Tips for after nursing school
Career Resources

You’ve Graduated from Nursing School — Now What?

You’ve graduated from nursing school and should be very proud. School is hard work, and you’ve learned a lot. You probably think and see the world differently now. As you move from novice to expert, there are endless opportunities for learning, personal growth, and achieving mastery. Now that you’re a nurse, here are a few steps to take as you begin working in your new career.

Pass the NCLEX

To join the ranks of millions of other registered nurses, your first task is passing the National Council Licensure Examination (NCLEX). Instructors probably began talking about how to pass this high-stakes exam on day one of nursing school. In fact, your nursing program geared your education towards helping you gain the knowledge and skill to pass the NCLEX.

After graduation, it’s time to schedule your exam date and begin your last stretch of studying. Based on your experience in school, you should have a good grasp of how to answer tricky multiple-choice questions. As you study, you can take an online or in-person NCLEX review course, work with an NCLEX tutor or coach, or answer practice questions and study on your own or with fellow new grads. Preparing is key, so dig deep and get ready to knock that exam out of the park.

Complete Basic Tasks

While preparing for the NCLEX or waiting for your license after passing, you have plenty of other things to do.

Resume and cover letter. You need a strong nurse resume and cover letter geared to each position for which you’re applying. You may have received resume help in school, or maybe you already know how to write one. Do your research to optimize your resume for applicant tracking systems (A.I. bots that scan for keywords) and human resume reviewers. If you’re not sure how to do this correctly, hire a career coach or resume writer (preferably one who’s a nurse).

Cover letters still matter in these days of online applications, so use them as a chance to make yourself seem unique compared to other candidates. A career coach or resume writer can also help with cover letters.

Your LinkedIn profile. LinkedIn is a great place to create a professional online presence. You can apply for jobs directly on LinkedIn, so be thorough when completing your profile. LinkedIn is also a great place to network and meet other professionals, research employers, and keep up with the latest news in nursing and healthcare. Building your professional network is lifelong, and there’s no better time to start than now.

Prepare for the Job Application Process

Just like you studied and prepped for exams during school, clinical assignments, and the NCLEX, there’s plenty to prepare for once you’re in the job market. It’s time to prepare for the job application process, so you do well during nursing interviews, and start your first job on the right foot.

Most employers ask for professional references, so make sure you line up at least three people (e.g., former supervisor, clinical instructor, etc.). Thank them and let them know that you’re applying for jobs and they may receive calls or emails asking them to speak to your strengths.

Fear may be what you feel when you think about job interviews, so it’s smart to practice questions that make you anxious. A career coach can also be helpful for interview preparation.

Most job applicants worry about behavioral questions, so come prepared with answers you’ve practiced. For example:

  • “Tell us about a time you had a conflict and how you resolved it.”
  • “How would you respond if a patient or their family members were belligerent? 
  • “What would you do if you saw a coworker suspiciously put a narcotic dose in their pocket?”
  • How would you react if a doctor began yelling at you in front of a patient?”

Being ready to start your new job is essential. You might plan to buy a new stethoscope, scrubs, shoes, and other equipment. You may also want to learn more about your new workplace, such as its history, structure, mission, and values. Check their website and follow them on social media. You can also connect on LinkedIn with fellow employees.

Enjoy Yourself

Every feeling you have at this point is understandable. Finishing nursing school is a big deal, and starting your new career is, too.

Do your homework and prepare for what’s coming, but remember to enjoy yourself. You’ve already accomplished so much! There’s a lot to look forward to in your new career as a nurse.

Keith Carlson

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC, is a nurse, holistic career coach, writer, podcaster, and keynote speaker. He's conducted over 2,000 coaching sessions with nurses from all walks of life. His podcast, "The Nurse Keith Show", reaches nurses worldwide with fascinating interviews and messages of inspiration and career strategy. Keith lives and works in beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico.

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