If you are graduating soon or recently graduated, you are undoubtedly thinking about that next step…finding a new grad RN position. Here are five ways you can stand out as you go for that dream job. You can listen to this information in episode 213 of the Straight A Nursing podcast right from this website, or wherever you get your podcasts. 

#1: Have a Nursing Portfolio

A nursing portfolio showcases your credentials and accomplishments beyond what is typically included in a resume. A portfolio can give an employer a more robust picture of who you are, validate the credentials and accomplishments you list on your resume, and showcase your dedication to continued career growth. It is also a great way to keep your important records organized so that you have them readily accessible when a dream job posting comes along.

Items to include in a nursing portfolio can include:

  • Your resume and cover letter
  • Statement of nursing philosophy which showcases your passion and commitment to the profession
  • Certifications such as ACLS, NRP, and PALS
  • Specialty certifications which may include things such as CCRN or WOCN
  • Significant CEU certificates directly related to the position you are seeking such as EKG interpretation, NIH stroke scale, or IV infusion
  • Transcripts from your nursing school and Dean’s List certificates
  • Letters of recommendation from nursing school faculty and preceptors
  • Performance evaluations from your clinical instructors
  • List of competencies and skills, especially things like ECMO, LVAD, IABP and CRRT
  • Letters of appreciation from patients and family members you’ve encountered in clinical
  • Documentation related to volunteer activities, academic organizations such as NSNA, and honors societies such as Sigma Theta Tau
  • Any awards received during your education or career

How should you format a nursing portfolio?

Create a hard copy of your nursing portfolio so that all your original documents are in one place. However, many employers may request all documentation be submitted electronically, so a digital version may also be required. The nice thing about having a digital version of your portfolio is you can easily print copies to take with you to panel interviews without risking losing your original documents.

You can easily create a digital version of your portfolio by scanning the relevant documents and organizing them with an easy-to-use graphics program such as Canva. 

#2 Write a compelling cover letter

Though a cover letter may not be required when submitting your application, it is the perfect opportunity to let your passion and personality shine. A good cover letter complements the contents of your resume and makes the hiring manager want to interview you.

Components to include in your cover letter are: 

  • Heading with your name and contact information – while we’re on the subject, please ensure your email address is professional. This is not the time to use the same address you’ve had since 7th grade that includes the name of your favorite stuffed animal. Take a moment to create a professional email address such as first initial and last name. If you are using LinkedIn for networking, then be sure to add your profile URL as well.
  • Start with a greeting that includes the name of the person you are writing to. If you can’t find the name and are applying online to a job where the specific unit isn’t mentioned, then you can simply write “Dear Hiring Manager.” But, my advice is to do your absolute best to determine who the manager of the unit is. You can try a Google search or simply call the unit and ask for the manager’s name by saying, “Hello, I’m applying to a position in your unit and would like to address my cover letter to the manager. Can you tell me his or her name please?” 
  • Next include an introductory paragraph that mentions who you are, where you went to school, the position you are applying for and any relevant experience. If you heard about the job from a current employee and they give you the okay, then include that as well. For example, “My name is Maureen Osuna and I am a highly-driven new graduate RN with more than 75 clinical hours in the emergency department. My preceptor, Karin Rodgers, told me the department is anticipating hiring into the Emergency Nursing Residency Program and it sounds like the perfect way to start my career.”
  • The following paragraph or two should speak to any relevant experience. If you have no healthcare experience at all…that’s ok! Speak to your communication and interpersonal skills, your ability to manage difficult situations or customers, leadership skills, your love of learning, and your work ethic. If you can keep the focus on what skills YOU bring to the table, they’ll see how you can fit in with the team…this is what makes them want to interview you!
  • A simple closing statement should circle back to a brief overview of why you are an ideal candidate for the position. And then be bold! ASK for the interview by writing something along the lines of “I am excited to learn more about this position and look forward to speaking with you soon.”
  • Your sign off should be short and formal…a good option is to simply use “Sincerely” followed by your name.

Of course, before you send the cover letter off, make sure you proofread it carefully (along with your resume). Nurses must have great attention to detail and spelling errors or typos will not reflect this. Then, save your cover letter as a PDF for electronic submission, or print and mail the old fashioned way (the job posting will have information on how to apply and will usually be online).

Resume and cover letter templates from The Resume Rx

#3 Present yourself professionally

While I don’t think this has to be said, I’ve heard enough stories from hiring managers to know it actually does have to be said. When it comes to interviewing, take care to present yourself in a professional manner. This means showing up on time, bringing a copy of your resume (and your portfolio!), and wearing the appropriate clothing. 

  • Show up on time: Give yourself plenty of time to get to your interview. Most hospital campuses are quite large, so factor in the time it will take to park, find your building, find the office, etc… You definitely don’t want to show up late or even right on time. Best to be 5 to 10 minutes early. 
  • Bring copies of your resume: Though the hiring manager has already seen your resume, there may be others in the interview who have not. Bring enough copies of your resume for the entire panel just in case. A simple padfolio (#ad) is a professional way to carry papers, a pen, business cards, and notepad.
  • Dress professionally…and no, this does not mean wearing scrubs. For most nursing jobs, the dressier end of business casual is going to hit the mark perfectly. For men this is slacks, shirt and tie. For ladies, a button down blouse with slacks or a skirt is a very safe combination. Click here for more examples of business casual attire, and some examples of what NOT to wear here.

#4 Ask good questions

In addition to preparing for your interview by anticipating some commonly asked questions, you also want to show YOUR interest by asking a few questions of your own. Some great questions to have at the ready are: 

  • How long is new grad orientation and how is it structured?
  • How do you match preceptors with new nurses? Will I have one preceptor or multiple?
  • What are the requirements for call shifts, holidays, weekends, etc…
  • What qualities make a nurse successful in this environment?
  • Do you utilize primary nursing or team nursing on this unit?
  • What quality improvement initiatives is the unit working on?
  • How would you describe the culture of this unit?
  • What types of patients would I be caring for in this department?
  • What is the skill level mix of your current staff? Are there experienced nurses available to teach and mentor a new hire?
  • What do people like most about working here?
  • What opportunities are available for professional development?

#5 Write a thank you note immediately after the interview

As soon as you get home from the interview, take a moment to craft a thoughtful thank you email for the hiring manager. Though this is an easy step, you’d be surprised how often it gets overlooked. The purpose of the follow up email is to remind the interviewer who you are, show your appreciation for their time and consideration, showcase your professionalism, expand on anything noteworthy that came up during the interview, and reiterate how much you’d love working in their department. Be sure to get the email sent within 24 hours of your interview, and yes…you want to proofread this as well! 

A key component of this email is to help move the interviewer to the next step. For example, if you know the next step is a meeting with the ANMs, this can be as simple as “I look forward to meeting the assistant nurse managers and learning more details about the residency program.”

I hope this helps you feel like you can truly stand out as you venture out into the nursing job market. Best of luck to you and don’t forget to send me an email or tag me on social media when you land your first job so I can celebrate with you!

Resume and cover letter templates from The Resume Rx


The information, including but not limited to, audio, video, text, and graphics contained on this website are for educational purposes only. No content on this website is intended to guide nursing practice and does not supersede any individual healthcare provider’s scope of practice or any nursing school curriculum. Additionally, no content on this website is intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.