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Having a Tough Time Getting an Interview? Try this Simple Strategy

Last updated by on December 31, 2014

Last fall, I highlighted my wife’s switch to a career in nursing.

Nursing was a careful selection. She wanted to get away from the desk and work more with people. Her family has a number of nurses in it, giving her some exposure to the career. It seemed to be a good fit.

In a tough economy, a career in nursing seemed bulletproof.

  1. Nursing was one of the top 20 jobs with the lowest unemployment rate, at 2.1% (a full 75% lower than the U.S. average unemployment rate). This, despite there being close to 3 million nurses already in the market.
  2. Due the nature of the job (local, in-person care), nursing is a very secure job. You can’t send nursing jobs overseas and when lives, health, and malpractice lawsuits are dependent on outstanding care, nurse-to-patient ratios need to stay high.
  3. For better or worse, most hospitals are making ridiculous profits, as highlighted in my health care cost post. That’s bad if you’re a patient/insurer, good if you work there. Widespread cuts seemed unlikely, and if they did happen, nurses would not likely be first on the list.
  4. On a macro level, due to the aging of the U.S. population, a nursing shortage is predicted through 2020.

Last but not least, nursing jobs provide a solid income, a full array of benefits, flexible work schedules, traveling work opportunities (traveling nurse), and secondary career opportunities (nurse practitioner, nurse management, teaching).

Getting a Nursing Job Quick: All But Certain

how to get a job interviewSince that fall post, THE wife graduated from her accelerated nursing degree program in December, and then went on to study for, take, and pass her licensing exam. She officially became a RN (registered nurse) in late January.

It was my wife’s goal to work in a hospital setting in order to get the most varied experience early on in her new career. Luckily, we live in an area that has three large hospital systems, two of which were posting a large number of openings on a weekly basis.

Nursing was her second degree, she had excellent grades, a good amount of professional experience, a year of volunteer experience at one of the local hospitals, and yours truly (who has done some interviewing) coaching her on her resume and interviews. And she was even able to attend and network at an all-day seminar, led by a hospital HR staff, with great insider tips on what they were looking for in experience, on a resume, and in interviews.

Even the fact that she was graduating in December (vs. a more crowded May graduation), mixed with new hiring goals/budgets at the beginning of the year played to her favor.

A quick interview and job offer was, seemingly, all but certain.

Or was it?

On-Call Nursing Recruiters?

Since graduating in mid-December, she had been applying for each and every open job (roughly a dozen or so per week), regardless of unit focus.

With each received application, a desperate hospital recruiter would slide down a firepole, jump through the driver seat window of an unoccupied ambulance, flip on blaring sirens, and speed off in a race to our front door. The wet, black ink on their $10 and $20,000 signing bonuses drying as it collided with the gusting wind from the empty passenger seat window.

Within seconds from hitting the “send” button, a knock on the door followed, as she opened to find a recruiter on one knee, signing bonus and pen in hand. Winded, they could barely muster the words “please grace us with your employment” before collapsing to the ground in utter exhaustion.

Only one question remained – “who would covet her employment with the best offer?”

<exit dream sequence>

Weeks went by. No calls. No emails. Nothing. We were perplexed.

I played it off and encouraged her to do the same. “Don’t worry, you don’t have your license on your resume yet. They probably filter out those who don’t have it yet. Once you pass the exam and update your resume, you’ll be fine.”

Exam passed. A few more weeks went by. Still… nothing. I was starting to worry now too.

The excitement and momentum from graduating and passing the nursing exam had evaporated.

Looming on the horizon was a crop of new grads to hit the market in May. Anxiety was starting to set in.

Getting a Job Interview Sometimes Requires Some Creativity

Three weeks had now gone by since getting her license. Applying for all open jobs and even some good ole’ fashion networking had yielded zero results.

Should she just keep firing off more resumes and cover letters, hoping that by chance one of these times she’d be pulled from the pile of qualified applicants?

That sounded comfortable. Safe. Typical. No risk.

But the results from that strategy had been underwhelming.

