My cousin is in her last year of nursing school. She asked me recently what she should be doing to make herself a standout candidate for a first job. Her fear and apprehension was so heavy that I felt it through the email. She's terrified because, like so many of us, she has absolutely no idea (nor is her school offering much assistance) on how to find a job. She has agreed to let me use her as a example of what NOT to do when applying for a first job:
She plans to apply to all the big name hospitals on the east coast: Mass General, Mount Sinai, John Hopkins..etc. Mistake! Throwing out your resume to a multitude of different institutions shows that you are not concentrating on any specific program, and therefore cannot possibly have a stand-out resume. Pick two and go. The best way to get into these positions is to network, so make sure you plan a trip to each hospital and meet everyone. Make an appointment with nurse recruiting. Sneak up to the unit and meet the nurse manager. Shake as many hands as you can.
She thinks that her only choice is med-surg. Wrong! It's not a good idea to do anything because someone says you should. In order to be a good nurse, you have to learn to listen to your intuition, so why not start early honing this skill. If med-surg does not feel right, it is not right.
She is following all the rules and etiquettes of resume writing. Stop being so polite! Today's nursing market is flooded and if you want your resume to be picked out of a stack of hundreds with similar backgrounds than you better have something catchy, something unique. Please, do not put sparkles or flashy pictures on your resume, but use your words wisely and don't be afraid to be creative on the layout. Your template skills may be the thing that helps you stand out.
She thinks she should volunteer at the Red Cross as an extracurricular. I really can't condemn this because it is a wonderful thing to do, but the reason to volunteer at the Red Cross should not be because you want to stick it in at the bottom of your "Activities" list. There must be something, somewhere that you're passionate about, that you love. Spend your time there. It may not even be in nursing, but it will make for better conversation during an interview.
Ultimately though, the best advice I can give is to be patient and kind with yourself during this tumultuous time. Don't take anything personal because it's not. The first job is rarely ever the best (see my post, The Perfect First Job: Reality or Illusion?). Be true to yourself and you can never go wrong.