Picking Up the Pieces of Your Career

By Donna Cardillo, RN, MA

I’m often contacted by nurses who’ve had unique challenges in their professional life: a past history of substance abuse, serious illness or departure from a job under less-than-ideal circumstances. Maybe these situations have resulted in an erratic work history, a long absence from the workplace or diminished self-esteem. All of them require special attention to put a career back on track. Here are seven steps to get you started.

1. Work on your demeanor. The scenarios mentioned above, and others, are likely to leave you feeling so devastated and scared that it comes across in your persona. I can spot the symptoms when I see them: someone who doesn’t smile, makes limited eye contact, looks scared and nervous and seems to be on the verge of tears. Often it’s people who get a panicky look on their faces when asked about their work history and are almost convinced from the outset that they’ll be “found out.”

While it’s never easy to face the world with a smile when things have not gone well, find ways to relax and be yourself. Take some time to meditate, focus on nature and connect with your higher self. When all is said and done, your personality and attitude contribute more to your success than anything else. Don’t focus on your past; your future is your goal.

2. Be positive and get motivated. As difficult as this is, the benefits will manifest themselves in greater confidence, more courage and a renewed sense of purpose. Write down all your strengths and assets, accomplishments and experience. Think of all the ways you’ve contributed in the past and can continue to do so in the future.
Go to the public library and check out some motivational books and tapes and use them daily. Shift your focus from the negative to the positive. You become what you think about. This will help you over the hump.

3. Volunteer in a healthcare setting. This is the perfect way to ease back into the job market. Volunteering will give you some recent relevant experience to put on your resume and allow you to learn new skills and hone old ones. Plus, it’s a great way to make new contacts. You’ll have a chance to “test the waters” in a low-risk environment while rebuilding your confidence and your life. Volunteering also gives you a sense of purpose, something to get out of bed for each day. It will even help you get your mind off your troubles. Besides, volunteering often leads to gainful employment.

If possible, volunteer as a nurse. But look for anything in healthcare. Be sure to have liability insurance for a nurse volunteer position if you work with patients. Consider your local health department, a free clinic, blood bank or school for the developmentally disabled.

4. Network, network, network. Get a great business suit or wear your best outfit, and start going out among the living. Don’t stay isolated. There’s nothing worse than wallowing in your misery, blowing your problems out of proportion in your head and allowing your fears to loom larger than life. Force yourself to get out with other people. Attend career fairs, nursing conventions and professional association meetings. Talk to at least one new person at each event. Networking is the best way to find and get a job, especially when you have obstacles to overcome.

5. Be prepared for tough questions. You probably will be asked why you left your last job or why you’ve been out of the job market for a while. Be prepared for the questions, and have your answers ready. Rehearse them – not only the words, but also your body language. Be comfortable. Don’t get defensive. This is a part of any job interview. It’s best to keep your responses somewhat general without sounding evasive. Depending on the circumstances, you might say something like, “For the past five years, some issues in my personal life have required my full attention. But they’re resolved now, and I’m ready and eager to get back into nursing full time.”

6. Look for job assistance. Your state chapter of the American Nurses Association may have a peer assistance program or career center that can help you return to the workplace. Seek out career services at a local college and at your alma mater. There also are career coaches (try to find a nurse coach) who can help you craft answers to usual questions, give you feedback on your presentation style and help keep you motivated. While you’re at the library picking up motivational tapes, check out some of the latest best-sellers on job-hunting, interviewing and self-marketing.

7. Give yourself a competitive edge. Join and participate in professional associations. Your involvement will show that you’re an informed and active member of your profession, even if you’ve been away from nursing for a time. There’s no better way to get back in the loop and reconnect with your profession. You’ll start receiving publications and information and have access to a support system of peers. Associations can serve as your lifeline. And remember, many things happen through networking.

Whatever your challenges or circumstances, find a job that’s appropriate for your situation and background and allow yourself to live and work again. Everyone deserves another chance. And while every job may not be right for you, there are many ways and places to make a difference. As long as you have something to give others, there always will be a place for you. Reignite your passion for nursing, get back in the game and start making a difference again.

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All rights reserved. Used with permission.