Meet the Expert

Lyn ChaseBSN, RN

Lyn is a Registered Nurse and CNA trainer in the state of Oregon with over 40 years of experience. She has worked in several facets of the nursing profession including home health, assisted living, long term care and, early in her career, floor nursing in two hospitals and a stint as a nurse for a physician in a clinic. She has taught the Nursing Assistant level one curriculum over sixty-five times. She has taught for Cascade Medical School, Prestige Health Care, Pacific Health Care Training and Holgate Community Nursing Assistant Training. Currently, she owns and runs the Clarkmas Nursing Assistant Program in Happy Valley, Oregon. Lyn has helped countless students who came through the program with career advice and job placement.

Introduction

You’ve passed your board exam! Your state licensing board has issued your certification! You can now include the letters CNA after your signature. What now? It’s time to start your career as a CNA. This guide will help you through the process of looking for a CNA job, preparing for an interview, following up with potential employers and preparing for your first day on the job.

Job Search—Finding Potential Jobs

Previous generations relied almost exclusively on the local newspaper to find jobs, but in today’s world there are many more resources. While you may want to consider checking the classified advertisements in the newspaper, most job listings can be found online. Some Great career websites include Indeed.com, Monster.com, & Careerbuilder.com. Navigating an online job search can seem overwhelming, but there are a few tips you can use to make searching on these sites easier. Make sure that the location filter is being used. This limits the search for jobs near you, rather than state-wide or even nation-wide. Use different terms when looking for a CNA job; each employer labels the job position differently. Put CNA, Certified Nursing Assistant, Nursing Assistant, and Nurse’s Aide in the Job Title Search Box to make sure you are seeing all the available CNA jobs in your area. Career counselors, your CNA instructor, even fellow classmates may be helpful in steering you in the right direction.

Always be on the look-out for Job Fairs. They are a great way to see what local opportunities are out there. Bring several copies of your resume and be ready to interview when attending job fairs. Many job applicants are hired on the spot, so come prepared.

Another approach to finding a job is to research the nursing homes, hospitals and home care agencies in your area. If these facilities have websites, you may be able to look up career opportunities and contact information for each. You might want to call facilities to inquire about job openings, or even pop in for a visit. The substantial shortage of CNAs in the country may open unexpected doors. Family members, friends, your school’s alumni office, even neighbors may have suggestions for you. Letting your family, friends and community know that you are seeking a CNA job could end up presenting opportunities not previously considered.

Some states have additional requirements for those seeking work in hospitals or certain other settings. If you are uncertain about possible restrictions for your first CNA job, ask for clarification from your CNA instructor, classmates or the state agency that issued your CNA certification.

Resume, Cover Letter and References

Advance preparation for your job search will be time well spent. A resume is a document you prepare to present to a potential employer. It can be thought of as a tool you use to market yourself in the most positive light. A resume should include the following information: name, address, type of job you are seeking, your education, experience and skills. There are many examples of resumes on the internet, but you should choose a design that is easy to read and allows the interviewer to find critical information with ease. A resume cluttered with too many details or graphics may discourage a potential employer from considering your application.

Accurate spelling is VERY important! You should read and re-read the document BEFORE it is ever provided to a potential employer. If possible, have a friend review it for accuracy and ask her/him if it is easy to understand. It should emphasize all previous education and work experience that demonstrates your skills, ability and aptitude for the role of the CNA. Even a listing of a previous job as a food service worker or receptionist may help the interviewer recognize your “people” skills. Do not attempt to explain in your resume why you left previous jobs. Those questions may arise during the interview but the resume is intended to get you an appointment for an interview.