She called a friend, an experienced nurse, to seek out some advice. She suggested something we had not considered: going in and talking to unit managers. Unit managers, we discovered, oversee the staff and do the hiring for their unit.

We brainstormed a little further. Each job she applied for listed the unit. Sometimes, it even listed the unit manager’s name. In order to make herself stand out, why not simply reach out to the unit manager to introduce herself, let the manager know she was in the area and wanted to stop by to say hello in person? Maybe she’d get a few emails in the process and could follow up with her resume over email. At least this way, she could feel as if she was influencing her interview fate somewhat. We didn’t know if it would work, but it was worth a shot.

She started off by stopping by to visit 3 unit managers after a volunteer shift at one of the hospitals on a Friday. All three were very friendly, however, they all said that the job was filled. Still, she was encouraged by the positive reactions.

The following Monday, we agreed, she would start calling unit managers from the other hospitals. A bit nervous and scared of getting hung up on, we prepared a script. There were a couple of different ways the calls could go, so we practiced each possible scenario.

A few calls ended up with voice-mails. Then she got a live one. “You’re going to be in the area? What is your background?”. Not prepared for that, she answered the best she could. “Why don’t you just stop by for an interview?” Success!

The second call to a unit manager, ended up with a similar result. 2-for-2 on calls when dozens of applications had yielded nothing. And now, she had multiple units in the same hospital competing for her services. She was able to line up a third interview, all on the same day. Now there was some healthy competition going: “Unit 3 and 8 is interviewing her… I need to offer first!”.

The first interview went very well. The second went just as well. The third was so-so, but it didn’t matter – within days, she had an offer.

Is this Interview Strategy Transferable to Other Jobs?

Why was this strategy so successful while applying online got her nowhere? One interview might be by random chance, but 3 with just a handful of calls?

Would the success of this strategy be limited to nursing jobs?

Here’s the thing. Just about everyone who is in position to hire has a shitload of stuff on their plate. A voiceless, nameless, resume pulled from a pile carries zero connection, zero weight, and no accountability. And sifting through the resumes or being dependent on HR to send you their picks? Painful.

A confident (not desperate), enthusiastic, person who wants to stop by to say hello? There’s a connection there. Unless you were grossly unqualified, why wouldn’t an interviewer roll the dice and give you a shot? Even if 1-in-3 or 1-in-5 give you a shot, you’ve significantly improved your chances versus the mostly random odds you are pulled from the resume pile. What have you got to lose? If you get a few “no’s” or hangups, you’re no worse off than you were before.

Maybe there is a nursing unit manager out there or other hiring managers who can weigh in with their opinions – I’d love to hear them.

And if you’re in the interview process and this has worked or will work for you, I’d love to hear your story.

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About the Author
I am G.E. Miller, & this is my story. My goal is financial independence ASAP. If you share that goal, join me & 10,000+ others by getting FREE email updates. You can also explore every post I have written, in order.

  • Emily @ evolvingPF says:

    This strategy is basically how I got into my PhD program. Most of the programs I applied to screened applicants through a committee, but my target school (the one I’m at now) basically gave all the power to the professors, so if you could convince one person to take you on the department would admit you on her say-so. Knowing this, I emailed several profs to express my interest in their labs and said I would be in town on X date and could I come by for a short chat. I had three interviews on the day I was in town, one of which led to a real initiated-by-the-prof interview and finally an acceptance.

    I think you’re right on in your analysis of why this works. After my advisor met me, my name stood out to him among all the applications he received, so he actually read my letters of recommendation and decided to accept me. I am positive that I wouldn’t have gotten an interview with anyone at the school if I hadn’t set up that pre-interview meeting as my undergrad GPA was not impressive, which is the primary metric they screened on. But since he had a face and conversation to go with myself-on-paper, it made the difference.

    BTW I had never heard of anyone trying this strategy for PhD programs before I did it (or since) – but I was just VERY motivated to get into this particular program!

    • G.E. Miller says:

      Interesting. I had not considered this at all in regards to getting in to a degree program, but you’re definitely on to something. How could they turn down a qualified go-getter who really wanted to get in to the program vs. a spoiled brat whose parents put them up to applying?

