Seven Mistakes to Avoid When Searching for Your First CNA Job
You’re getting close to graduating from your certified nursing assistant (CNA) program and are excited to step out to find your first job. You’ve studied, prepped, passed skills exams, and are getting ready for your licensing exam. You feel prepared to start your new career!
But, you may be worried about landing that job.
These are seven common mistakes people make while preparing to get that perfect first CNA job—and how to avoid them.
1. Not Networking During CNA School
“It’s not what you know, but who you know,” is just as true in medicine as it is in any other field. Sure, the training you receive in school is essential for providing safe, competent patient care. But landing a job can be dependent on who you know.
Maybe you’re more introverted or learn best by hunkering down and studying by yourself. But the connections you make now can help you in the future, so it’s important to step outside your comfort zone by getting to know—and impressing—those around you. These are some important folks to connect with.
CNA School Peers
Your school classmates are great for study buddies, commiserating about training, and developing new lasting friendships. But these peers can also be excellent job references. They have trained alongside you and observed your skills. In the future, some of these peers may become managers or other leaders in healthcare, and if you’ve maintained a good relationship, they may want to hire you themselves!
When you’re going for your first job, employers expect you to have instructor recommendations. It may be intimidating to try to develop a relationship with your teachers, but they know this is part of the gig—they want to help you develop skills and succeed in your career! Introduce yourself to your instructor on day one, presenting your best self. Then, continue to be friendly and professional around them. In short, make sure they know who you are—some have hundreds of students—and make yourself stand out by working hard, asking questions, and being kind. These are all things they’ll discuss with your potential employers.
As they do with instructors, potential employers want to see recommendations from your clinical mentors. When doing nursing clinicals, connect with the mentors and instructors you meet at various clinical sites. Ask questions about how they obtained their first jobs. If you clicked with a preceptor, ask to exchange contact information, and keep in touch. If you do a clinical rotation at a location you think you’d like to work at, try to meet the manager of the department. Being able to connect a face to a name goes a long way with hiring. Your clinical rotations can be a bit like a job interview, and they’re a great way to show dependability and skills.
How do you stay in touch with these connections you have made during training? Well, thankfully, the internet makes it easy! For your CNA school peers, you can become friends on Facebook, Snapchat, or other casual social media channels. You can also join a school-specific or alumni group on sites Facebook, which often include both students and instructors.
However, it may not be professional to connect with every potential reference on sites like these. This is where LinkedIn comes in. This site is a great way to connect professionally with your nursing instructors, nursing managers, and clinical mentors. Additionally, even just emailing mentors or past instructors a few times per year to update them on your career is a great way to keep in stay connected.
Ask people in advance to be your job references—don’t assume they’re comfortable with it and just put them on a reference list. When references are surprised by an email or phone call from a potential employer, they may even say, “this person didn’t ask my permission,” which won’t make you look too good. Also, if you need a letter of reference, ask people to write them at least two weeks before the submission deadline, if possible. This shows them you know their time is valuable and allows them the chance to craft a stellar letter.
In Short: Make a good impression, keep relationships going, and be considerate toward your references.
2. Not Cleaning Up Your Social Media Image
Speaking of social media—are you presenting yourself the way you want to? Social media can be a fun way to share pictures, stay connected with old friends and relatives, and pass the time. But did you know that it’s legal for employers and recruiters to look at your social media accounts? It can be a way to get to know you—and weed you out of the candidate pool if they don’t like what they see.
So, take a minute to clean up those social media accounts. Start by “locking them down,” making sure everything is set to private. Some people even change their names on their profiles—though neither privacy settings nor name changes are foolproof. To be extra safe, remove pics of you partying, wearing clothes others may deem “inappropriate,” or engaging in any activities that could be perceived as offensive. Ask your friends to remove, or at least un-tag, these photos as well. You should also be aware of how social media postings with extreme political or religious views may come across—potential employers may think “if they’re willing to say this online, they’re going to say it to patients or coworkers.”
It’s especially important to make sure you aren’t posting anything relating to patients on social media. This can violate patient privacy laws.
Even after you have a job, you need to be careful. Many employers have social media policies, so be familiar with those policies before posting anything specific about your workplace or talking about things that could be considered hateful—it’s not uncommon for people who see unpleasant comments to send screenshots to employers.
In Short: Be sure to change your social media privacy settings to private and remove any material that could be interpreted as offensive. It’s also not ethical or legal to post private patient info online.
3. Not Using the FREE Resources That May Be Available at School
Many CNA programs have free resources to help get you prepared for that first job—including assistance in job searching, perfecting your resume, refining your interview skills, reading contracts, and negotiating your salary. These are usually part of a career center, though you may have a class specifically about gaining employment or need to confer with your advisor about these topics. Taking advantage of these free resources will let you be truly ready to find and obtain employment.
In Short: Visit your school’s career center or ask your advisor or a professor who can help you with your job search, then use those resources fully.
4. Submitting an Imperfect Resume or Cover Letter
Your resume and cover letter are your first impression, and you don’t get a do-over. Employers often have more applicants than they have jobs, so you need to make sure you stand out.
Some tips for writing resumes to keep it out of the NO pile:
Keep it Short
Your resume should be one page, two max if you have years of experience. Use bullet points, not paragraphs, as most hiring managers will solely glance over the information when making their first choices.
