5 Steps to Land your Dream Nursing Job - A Conversation with Nurse Sara Fung

Talk to any nurse and they will tell you the biggest challenge keeping them from their dream jobs is finding the time to write a new resume and cover letter or prepare for jobs interviews with their busy schedules and general exhaustion. That's why we recently invited RN and resume writer Sara Fung to the Caring Support Podcast. She has developed a career beyond nursing, helping other nurses put their best foot forward thanks to perfectly tailored resumes, engaging cover letters and more, and had a lot to share with our community.

We asked Sara about the steps nurses could follow to find their dream jobs, and this is what she told us:

5 Steps to Land your Dream Nursing Job - A Conversation with Nurse Sara Fung

Tell us about your journey in nursing and professional resume writing.

SARA FUNG: I think I've been always one of those people that gets bored easily. I always want to try something new. Even when I was at the bedside, I always thought, once I'm able to master a skill, what's next? What can I do next? So I was always interested in learning more and I got what I call the "two-year itch," where every time I was somewhere for two years, I wanted to try something new. And I kind of thought maybe something is wrong with me. Why can't I stay in one place for long? Why haven't I found my dream job or where I'm supposed to be and all that to say that I just feel like I'm always wanting to try new things and learn. And there are some people that like being where they are, and that's great.

And there are people like me that just can't seem to sit still. So I kind of took any opportunity I could to try new things... work in different hospitals, different environments, just really push myself out of my comfort zone and I'm really focused these days on work-life balance and mental health because I think this is something that nurses struggle with a lot. And I certainly didn't learn about self-care in my nursing school days. We were always taught to care for patients and advocate for patients, but what I started to learn is that it's equally important to care for yourself and advocate for yourself as a nurse. And trying to improve working conditions for nurses is something that I do throughout my days now.

So whether it is through the podcast, whether it is talking to the media, or helping nurses find jobs that suit their needs a bit better, that's what I want to do. And I still enjoy helping people, but just in a different way. And I think this is why I decided to focus on the business of helping nurses because I realized that through all the jobs that I'd applied to throughout the years, I never really learned how to write a resume. I never learned how to interview and, again, these are things that I feel should be taught and often aren't taught in nursing school, and you definitely don't learn about them on the job.

So I decided this is something I really wanted to help nurses with. And during my days in nursing leadership, I often sat in on a lot of interviews with the manager because they needed a second person and I saw a lot of really great nurses with not-so-great resumes or who just didn't know how to answer certain questions. And I could tell they were going to be really good at the job, but just translating that in an interview or onto a piece of paper appeared to be a big challenge.

In your experience, what are the most common mistakes you've seen nurses make when looking for a job?

SARA FUNG: The number one mistake I would say is just including too much on their resumes. And I know this is really hard for some people to let go of because, of course, we want to showcase all the great things we've done and many nurses that come to me have been working for a number of years. What I like to explain is that there are two different terms I think people throw around a lot. One is CV and the other is resume. So, the way I look at a CV, it's like something for your own records of everything you've ever done from the time you became a nurse to now. And I look at a CV as your walk-in closet, so it's everything you own, a lot of stuff, all in one place. Now, your resume is really just a summary of what you've done to show an employer that you can do the job that you're applying to. So, I look at a resume as a suitcase, so you're going to take a suitcase on vacation you can only pack so much.

You should only include the pieces of clothing that are relevant to the occasion. And that's how I look at a resume, trying to help people pare down all of this great information into something that an employer can look at. And we know from research that an employer might only glance at a resume for 7 seconds before they decide if they're going to keep reading or they're going to put it down. So your job is to convince someone that they need to keep reading. And also, I like to tell people about the goal of a resume.

The goal of the resume is not to get a job, it's actually to get an interview. So, if you can think about it that way, that really helps you eliminate some of the older information. Maybe that doesn't need to be there anymore or something that's no longer relevant to the role that you want to apply to. I would say length is the first thing. Some nurses and again, it's because we don't learn it, choose a format that isn't very easy to read or it's too squished in.

So, it can just make it difficult. And I think the layout is another thing, just picking a layout that's easy on the eyes, that's easy for the person to read. And I guess the other thing, if I could just mention one more, is putting information in bullet points. That's really key for the reader. And we have this tendency to write in paragraphs, which is good when you're writing reports and things like that, but when you're writing a resume, just trying to be concise in getting to the point is something that nurses aren't always able to do well. And this is what I like to help my clients with.

Let's talk about the steps for landing your dream nursing job.

SARA FUNG: There are five items to consider...

