candidates by even getting offered an interview! If you don’t feel confident or are anxious for your interview, practice slow deep breaths. Inhale over 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 4 seconds. Exhale for 4 seconds and hold your breath for 4 seconds. Repeat this breathing pattern to calm yourself. (I learned this breathing exercise from a live talk from Brene Brown, but I guess this is something first responders also practice)!

Hopefully, you arrived to your interview early. Go to a restroom beforehand, look at yourself in the mirror, compliment yourself, and practice wide-stances. Put your hands on your hips. Keep your back straight, shoulders back, and chest up. Make sure you are not physically sinking inward, which can give the impression of insecurity. Do your pep talk and superhero wide-stance practice immediately before your interview. (I learned this superhero confidence-building trick during a training workshop in my previous job). During the interview, remember to look your interviewers in the eyes as you talk to them.

Ask Questions

If you’ve done your research, but you still have questions, make a list and bring it to your interview. The interview also allows an applicant to discern if a position or organization is right for them. “Do you have any questions?” is a common question asked at the end of an interview. When prompted, you can draw from your list of questions.

Below is a list of possible topics one could consider before or during an RN job interview. Ideally, you would research these topics ahead of time and discover most of the answers before your interview. Some job considerations are from my friend while others are from a nursing school professor:

  • Training process?
  • Scheduling?
  • Performance expectations?
  • Employee performance review process?
  • Support in education? CE? Conferences?
  • Opportunities to teach/mentor?
  • Involvement in shared governance
  • Why do you like working here?
  • Work environment?
  • Is this a magnet hospital?
  • When was your last accreditation? May I see the report?
  • Is this physical facility a place where I’d want to seek care?
  • Take a tour to see staff working. Are they happy?
  • Ask to visit unit(s). Observe the number of patients per RN on the board.
  • What are the benefits?
  • Is a contract expected?
  • When are people eligible for raises?
  • When does vacation start accruing?
  • Is childcare available or offered?
  • Meet with staff who will be in charge of you.
  • Are nurses allowed to do advocacy?
  • Is quality improvement top-down or driven by nurses? Do nurses drive performance improvement?
  • If in a clinic, is the medical director strong and stable?
  • What is nursing turnover like in the unit?
  • Care coordination?
  • Do finance people speak same language as nurses? What are their priorities?
  • What partnerships does the nursing departement have with patient families? What resources are available across the continuum and community?

Some questions to consider asking during nursing schools interviews are:

  • What is the NCLEX pass rate of your graduates?
  • How do you prepare your students for NCLEX? Are students required to do HESI or ATI or purchase UWorld?
  • What is the rate of people graduating in the recommended timeframe? How long does it typically take for people to get their degree in this program?
  • What is the clinical and lecture schedule? What is a typical day like for your students?
  • What is the size of the cohort?
  • What are the traits or practices of your most successful students?
  • What are the hospitals or clinics where clinicals have been held?
  • Are there student or faculty mentors?
  • Do you help with job search or placement?
  • How quickly do your graduates find jobs after graduating?
  • Where do your graduates typically work?

Write Thank You Notes

After your interview, write thank you notes to your interviewers. (You collected their contact info. during the interview, right?) Reiterate unique traits and strengths or clarify any uncertainties about yourself. You want to do this to be memorable and to give your interviewers confidence in choosing you. Express your gratitude and appreciation for the people that took the time to interview you. Emailing the thank you messages ensures quick delivery.

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I wrote this blog post as a resource for others but also for myself. I need these reminders, too! I like that I can now review this list before every nursing interview. Do you have interview questions to share or tips to add? I would love to hear them!

Thank you for reading! If you found this post helpful or appreciate anything from it, please like and share with others! Good luck to you and your endeavors, and good luck with your interviews!