Improving CV and interview techniques for practice nurses
Whether you are trying to make your first break into practice nursing or have several years’ expertise under your belt, applying for a job in a general practice takes a lot of time and careful preparation. This article will guide practice nurses on CV and interview preparation, and will also tackle the key considerations to take when applying for a new job in general practice.
Consider the working environment
A good starting point is to consider the type of environment and role that best suits commitments outside of work. For example, some individuals may thrive in a large practice covering a population of 20 000, with a team of GPs, practice nurses and health care assistants. Alternatively, others may prefer to work for a small or single-handed practice.
Personal circumstances may limit the individual to an inner city or rural practice. However, regardless of the intended audience, candidates will need to tailor their application to show how they would fit within the practice environment.
For example, applying for a job in a large practice may require a prospective practice nurse to show his/her love of team working, leadership, mentorship and change management. A small practice may place more value on candidates who demonstrate their ability to work autonomously, without a network of supportive colleagues.
The first clues to the type of nurse sought by the practice are the job description and person specification. Try to arrange an informal visit to find out more about the practice profile, the team, the role and whether you can visualize yourself in the job.
Many employers request a CV and covering letter. The overriding principles of a CV are that it should be tailored to the target audience, and must be as logical, accurate and concise as possible.
Think carefully about whether the information presented on the CV demonstrates capability to do the job. Contact details should only take up a small amount of space on the CV, and there is no need to mention nationality, date of birth or marital status.
It is well worth providing an opening statement which summarizes the main attributes that you have. For example:
A registered nurse with 10 years’ general practice nurse experience. Specialist knowledge and qualifications in managing long term conditions, mental health, travel health, women’s health, preventive health care and treatment of minor illnesses. A competent leader, with experience of managing a team and developing nursing services for inner city populations of up to 15,000.
This can be followed by a few bullet points under the heading ‘Key skills and achievements’. This list may include up to eight statements which will catch the employer’s eye. This can include any initiatives developed, awards received, types of clinics run or clinical competencies achieved.
Competency vs chronological
A competency CV organizes experience under relevant headings that are appropriate to specific competencies identified by the job description, e.g. communication, team leadership, and delivering a quality service.
Under each heading, add bullet points of specific examples and achievements. This format is useful if competencies have been indentified that are attractive to the general practice. A separate section should list the dates of jobs held and education completed.
Alternatively, a chronological CV organizes experience in date order, working backwards. It is easy to formulate, but the recent employment history should include bullet points of specific competencies and achievements.
Details should be provided of formal qualifications, but avoid listing every study day attended. Instead, summarize with a statement which groups informal study into themes. For example, ‘attended over 20 study days covering areas such as health and safety, infection control and anaphylaxis update.’
A portfolio can include more detailed information, and a similar technique can be used to summarize less relevant jobs held in the early part of your career.
Recent gaps in employment should be explained, for example, to raise children, study or travel. Examples which highlight transferable skills, such as those gained through voluntary work or community activities, should be provided.
Grammar and spelling
To ensure your CV is grammatically correct, easy to read and free of unintelligible jargon, ask a few reliable friends or professional colleagues to proof read the CV and give feedback.
A covering letter is essential and should act as a ‘supporting statement’, particularly in the absence of an application form. The letter should stipulate why you have applied for the job, and it should expand on the information provided in the CV.
An interview is like a performance and, like all performances, success depends on practice. The person specification, job description and informal visit should help you to identify potential interview questions.
Using examples from experience
Start by writing down examples from experience which demonstrate the competency requirements for the post. These can be around dealing with a difficult communication problem, making a clinical decision, using your initiative or teaching. Use the STAR technique to describe the:
- Target, e.g., what you were trying to achieve
- Action, e.g., what you did to meet your target
- Result, e.g., what you learnt if the outcome was less than perfect.
Why do you want the job?
Candidates should be prepared to be asked why they want the job, and state what they would enjoy about the role, what has impressed them about the practice from previous research, and how the job fits in with their career plans.
Consider how you will address the concerns that the practice may have about employing you. For instance, if you have very little practice nursing experience, be prepared to demonstrate how you have adapted quickly to new environments in the past. Rehearse examples of using transferable skills, such as assessment, chronic disease management, health promotion and reducing clinical risks.
Tricky questions, such as ‘Tell us about a situation that did not work out well’ can be dealt with by showing your ability to reflect and learn from negative experiences and putting these examples firmly in the past, saying what you would do differently next time and how you have addressed learning needs since.
Questions for the panel
Prepare questions to ask the panel which demonstrate your interest in the role and your development. Of course, you will want to know about terms of employment, but detailed negotiations on salary are best left to the next stage of the recruitment process.