Graduating from Nursing School with a Strategic Plan

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC

Keith Carlson, BSN, RN, NC-BC

When you’ve worked hard and earned the right to graduate from nursing school and launch your new career as a nurse, you want to start your healthcare career on the right foot. Whatever it is you plan to do once the caps and gowns are put away, having a strategic plan for moving forward is worthy of your attention.

Pushing Past the NCLEX

NCLEX success is certainly the first order of business when you have your nursing diploma in hand. There are many strategies for passing the NCLEX with your sanity intact, the first of which is practice, practice, practice.

There’s little doubt that you took practice exams during nursing school and that your actual graded exams pulled from various test question banks. Nursing schools by nature teach to the NCLEX, so your critical thinking and test-taking skills should be strong. 

No matter what you’re done to prepare so far, you can’t answer too many practice questions. So, whether you use an NCLEX practice website, take a virtual or in-person prep course, or even work with a coach or trainer geared towards successful outcomes for this specific high-stakes exam, make passing the NCLEX your top post-graduation priority.  

Your Resume and Cover Letter

If your nursing school offered a professional development course, you may already have a fairly cohesive resume. However, schools don’t generally give this subject a great deal of forethought, so doing your diligence is essential. 

With an increasing number of resumes being reviewed by applicant tracking systems (resume-reading bots), knowing how to optimize your resume is crucial, including the use of bot-friendly keywords. There are countless articles, blog posts, YouTube videos, online courses, and templates to choose from, as well as career coaches, some of whom are themselves nurses. 

If you are applying for a variety of positions (e.g.: emergency, med-surg, and rehab), you may want to consider having a slightly tweaked resume version for each area of clinical focus since what those employers may be looking for in terms of skills or experience can be somewhat different.  

A resume is more than a list of your accomplishments, and making sure you present yourself well is of paramount importance, so give this aspect of your career launch a great deal of energy.

In terms of cover letters, knowing how to write a strong one that isn’t simply generic is a key skill since many postings still allow for, or require, cover letters. This document works in tandem with your resume and can enhance a potential employer’s perception of what you bring to the table, so understanding how to make a letter shine is in your best interest. 

Job Search and Interview Skills

Part of your post-graduation strategic plan obviously needs to involve the job search process and preparing for interviews. When launching your job search, you absolutely want to take into consideration a number of factors, including, but not limited to: 

  • The geographic or metropolitan area(s) to which you’re open, including the potential for relocation
  • The types of facilities where you would like to work (e.g.: Magnet hospitals, trauma centers, ambulatory facilities, etc.)
  • The types of employers you’re drawn to (non-profit, faith-based, local, national, etc.)
  • The workplace culture you would prefer
  • The nature of the mentoring, onboarding, and precepting you’re seeking
  • Your longer-term goals and aspirations

You may also wish to consider if you want to include new graduate residency programs as part of your job search. These highly competitive programs should truly be available to more new grad nurses, but this should not prevent you from applying to multiple residencies if this is a path you would like to pursue.

Your job search needs to be highly organized. Spreadsheets can be effective, or some people like to make use of project management and organizational apps like Trello and Azendoo, among many others. You can keep track of: 

  • The date each application is submitted
  • The url (web address) of the position (or a copy of the job posting)
  • The date of each attempt to check on the status of your application, as well as the name of any person with whom you have contact 

It is also efficacious to keep a copy of every cover letter you write, as well as all versions of your resume. 

Contacting everyone you know and alerting them that you’re seeking a job is recommended. Networking can be very effective, and even someone who doesn’t work in healthcare can have friends or family members who do; those connections are worth exploring. Through LinkedIn, social media, and good old-fashioned face-to-face meetings, something important can often come of your relationships and connections. 

The Marathon and the Sprint

Your post-graduation strategic plan may want to include what we might call both the sprint and the marathon. The sprint could be considered preparation for the NCLEX and the other aspects of getting the initial stage of your career off the ground. 

Pounding the pavement — literally and virtually — through networking with as many people as possible can be effective (as previously mentioned). While this may be part of the sprint as you ramp up to your first nursing job, building a deep professional network is definitely part of the marathon and something you can draw upon in the years to come as your career matures. 

Other aspects of your nursing career marathon are skill-building (e.g.: clinical, technological, relational, etc.), your development as a leader, and the accumulation of expertise. Keeping an eye on your changing motivations, goals, and interests can help inform the choices you make as your career develops, including the pursuit of further education or certifications. 

Making it Real

Overall, your strategic plan encompasses the short-term goals of earning your license by passing the NCLEX, entering the job market, and landing your first position. At the same time, you can also begin the longer-term process of building a robust professional network, increasing your skills, experience, and knowledge; and planning for your future, whether that includes leadership, further education, and other career-enriching endeavors. 

Graduating from nursing school is exciting, as are the next steps along what can prove to be a very promising and satisfying professional path.

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