Here is an example of a resume:

Florence Nightingale, CNA

12345 N. Jones Street
Anytown, Oregon 12345

555-555-5555

Education

High Point CNA Institute
Graduated with honors
September 2011
Anytown High School

Licenses and Awards

CNA – Oregon
License # 98765CNA- Issued May 2016 by State of Oregon Nursing Board
Received scholarship
January 2016
High Point CNA School

Work experience

Caregiver
2014-2016
Glendale Assisted Living Center— Anytown, Oregon
-Assisted residents with activities of daily living:
Bathing, dressing, grooming, eating, toileting,
locomotion
Cashier/Line Cook
2011-2014
Joe’s Grill —Anytown, Oregon
-Assisted with food preparation,  and provided customer service.

Volunteer experience

Hospital Volunteer
2011-2016
Helping Hands Hospital, Anytown Oregon
-Restocked shelves with medical supplies, delivered books and magazines to patients, and read stories to pediatric.

Relevant Skills

Monitoring vital signs, oximetry, observing for changes in condition, assisting with activities of daily living, and use of mechanical lift equipment. Proficient in use of electronic medical record software.

A cover letter is a letter intended to accompany your resume and should explain briefly why you are interested in the job and why you want to be a caregiver. Again, it is critical that spelling and grammar are accurate. Your cover letter and resume are indications of who you are. When these documents are thoughtful and well-written, they tell the reader that you have made the effort to develop good written communication skills and wish to be viewed as a competent, productive member of society.

Here is an example of a cover letter:

Florence Nightingale, CNA

12345 N. Jones Street
Anytown, Oregon 12345

July 5, 2016

John Smith, Administrator
Smith’s Nursing Center
Cloud Avenue 67890
Anytown, Oregon 89012

Dear Mr. Smith,
I am a recent graduate of a Nursing Assistant training program and I passed my board exam last week.  I am excited to begin my career as a CNA and wish to apply for the CNA night shift position advertised in the Hometown Gazette. I previously worked as a caregiver in an assisted living facility and found that I really enjoyed working with aging clients.

Sincerely

(sign your full name and title in ink)

Florence Nightingale, CNA

Including references with your cover letter and resume is a necessary step in the process of securing a new job. You should be prepared with three references. In most cases professional references—people you know in your work life—are best. These are people who can attest to your work ethic, honesty and character. Your CNA instructor would be a good reference—if you were cooperative and attentive in class. The other people whom you list as references should be supervisors or coworkers you know from previous jobs if you left those jobs on good terms. You should ask the people whom you’ve chosen as references if you may use them. On your reference list you should include the name, address, phone number and email address of each person. Be sure the information is accurate. Should you accidentally type a wrong digit of someone’s phone number, the potential employer will not be able to reach your reference and may assume that the error was intentional.

Preparing For Your Interview

You only have one chance to make a good first impression. If you arrive late or are dressed in attire more suitable for a day at the beach, you are sending a message that this interview is of little value to you and that your time and comfort are of greater importance than the job. You should wear business attire. Jeans are not considered appropriate for business meetings. Clothing should be clean and wrinkle-free. Hair should be neatly combed. For women, cleavage should not be visible and jewelry should be moderate. Large, dangly earrings, heavy makeup, tight clothing and shorts or short skirts send the message that you do not understand your role in the workplace. For men, button-style shirts and slacks should be worn. Scrubs should not be worn to a job interview. While pierced ears have widespread acceptance, nose and eyebrow piercings and piercings in other locations should be covered. Tattoos should be covered as much as possible for the interview. If you are offered a job, you should inquire about the facility’s policies on tattoos and piercings.

Arriving late to an interview speaks volumes about you. It tells the interviewer that you do not consider her/his time as valuable as your own, and that you do not plan well. He/she may assume that you have difficulty dealing with authority figures—supervisors, managers, and bosses. Excuses are viewed as poor attempts to justify your lack of planning or inconsiderate behavior unless they relate to an unexpected and unpredictable traffic problem.

When you arrive for the interview be friendly to everyone with whom you have contact. Those people may be your future coworkers.