    • Trevina M. says:

      This is excellent advice. I am also an aspiring Ph. D candidate. I had some success with volunteering with a lab and right now I am in the process of volunteering with a VA-based lab, which requires a lot of sifting through bureaucratic red-tape and petty suspicion most people meet you with when you’re not an actual employee. I also come from a lib. arts background so I don’t have the experience they want in order to keep me onboard. I have trouble reaching out and keeping contact with professors I want to work with (for fear of pestering them) and I have issues defining my career/research goals to them clearly. I will definitely take your advice to heart and the advice for general job searches here. I am glad to have found this website.

  • jim says:

    Yay for her!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! and you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! So glad to hear she got an offer(s). Been there, done that and it sucks when you’re going thru it. Please do send her our most sincere congratulations. Sounds like she worked her butt off and it is now finally starting to pay off for her. Yay!!!!!!!

  • Betsy says:

    Agree with the advice from a colleague! The departments are so busy and hiring is a chore, really. Just trying to glean anything valueable from a resume or application is impossible, but to meet, see, talk to, and listen to someone puts the relationship on a different level. There’s no disagreement in the old adage that jobs come from people you know or who know you. The second best in addition to IRL effort is to initate a mentorship while still in school, and several in fact, not only in your career field. I’ve advised people to do that for years and it’s never failed them (or myself).

    What is key is to select someone admirable to oneself, not in the same field, just someone you would like to get to know, learn from, and communicate with. Value yourself! The relationship may be started during a job interview, in fact. If there is no job possibility, ask, “Who would you suggest I talk to – I value your opinion.” Using that person’s name (or their intro!!), will pave open a new path. Identify some people in your community or elsewhere, and arrange a “5 minute” meeting with them – promise it will not be longer, unless they want to extend the time! Ask how they secured their position, how they decided that is where they wanted to be (most successful people are never involved in a conversation with anyone who is really interested in them as individuals, or how they reached success!). Close your appointment by asking if that person would consider being a mentor, and if perhaps they decline then or later – ask that prior question, “Who would you suggest?”

    Great article, by the way. The schools and colleges advertising for health care professional applicants certainly don’t mention the realities of finding and keeping a job. But, in fact, that should start well before graduation.

  • Ron Ablang says:

    Hmmm. My sister’s a nurse. I’ll have to ask her if her job hunt went more like your wife’s or like your dream sequence.

  • Russell Kith says:


    Great post. Extremely relevant during these difficult times of unemployment. I certainly agree that you MUST be creative while on the job hunt. There are thousands of people firing off resumes and CV’s. When someone sends me one, I won’t even open it. I have had videos submitted for postions in the past, hand written letters, stories, etc. The important thing is you NEED to set yourself apart from the other people intending to land the same job you are trying to score, anyway possible. Write a song outlining your resume, just be creative and show your potential employer something to get them excited. Just take a look at how this guy got an internship on wall st. Best of luck job hunting, everyone. Don’t be afraid to do something out of the ordinary. You might surprise yourself!

  • Kris says:

    Great advice. I’ve always thought that was a good idea, but I’ve been too chicken to try it. Not sure it will work as good in my industry (higher ed) where there are usually hiring committees, multiple steps, and a long hiring process, but eventually you get hired by a person so could be worth a shot.

  • Karen says:

    Your article illustrates the same concepts advocated for years by headhunter Nick Corcodilos (

    I.E. ditch the resume, establish contact with the hiring manager, learn what they need, and convince them that you can deliver.

    There is a lot of useful information on Nick’s web site which, although geared toward technical professions, can be adapted to whatever kind of job you are looking for.

  • Katie says:

    Great article. I graduated from nursing school last may and i have about nine months of RN experience now working in a long term care setting and home health agency. How much experience were the unit managers looking for when your wife called. For example, most of the hospitals in massachusetts ask for 1-3 years of nursing experience (New grad programs are unheard of up here). Should I call a unit manager even if I don’t have enough experience to match the job description?



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