Keep it Simple
Don’t get cute with the design. Choose a simple, readable font like Arial or Calibri, and only use that one font—never go below size 11, either. Use a white background and, if you opt for a resume that has color borders for specific sections, make sure it’s not too “busy” or bright. Additionally, don’t get creative with the order of your jobs—even if an older one is more relevant, you should go in reverse chronological order (newest job to oldest job).
Tell Them Why YOU Rock
Your bullet points should highlight achievements, not tasks. They’ll often already know what the job you list involves unless it’s something obscure or with an unusual title. So, focus on things you did that were especially awesome as much as possible.
Tailor Your Resume to the Job
If you have a statement of purpose at the top, make sure you change the language so it’s directly relevant to the job you’re applying for. If you have achievements or specific skills relevant to the job, move those bullets to the tops of their respective lists.
Triple check your spelling and grammar, then have someone else do the same for you. Keeping things in the same tense (past vs. present—past jobs should be in past tense, present jobs should be in present tense), grammatical structure (if you’re using -ing verbs, stick with them), and subject-verb agreement (if your subject is singular, your verb should be as well, and the same goes for plural).
Save it Correctly
Though you should have a Word document for yourself, so you can make alterations as needed, save your resume as a PDF before sending it to employers, especially via email. PDFs are less likely to contain viruses—meaning they may be more likely to open a PDF than other types of documents—or be corrupted if they use a different type of program than you. Your PDF should be saved as “Last Name, First Name Job Title Resume” so they can identify it easily.
Resumes may take some time and effort, but you don’t need to pay big bucks to have it written. There are many free resume resources available online. Microsoft and Google Docs both have free resume templates. Ask a Manager also provides a wealth of excellent resume (and general career-related) advice.
For your cover letters, many of the same rules apply. View them as a way to expand upon your achievements and show the interviewer who you really are. Cover letters should use the same font as your resume, be tailored to the job, and never go beyond one page. Like resumes, be sure to fully proofread your work and save them as PDFs labeled “Last Name, First Name Job Title Cover Letter.”
In Short: Really focus on making your resume and cover letter shine. These are your first impression, and you don’t want to come across poorly.
5. Not Being Prepared for Interview Questions
Chances are, you’ll be asked questions like, “why do you want to work here?” and “what skills make you the right fit for this position?” So you can answer these questions, you need to:
- Research the company before you speak with them. Find out what their mission is, what communities they serve, what changes are happening, and what services they offer.
- Fully read the job description, research any parts you don’t fully get, and look up common interview questions for that position. Researching the job is easy with a simple internet search.
- Bring questions with you, whether about specific things you researched or about more general topics. You can have these written down for reference, and when they ask if you have questions, glance at your list. A couple of good questions to have in your back pocket in case your job-specific ones were answered are, “why do you like working here?” and “what can you tell me about the culture here?”
- Don’t ask about salary unless they bring it up; that discussion happens once they’ve decided to hire you. Don’t ask about ADA accommodations unless you absolutely have to—these should be brought up after you’ve been hired.
In Short: Do your research about the company and the job and come up with questions to ask.
6. Not Having a Professional Appearance
Even if the company is casual or the job will have you exclusively in scrubs, you shouldn’t dress that way for the interview. Suits, ties, blazers are all appropriate. Shoulders should be covered, and skirts need to be knee-length or longer. Don’t wear sneakers, flip-flops, or any other casual shoes—though make sure you can comfortably walk in whatever you’re in, so you don’t trip or are in pain if they give you a tour. Jewelry should pair well with your outfit and not be distracting.
In addition to clothing, make sure you’re well-groomed. If you have long hair, make sure it’s not in your face and, if you’re the type to fiddle with it, pull it back. Nails should be clean. Facial hair needs to be clean and nicely trimmed. If you wear makeup, make sure it’s well done and looks relatively natural. If you don’t wear makeup, make sure your face is clean.
This is all true for video interviews as well, head to toe. You never know when you may need to stand up during the conversation. Additionally, make sure your background looks clean—find a spot in your house that doesn’t have anything distracting behind you, including windows. (If windows are unavoidable, make sure they have heavy curtains or similar so you won’t be “backlit.”) Be sure there is nothing political or similar in the frame. Even your technology can determine how professional you seem, so test everything out ahead of time and make sure the lighting works. If you have roommates or family members in the house, tell them to steer clear during your interview—consider getting someone to watch your kids during this time if they aren’t old enough to understand why their parent needs to not be interrupted.
In Short: Make sure you have a fully professional appearance, including your clothing, grooming, and, for videos, background and technology.
7. Not Sending a Thank You Note
Thanking your interviewers via email within 24 hours of your interview—whether the interview was in-person or virtual—is essential. Be sure to remember the names of the people you spoke with and try to get their email addresses. If getting those email addresses isn’t possible, contact the person with whom you set up the interview and either ask for that information or for them to pass the email on, depending on the nature of that person’s position. A message to the person or people who interviewed you thanking them for their time, highlighting specific things that excited you about the discussion, reminding them of a couple of reasons you’re a great fit, and expressing your continuing interest keeps you fresh in their minds. If needed, you can ask a question you thought of after the interview but keep questions to a minimum. This isn’t another cover letter—a few sentences will do.
In Short: A little thanks goes a long way! Sending a message of gratitude within 24 hours can increase your chances of landing a job.