Interview Tips

As you enter the room, walk with purpose, make eye contact, and offer a firm handshake and smile. When you are seated, sit up straight and focus on the topic at hand. Demonstrate confidence with your body language and calm demeanor. Do not slouch or cross your arms. The interviewer may start by sharing information about the facility or agency. This information is important for you to know, but the interviewer may also be observing you to see if you are attentive and engaged in the process. When asked why you are interested in working as a CNA, communicate your passion for a career that allows you to provide care and concern for others. Let him/her know that you consider this role to be a profession, not just a job, and that you are interested in the nature of the work rather than just a paycheck.

Those who hire CNA’s are interested in people who are good communicators, are team players, demonstrate empathy and compassion and are flexible thinkers. Emphasize your problem-solving skills, your technical skills, and your positive character traits. If you have previous experience in a customer service role, you may be able to bring to the discussion your comfort and pleasure in meeting the public.

Here are some tips to respond to common questions from interviewers:

Tell me about yourself.

-Respond by emphasizing your people skills, your ability to work well as a team member, and your philosophy that hard work nets not just a paycheck but personal satisfaction.

Why do you want to be a CNA?

-Responding that you think it will provide security and a good paycheck is NOT what the interviewer wants to know. He/she is more interested in your passion for providing care, your interest in finding ways to make someone more comfortable, the satisfaction you derive from observing and reporting a health problem before it becomes a big problem.

What type of people have you cared for in the past?

-Perhaps you have no previous work experience in healthcare, but you provided care during your clinical experience. Perhaps you had some interesting residents during your clinical practicum that taught you lessons about life or helped you to understand yourself better. Maybe your experience providing care prompted you to reflect on your future—or your past.

What are your greatest weaknesses and strengths?

-We ALL have weaknesses and strengths. Admitting that you have weaknesses does not mean that you are a failure. It means that you have an interest in improving yourself. You are stating that you know you have the ability to gain knowledge, insight, and maturity. Mentioning some of your strengths demonstrates insight and confidence.  An example of a weakness might be  your difficulty in clearly stating your position when challenged. An example of a strength might be your instinct to recognize subtle changes in a client under your care.

What traits do you have that make you well-suited for CNA work?

-Here is an opportunity to showcase the part of you that makes you who you are. Perhaps you have a sense of humor that lightens the atmosphere and brings laughter to residents and coworkers alike. Maybe you’re the kind of person who can sense other people’s emotions even when they don’t verbalize them. Maybe you’re an innovative thinker who can problem-solve in difficult or unusual situations. This question gives you a chance to shine!

Before the interview ends you will want to demonstrate your interest in the job by asking questions. You might want to inquire about which shifts are open, what types of clients or residents you will work with, and what sorts of challenges the interviewer envisions for the person selected for the job.

When the interview is nearing its end, thank the interviewer for taking the time to talk with you and let her/him know of your interest in the position.

If the interviewer has provided you with his/her email address, write a follow-up message the day after the interview. This will help the interviewer to remember you and to remind her/him of why you are a good candidate for the job.

An example of an email message might be:

You’ve Been Hired – First Day of Work

On your first day, show up a few minutes early looking clean, properly attired and bright-eyed. Listen carefully to instructions and/or directions you are given by your supervisor. Look for opportunities to help out before you’re asked. Use body language to let your new coworkers know that they can approach you for help or pleasant conversation, maybe even a good joke. The nature of CNA work often necessitates that two CNA’s work together, for example, to move a heavy client or to use a mechanical lift. If you demonstrate your willingness to help, your coworkers will be there to help you. Do not hesitate to ask for help when you need it. Sometimes nurses and nursing assistants engage in behaviors that can be upsetting. Do not engage in gossip, bullying, backstabbing or other hurtful behavior, even if it seems like you must do so to fit in at your new job. If there is a war at work, you will dread entering the battlefield each day. Perhaps your friendliness, lighthearted attitude and refusal to join a clique will change the culture for the better. You’re on your way to a great career as a CNA!