1. Resume - I like to look at resume writing as an art and a science. What I mean by that is you need a good layout to make it easy for the person to read. But the content is equally important because, as we all know, most of the time now when you submit your resume for a job, it goes through a website and a lot of companies use something called an Applicant Tracking System (ATS), which essentially looks for keywords in your resume and compares it to the job posting and decides if you're enough of a match to move forward. So, you not only have to get through the computer system with the content, you have to get through to an actual person with the content and the layout. How To Create Your Healthcare Resume Online

So, I think it's just a matter of tailoring the resume to the job posting. And I actually go old school, so I print out the job posting when I'm helping people and I get a highlighter and I start highlighting and I'll ask my clients, "do you have this skill, this skill, and this skill?" And really try to emphasize that as much as possible in the resume, ideally on the top half. So, if someone only reads the first page of your resume, they would get an idea if you are qualified to do the job and if they should take those next steps with you. I would suggest really doing that, either tailoring your resume to each job you apply to or having different types of resumes for different types of jobs. So, if you're looking for a bedside job, for example, that's a different skill set than if you're looking for a remote job, so you really got to think about writing it for the person that's reading it and writing it to prove that you can do the job that you're applying to.Get a New Resume For Free with a Resume Builder

2. Cover letter - I hear this all the time, "should I have a cover letter?" and "should I not have a cover letter?" I get different opinions, and I hear a lot that cover letters don't get read. So I tell people if they want to have one, make sure that it's not just repeating what's already in your resume, because that's really a waste of time and a waste of space. So, some reasons you might want to have a cover letter are to tell a really compelling story. For example, I wrote a cover letter for a client who wanted to work at a certain hospital because her sister had spent a lot of time there as a kid. And that was actually the reason why she went into nursing. And from what I heard from her, she did get the job. So if there's a really compelling reason why you want to work at a certain organization, a certain type of job, or let's say there's something you want to explain, like a significant gap in your work history or maybe you've moved jobs a lot... something that doesn't necessarily belong on a resume, you might want to use a cover letter just to get more of your story across. And I think storytelling is a good way to approach cover letter writing, but if it's just about explaining more of your skills, again, you can use bullet points on a cover letter. There's no rule that you can't do that. So I think you can use the cover letter to be creative and complement the information that's on your resume.Tips to Write an Effective New Graduate Nurse Resume

3. LinkedIn Profile - I tell people all the time, I don't work for LinkedIn, so I get nothing if you sign up or not, but you'll get so much out of it! So, number one, the networking, getting yourself out there and actually having recruiters come to you for a change instead of browsing all the job posts and applying. A marketing tool like LinkedIn is so valuable. For example, once you start looking up certain types of jobs, it gets to know what you're looking for and suggests jobs to you that you may not have even considered before. And you can follow people that you admire or that influence you. You can start engaging with them, asking questions and actually building connections that way. One of the stories I like to share with people all the time is that prior to taking one of my previous positions, I wanted to know if it was going to be a good work environment and a really positive work culture. And I used LinkedIn to reach out to people that currently work there. And I was actually able to get a hold of someone and she had an hour-long phone call with me telling me everything that I wanted to know but I would have never had that opportunity had it not been for LinkedIn because I didn't have any connections to that particular organization. So, I think it's just about networking in a different way, and people think that networking means you have to go to all these big conferences and make small talk that maybe don't want to make. But it's a different world now. And LinkedIn is a huge part of the way that you can further your career as a nurse.

4. Job boards - There are quite a few job boards out there. I know you've got one, James, and I think (Caring Support) it's a great one. I also like LinkedIn. It is a great place to find work because there are ways that you can set job alerts. And like I said, the platform starts to get to know you and what you are looking for. So that is another great one. Indeed, I know a lot of nurses go on to indeed, and they find lots of opportunities that way. I also have my own job board. I have a Facebook group just for remote nursing jobs because I noticed there is a big interest in that type of work. And I've worked at a remote job for over two years now, so I have that experience. You know what's great about it, what's not great about it? And believe me, it's not all great, but there are many benefits to it. So I think there are many, many different ways. But LinkedIn by far is my favourite place to look for jobs because I think it's so user-friendly and I think it's honestly the platform where I experience the least trouble, so to speak. So, if you go on different platforms, there are a lot of bad comments and bad behaviour, but LinkedIn is pretty free from that because I personally think most people know that their managers are kind of watching what they're doing. And so, you want to be on your best behaviour. You want to be professional. We're all there for professional reasons and networking. So I think there are many different ways to approach job searching. But if I had to pick one or two, it might be LinkedIn and one other job board of your choice.

