Tips for Getting a Nursing Job Interview in the Age of Electronic Applications

Illustration by the author

Julianna Paradisi, RN, OCN, is an oncology nurse navigator and writes a monthly post for this blog. The illustration is by the author.

Twenty-plus years ago I was job hunting in Portland, without a local connection in health care. Prepared with an Oregon nursing license, I applied for the only two open pediatric ICU positions in the city, found in newspaper want ads. The positions were in the same unit. Having several years of PICU experience, I was hopeful that I’d get an interview.

Two weeks went by without a phone call for an interview. Worse, I noticed that only one of the postings remained. With nothing to lose, I called the hospital’s human resources department.

“Hi, I applied for the positions of pediatric intensive care nurse at your hospital,” I said. “I see that one has been filled. I have seven years of experience, including transport of critically ill children, and PALS certification. I’m curious if there’s a reason I haven’t been offered an interview? I know if the manager meets me, she’ll love me.”

“I’ll look up your application, and get back to you,” was the response. Half an hour later, the PICU nurse manager called to set up an interview. “I’m sorry,” she explained. “Your application didn’t make it to my desk. Apparently it was misplaced by HR.”

I was hired at the interview, and held the position happily until transitioning to adult oncology 12 years ago.

My homespun approach may not work in today’s job market. First of all, nursing jobs are applied for online. The electronic application creates a formidable hurdle, as I learned recently while pursuing a new nursing position. If you’re really good on the phone, a follow-up call to HR might get you the phone number of the hiring manager’s office assistant, but don’t expect a return call for the voice mail you left her. It’s more likely that the HR representative will politely respond, in so many words, “Don’t call us, we’ll call you.”

Although I sought a specific position, I needed a back-up plan in case I didn’t get it, so I applied for a few others. Many experienced nurses move from job to job by calling colleagues or past managers, but most of mine had retired or moved. I was just another nurse applying electronically for a job.

If you’re a nurse looking for work, here are some ideas for getting past gatekeeping electronic applications and, hopefully, scoring an interview.

First, write down all your previous job and volunteer experience. Don’t only list nursey-skills like medication administration or starting IVs. Include past projects that you planned and implemented. Were the results positive? List them.

Projects unrelated to nursing require the ability to plan, implement, and measure or assess outcome, which are nursing skills. This is helpful to note, especially if you’re a newly graduated nurse. If you’re an experienced nurse seeking a new role, carrying projects to completion with good results is a leadership skill; write that down.

Are you a preceptor? Does your unit have high nurse retention because of its excellent orientation program? List your contribution—teaching skills apply to work that includes peer or patient education. The role I wanted requires strong writing skills; I referenced my blogging experience on the application.

Next, carefully read all job descriptions of the positions you apply for. From your list of skills, craft a targeted resume for each one, emphasizing pertinent skills. HR glances over applications rapidly, so keeping yours brief and on point makes rejection less likely.

More about resumes: I learned that not all electronic applications allow uploading a standard resume. To avoid frustration, include the information most specific to the job description in your professional profile paragraph, the “Tell us about yourself” part, in case you can’t upload your resume.

Also: Most electronic applications allow editing, but if you delete it entirely, some organizations will not allow you to apply for the same position again. Call the help line number first if you’re not sure.

Keep in mind that job descriptions are an employer’s wish list for the perfect employee. If you have most of the important requirements, but not all, go ahead and apply.

Don’t waste an employer’s time by applying for jobs that are an unlikely fit, however. For instance, I’m qualified to work inpatient oncology, but after 12 years of working ambulatory care, I seriously wonder if at my age I can sustain 12-hour shifts, most likely nights. In a weak moment, I called a friend who manages an inpatient unit to ask about an on-call position. While she encouraged me to apply, she was honest: “You’re not going to enjoy inpatient nursing anymore.” We both knew she was right.

Remember to network. I joined a professional organization representing the specialty job I sought, giving me access to continuing education options peculiar to the role. Not only could I put this on my resume, but doing the homework provided me with the vocabulary I needed to speak to the position during interviews. If there’s a local chapter, by all means join and attend meetings where new nurses, or those wishing to break into a new specialty, can meet nurses already in the field. Nurse managers often attend, and it’s an informal way to gain their attention.

Finally, if you still aren’t getting called for interviews, consider volunteering in the department you want to work in. It sounds crazy, I know, but it was my plan B. Do a spectacular job, and the nurses are bound to ask about you. When you mention you have (or are getting) an RN license, and looking for work, someone will have an idea.

There are lots of jobs for nurses. Getting past the electronic application for an interview: that’s hard. Once someone is looking for you, however, the rest is easy.

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About the Author:

Julianna Paradisi, RN, OCN, finds inspiration where science, humanity, and art converge, creating compelling images as both a writer and a painter. She is the author of, and also blogs frequently for and, the blog of the American Journal of Nursing (AJN).


  1. Suzanne February 26, 2015 at 11:18 am

    Stay in touch with your nursing school classmates if you are new grad, heck even if not. I got my job through a classmate that I kept in touch with. No submitting computer resume, etc. Sent my resume directly to the DON, had an interview and was hired two days later. Best part is it was in the specialty I wanted to work in and it is only 8 hours shifts!

  2. Beth Coll Anderson February 26, 2015 at 9:48 am

    Great advice! I would also include cold-calling or cold-emailing the nurse managers for the areas you are interested in working in. It takes a little sleuthing to get the contact info, but it might be worth it, especially if you have relevant experience. In my job hunting experience, I would find jobs listed on the website that were already filled.

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