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Be successful in senior job interviews

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Have you ever looked at a job advertisement and thought: 'There's no point in applying for that.
I'm not qualified enough'?

When moving from staff nurse to senior staff nurse to junior sister, there is a natural progression. However, once you begin aspiring to managerial or executive nursing roles it can be difficult to know what is expected of you. You may see yourself at management level in the future but when it comes to taking the leap doubts are common.

Chrystal Fox, recently appointed deputy director of nursing for Doncaster and Bassetlaw NHS Foundation Trust, describes this lack of confidence as the 'imposter syndrome'.

'Although you may think you can't do a job because you don't feel qualified for it, it is important to remember that most people probably feel this way. 'You have to adopt a 'can do' attitude,' she says.

A nurse consultant for five years with a background in A&E, Ms Fox had the skills for the role but still felt daunted. 'It was a very big move to leave a specialty I had worked in since 1989,' she admits. 'I also had to question whether I was up to the demands of the job because it was a huge commitment.'

When moving through the grades, application and interview processes are fairly straightforward. At managerial and executive level, they become a lot more complex. 'From recruitment to interview, it was a real journey for me. It was hard work because it was a very rigorous process,' Ms Fox says.

Having contacted the director of nursing to enquire about the job, Ms Fox submitted her CV to a recruitment firm used by the trust to screen candidates. The process involved a telephone interview and personality profiling and testing. The interview itself lasted for two days. The first day involved four one-to-one interviews with representatives from the PALS service, hotel services, education and human resources.

'This process really worked for me. It facilitated some staff involvement, and they all had their own key questions and criteria. It put me at my ease because I was able to speak to them about real examples of what I'd achieved,' she recalls.

Ms Fox and the other candidates met the hospital matrons and toured the wards. 'It is important to remember when being shown around that it is still all part of the interview process,' she advises. 'So don't ask unnecessary questions just for the sake of it. Also, meeting your competitors can be a confidence shaker, so make sure you contact somebody who will give you a confidence booster beforehand.'

The interview panel on the second day consisted of directors of nursing and human resources, the medical director, a patient representative and a guest director of nursing. The process involved a formal interview and a 15-minute presentation.

'It is important to take a creative and dynamic approach to the presentation,' advises Ms Fox. 'And remember that although the questions are seemingly simplistic in nature, don't give simplistic answers.'

At this level of interview, Ms Fox emphasises that it will be taken as read that you know about professional nursing issues and government policy. It is how you interpret these and relate them to your work that is important - in other words, being able to transfer them from strategic to operational level.

'You can prepare by thinking about things you have achieved at ward level, and how these small-scale projects relate to wider objectives,' Ms Fox suggests.

Above all, she warns against creating a false impression. 'Be genuine and represent a true picture of yourself,' she stresses.

'You will be asked how you would approach or how you would manage something, so don't bluff because it will undoubtedly be detected.'

Play to your strengths but also use your weaknesses to show that you are aware of potential areas for improvement.

To prepare for the interview, Ms Fox recommends reading up on recent and relevant government policy and nursing issues, and gauging a wide variety of views. 'Talk to patient representatives and public health groups, and contact human resources. Be as prepared as you possibly can be.'

Many nurses are apprehensive about a potential lack of patient contact when applying for more senior managerial roles. But Ms Fox believes you can use your senior role to help maintain clinical practice.

'As a nurse consultant, I still had patient contact 50 per cent of the time,' she says. 'You can bring ideas to your senior role to give strength to it and manifest change to make it a clinical and managerial role. It is all about being proactive.'

Keep in mind that it also has to be the right job for you. 'It is a two-way process,' says Ms Fox.

'It has to be a good fit for both parties. Be open, honest and direct because, although you are expected to be competent, it has to feel right for you too.'

'And remember to keep things in perspective, if you don't succeed maybe it just wasn't meant to be.'

Managerial interviews - the do's and don't's

DO be open, direct and honest. Bluffing will only lead to you being found out or ending up in a job you cannot handle

DON'T ask unnecessary questions - think about what you are saying and why

DO prepare as much as you can by doing as much background reading as possible and talking to people

DON'T allow nerves to get the better of you - use them to your advantage to keep yourself sharp

DO something relaxing, such as exercise, walking or deep breathing prior to the interview to stay calm

DON'T let a lack of confidence affect your chances - ask a friend or life coach for a 'pep' talk or use affirmations beforehand and adopt positive body language throughout

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