A few years ago, a report by the nursing research unit at King’s College University, London found that the NHS is failing its ambitious nurses. A few years into their careers - despite the profession’s high vacancy rate - many nurses are not where they envisaged they would be.
In the ‘good old days’, climbing the career ladder was simple for the diligent and patient. You kept your head down, worked hard and eventually a vacancy appeared, allowing you to take the next step. The journey was a gradual ascension through the ranks to the post of sister or even matron, where you might remain for the rest of your career.
Now, it is a different story. Rapidly changing roles are offering nurses ever-increasing choices. Ambition and hard work no longer seem to be enough. However, by paying attention to key areas of your career, you can secure your dream job.
Career planning is the essence of success. It will help you to progress because it allows you to develop ideas about what you would like to be doing in the future. As author Max Eggert states in his book, The Perfect Career, ‘goals and targets turn dreams into reality’.
Most senior roles require nurses to possess a range of experience and skills including clinical specialism, research, management and education. Therefore, planning and goal-setting are of paramount importance. They allow you to obtain the experiences and qualifications you need.
Without planning, you may find you reach your destination without the appropriate baggage and are therefore unable to apply for the ultimate job.
So what can you do immediately to help you progress? First, gradually ensure that you have knowledge and competence in every aspect of your current role. This may mean gaining new skills in addition to perfecting some old ones. It could require you to study, either informally, formally or both; and either through your employer, higher education institution or by yourself.
Be active in finding out about other jobs that are related to your current position. This will give you a greater understanding of what your colleagues do and will also help you to develop working partnerships.
When you have decided on the position you want to be promoted to, talk to people already in the same post or a similar one. Find out about the role in detail - ask how they gained promotion and what pathway they followed, and see how it compares with your current route. This will help you to make contacts and start networking in the area you want to move into.
There may be an opportunity for secondment. This would enable you to gain insight into the realities of the job and could help you when completing an application form and discussing the role at interview. First-hand experience may also stop you making a career move you could regret later.
A good employee is one who will do the job well, can be relied on, is punctual, neat and has a professional approach. You will know many nurses who fit this description, so how else can you stand out?
One way of making your mark is to take on extra tasks. For example, opportunities may arise to participate in project work. Do not hesitate to volunteer if you feel you could successfully carry this out.
Sometimes staff are asked to give talks to a range of individuals and groups. This is another opportunity to volunteer. You will need to gather information and prepare the talk so that it is at an appropriate level to suit the audience.
Carrying out projects and giving talks have several benefits. They ensure you continue to gather knowledge about your area of work. They also give you a good reason to develop skills, such as using PowerPoint software for presentations, to display materials or produce handouts for the audience.
Giving presentations is something that many people find challenging, but confidence and competence grow with practice. Most senior positions involve giving presentations from time to time, so it is useful to gain experience as early as possible.
If there are few opportunities to give presentations, you could come up with one yourself. Assess and analyse your work situation and see if there is anything that would benefit from being done differently. Talk with colleagues and gather their views. Produce an outline plan and discuss this with your manager.
He or she may be prepared to allow you to implement change. This could lead on to you giving presentations at conferences or writing for professional journals. You will not only have contributed towards improved patient care, but you will also have raised your profile within your employing organisation - and the wider professional arena.
All these activities need to be recorded in your professional portfolio. This will help you to discuss your career aspirations and progress at your next appraisal. It will also make any application for promotion you submit stand out from the rest.
Be systematic about searching for your next post. Networking may help inform you when a particular post is becoming available. The nursing press and the internet is a source of job advertisements. And you can register with websites that inform you when vacancies arise, such as Job Alert at www.nursingtimes.net
Once you have seen a post that interests you, find out as much as you can about the position, the organisation and the people who you will be working alongside.
Make sure your application is clear, accurate and concise and prepare for the interview. Remember, as Max Eggert says: ‘Give the job your best, learn as much as you can, contribute as much as you can and when both these things are done it is then time to move on.’
Five ways to get promoted:
Develop a career plan and review this regularly. Make changes as your circumstances change.
Take all opportunities for continuing professional development, even the ones you may not have included in you career plan.
Develop networking skills, particularly with people who are in a position you aspire to.
Do more than your job requires of you. Volunteer to give talks, get involved with project work.
Raise your profile within your employing organisation and in wider professional circles.