5. Interview - If I had to pick a few different tips to help nurses ace their job interviews, it would be, number one, to practice. So either practice real interviews or practice with a friend or colleague. Number two, really think about what they're asking. And just going back to the resume, answer the questions to prove that you're the right candidate and also know what your own weak spots are. I know a lot of times sitting in on interviews, people would get nervous... they would start rambling, and they would go off-topic. And then, in the end, we were like, so what did they say? They didn't actually answer the question because they kind of went off-topic. So I think really making your answers about the question they're asking and always about what makes you the best candidate. Also, working on things like your verbal and nonverbal communication, those things are really important. And also, I think there are very basic questions that people can always prepare for and ones that are always difficult to answer. So, for example, giving examples of conflict and what you've done about it, talking about any weaknesses that you have, these are all really basic ones that I find a lot of nurses struggle with. So, try to work through these things and what I always coach my clients to say is don't focus so much on the conflict or the weakness, but talk about what you're doing about it because it shows awareness and it shows growth. And really, at the end of the day, none of us are perfect. So we're all going to have conflicts, we're all going to have some weaknesses, and we just need to talk about what we're doing about them.

Tell us about your company and the services you offer.

SARA FUNG: My business is called The RN Resume. I offer, like I mentioned, all things related to careers, including a number of services with resumes. So whether you want to buy a template, which goes over points to include and layout, which is a challenge for a lot of people, or do a self-paced resume writing course where I take a head-to-toe approach, just like in healthcare, we take a head to toe approach of our patients. This is really breaking down each section of a resume and how you should write it. I offer one-to-one help with writing resumes as well as cover letters, and LinkedIn tutorials.

So, if you want to know all of the different functionalities of LinkedIn and how to optimize your profile so that people can reach out to you, I do that as well. And then the interview coaching, which is something that a lot of nurses struggle with. I think a lot of people in general just struggle with how to interview. And then something that I've started doing is career coaching because I think before you do anything, you should really have a clear idea of what you're looking for. So, even if you don't know what you want, knowing what you don't want is just as important. So, before you get your wheels spinning and just start applying to every job under the sun that you might be qualified for, it might be a good idea to just take a minute, think about it, and be intentional about what the next step is that you want in your career before you go and do all this to maybe move to a job that's not any better than where you are right now.

So, those are the different services I offer. And I think that there are lots of people that come to me just feeling really lost or they're just not sure what to do. They feel stuck. And I try to help people get unstuck with this experience that I've had and all the knowledge that I want to be able to share with everyone along the way. So, that's kind of what I do in a nutshell. I am on LinkedIn and I've also got a website, it's theRNResume.com. I am on Instagram and Facebook, and what else? Twitter. I'm trying TikTok, I'm not great at it. I'm trying it. You can find me on all those different platforms.

Anything else you would like to add? 

SARA FUNG: I think just one last thing I want to say is nurses are often really afraid to brag about their accomplishments. And this is what I try to pull out of people when I work with them. So, for example, I had someone who is currently a PSW but was looking for a job, and she had been a physician in her home country and she didn't even think she should include that on her resume. And I was like, What? I was like "you were a doctor in your home country, you perform surgery and you somehow don't think that belongs on your resume now? Of course, it does! Or I've had nurses who have worked in correctional facilities.

They've been jail nurses for up to 200 inmates and they weren't sure if they should include it because they were only there for eight months. And I'm like, "that makes you amazing. Of course, you should include it!" So I think just being more kind to ourselves and knowing that you need to just think about all the great skills you have and put that on your resume. I know I talked about it being too long, but these are things that you should not leave out and maybe just being nurses, being women, part of the culture is to be humble. When you are looking for a new job, you need to market yourself and being humble is not going to work.

About RN and Resume Writer Sara Fung

Sara Fund has been a registered nurse since 2007, working 8 years as a bedside nurse and 7 years in nursing leadership. During that time, she viewed countless resumes and participated in many interviews. Since she's experienced on both sides of the table, she now provides 1:1 help on what nurses need for an outstanding nursing resume, cover letter, LinkedIn profile and how to ace their job interviews.

"I have worked in labour and delivery, post-partum, level three, and ICU. After I got my master's in nursing, I moved into nursing leadership and worked as a clinical nurse specialist. I worked in professional practice as well at a hospital and in community health. And then right before the pandemic I actually started a podcast with a friend of mine. It's called The Gritty Nurse Podcast, and we've done a lot of advocacy over the last few years. And around that same time, I also started my business, which is the RN Resume helping nurses with all things career-related," concludes Sara.

To listen to the full interview with RN and Resume Writer Sara Fung, visit the Caring Support Podcast or our YouTube Channel. You can also follow us on social media to see the most interesting clips of this conversation.

Thank you for reading!

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