You may work with your hands, but to nab that job, you’ll have to impress on paper first. Jenni Middleton talks to the experts to find out how a strong CV can snatch you that crucial interview
A friend of mine who works in sales once received a CV with a candidate’s photo attached. She was pictured in a gents’ toilet, leaning against the condom machine – and was completely naked. Although the snap may have shown off her best assets, they clearly weren’t the professional presentation skills the company was looking for. And while nurses usually have a lot more decorum and a lot more sense, according to the experts, such gaffes are all too common when Joe and Joanna Public apply for their dream jobs. Here are our top 10 tips to make sure your job application stands out from the pack – but for all the right reasons.
1. Boast and brag
All too many recruits fail to talk about what they can do for the company they are applying to. Mark Lester, managing director of Platinum Professional CV Writers, says student nurses should shout about their achievements. “Don’t tell them all the stuff that everyone who is applying for the job will have done,” says Mr Lester. “Depending on the role, be sure to present your relevant technical competencies (such as procedures and equipment you have used), as well as your qualifications (for example, nurse independent prescribing qualifications that you have or are going for), areas of expertise (paediatric, A&E, oncology, mental health) and managerial experience as clearly as possible. Don’t list your job description, show the hirer your potential style – what you’re good at and what you’re known for,” he says.
It may not be possible to list all your skills or experience linked to the employer’s agenda but do try and be mindful of it. So, Mr Lester says, if your target department in a hospital is driving cost reduction, then reference achievements and responsibilities where you have supported change, managed and embedded new ways of working, and identified savings, even if it’s just been shadowing someone on a work placement who has achieved that.
2. Keep it concise but detailed
If you are asked to send a CV, then remember a clinical CV will indicate all of your training and proficiencies in using certain types of equipment, all of which will be vital for a healthcare employer to see in your CV, says James Innes, author of The CV Book, which has a section dedicated to medical CVs. He says that although many jobs are applied for using application forms, CVs are still essential for many vacancies in the healthcare sector. But unlike in other sectors, your CV needs to be more complex, and will usually be longer to reflect that greater detail. He says it’s fine for it to go over the usually accepted two sides, and run to three, four or five pages as you progress through your career and have to add more positions.
3. Design it for the reader
Mr Innes advises that you do the legwork for the reader of your CV, so order the sections so that they are logical, and arranged more or less in order of the value they contribute. He suggests that you include sections on clinical skills, audits, research, presentations, publications and – for when you are more experienced – teaching. But try and keep it concise. Don’t include too much information about research – try to summarise.
4. Include your referees
Many professions don’t include references from the start, but Mr Innes says this is not the case with clinical CVs, which should include details as well as your professional registration, including reference numbers. Mike Ellis, regional director at Hays Healthcare recruitment, says that student nurses who are currently studying may not know what they want to specialise in, but should still gather references from professionals they’ve worked with to help secure employment in the future. “What employers are looking for are professionals who can evidence the work they have done – whether on rotation or placement. Maintaining a strong working relationship with senior nurses or lead clinicians will provide valuable references, and proof of your skills, needed for future applications,” he says.
5. Prove you are commercially focused
Given cutbacks in the public sector, such as natural attrition not resulting in replacements, competition for nursing positions is fierce. What employers are most interested in seeing from candidates at present is commercial skills, says Ellis. “This is because the government is encouraging a stronger partnership between the public and private sector, in a bid to reduce spending, and the notion that many functions will be outsourced to the private sector in the future. Those who can demonstrate commercial mindedness will be valuable to the changing face of healthcare.” For students who don’t have commercial experience, volunteering at a nursing home, charity or domiciliary provider will help gain much needed skills and experience. The next crucial stage is showcasing these skills on your CV effectively; it should be accessible to both public and private sector employers.
6. Tailor your application to each job
Tailor your CV to the specific vacancy you are applying for, rather than using a general CV, says Innes. Lester agrees. “Focus. The CV is about winning an interview, so don’t document your entire life, just what you can do to excel at this job.”
But he urges you to add in the things that make you stand out. “If you have that special talent, tell them. It may make them think they can use your broader experience in ways they had not thought of.”
Detailing what patients you’ve worked with, equipment you’ve used, daily duties you’ve undertaken and clinical practices you’ve worked in will all help the employer to understand where your skills and experience fit into their organisation, says Ellis. He advises that you tailor your CV and application to each job opportunity to help you to stand out from the crowd. “A position in oncology, for example, will require specialist skills, therefore showcase these in your application,” he says. “Refer to specialist clinical and medical professionals, innovative and technological ways of working. Knowledge of topical drugs, treatment or specific equipment always adds credibility and demonstrates your interest and passion.”
7. Adopt an appropriate style
Innes says that “a formal, academic style” usually works best to highlight how professional you are. And he says it is non-negotiable that you have a business-like email address. A jokey address may be fine for arranging nights out with friends, but ensure your account is sensibly named when it comes to job applications.
8. Get right to the heart of the matter
People have limited time to go through hundreds of applications, especially now that jobs are in shorter supply, so give the most interesting, engaging and pertinent facts that sell you first. Don’t expect every prospective employer will get to the end of the application form. You’re writing a job application, not a thriller – so don’t keep them guessing until the end.
9. Spell check
Spell check and get a friend who has an eye for grammar to proofread your CV too. Ellis recommends detailing placements and employment by month and year to help direct employers or agencies more easily to your experience. Make sure your chronology is complete and fill in any gaps. Unexplained absences from work will make people suspicious.
10. Do your research
The Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust receives around 500 applications a week for all its jobs, and a typical band 5 post attracts about 60 to 100 applicants. Nurse recruitment adviser Steve Caddick says that those who stand out from this massive pack are those who have looked into the hospital or unit they have applied to and tailored their supporting statement accordingly. “With newly qualified nurses, I am not interested in the training they have done as it should all be the same, and I am not interested in how they adhere to the NMC Code as that should be a given for every nurse. I want to know what they do differently, and what they will bring. And I also want to be sure they want our job, and will look to see if they have researched the unit and the hospital. If I am going to hire them, I want to know what the trust is going to get out of that individual that they could not get from someone else.” His advice is not to send a blanket email application, but change your supporting statement for every job you apply for.