by Lucy Osborn MACN (ENL)
This column, The Scrubs that Fit, is all about the highs and lows of being a junior nurse, from the perspective of an ACN Emerging Nurse Leader. The aim of these blog posts is to help ease the transition from university to grad years and beyond. Find Lucy on ACN’s neo and or Instagram @aussie_nurses.
In this article I will include the basic but important parts of applying for the glorious graduate position. My third year of nursing school was my busiest for co-curriculum and applications, I spent my year topping up my resume with anything that would make my application stand out and sending my resume to every hospital I could. Luckily the work load was a little less this year and I could focus a lot of my energy on applications, which I think is why I was lucky enough to receive an offer. Applying for grad positions is long and hard, but totally worth it, whether you gain a position or you do not. I applied for grad positions in Melbourne (unsuccessful), Sydney (interview stage), Queensland (unsuccessful), Tasmania (unsuccessful) and Adelaide (position acquired). My advice is to apply everywhere so you are likely to have a backup. If you are lucky enough to get more than one offer you can always say no to the less suitable one, but be aware do not leave applications to the last minute, there are a lot of documents required for each individual application and each hospitals’ requirements will be slightly different and will have different opening and closing dates.
One of the most important things is the covering letter. It is the first thing a potential employer will read and it will create a lasting impression. The covering letter needs to include a brief introduction that outlines your qualifications and your career objectives. One page is the perfect size and is to be set out like a professional letter. Ensure you know the exact person or group of people you are sending your application to and address it personally to them. This letter needs to be hospital specific, do some research on the area and hospital you are applying for. Understand their goals and philosophies and weave them into your application. Be aware of the hospitals value system and ensure you mention the key points and how you will practice them every day, researching this is also great interview preparation. Include a brief sentence about why you have chosen to apply for the job and outline the reasons you are suitable for the position. Include a “thank for your consideration” or something along those lines, be concise and clear.
Things to include:
- Professional summary
- Contact details of you and the Hospital you are addressing to
- Career objectives
- Grade Point Average
- Key achievements
- Clinical placements
- Professional experience
- Other employment
- Interests or hobbies
- Header and footer with name, date and the position
- A brief, but concise, sentence or two that outlines your goals, ideals and aspirations
- Aside from your cover letter, this is the first information the employer will see and it will set the tone for your entire application
- Use key phrases here (such as professional standards, therapeutic relationships, continuing professional development )
- Most places like a photo, no not a selfie, a professional (or at least semi-professional) photo, I used my passport photo
- Current phone number
- Professional email
- Address, at least your state if you are uncomfortable providing personal details
- This is a great place to show your goals and long term focuses
- Sometimes these can be hospital specific
- Use professional words and phrases
- Maximum of 4-5 goals
- Short and sweet, around a sentence long each
- An example of one for Graduate applications: “To continue to develop professionally, ensuring the gold standard of care for my patients and professional standard for my work place.”
- Other continued learning
Grade Point Average:
- This is the average score of your university grades
- Some applications will require a full transcript
- A fabulous place to show off, this is where all your hard work and extra development goes
- Use key points and learning objectives
- Use the power of reflection
- If you are like me and have a fair few of these to include keep it precise or only use the most relevant for each hospital or specific area you intend to work in
- If you only have a couple, feel free to elaborate on them to emphasise the achievement
- Include hospital name, ward and specialty
- The time spent on each placement
- Special skills that you gain whilst on these placements
- If you have worked as a nurse or AIN before include that here
- This can be excluded if you are new to the work force
- This may seem irrelevant but this can show a variety of skills and attributes
- Keep this section fairly small, only include jobs that lasted more than a year and write those with skill development and detail
- Include the year you started and finished, or if still current, the time needed to resign
Continuing professional development:
- Any CPD work you have completed
- Any further learning/ accreditations (cannulation course, BSL)
Interests or hobbies:
- Great place to include volunteer work
- Hobbies that show commitment and or leadership are great here.
- Make sure the number and email address you provide is current and correct
- Include the references position (I.e. NUM, manager, supervisor, preceptor)
- You need someone that is reliable, relevant and will give you a great reference
Things to exclude:
- Family arrangements
- Financial status
- Political views
In summary, ask yourself over and over, is this relevant? Will this increase or decrease my chances of landing a job? Do not be afraid to show them your full potential. Do not hold back.
Interviews will vary enormously from hospital to hospital and state to state, research the particular one you are going to and prepare yourself for that. We are lucky that we have a supportive network around us, jump online, social media and find some nursing websites in the state in question, here you will find lots of people asking and answering questions about what they have experienced and what they expect.
I had an interview for a graduate position interstate and it was nothing like I expected, it was based around clinical assessments and nothing about me personally. This was surprising; surely they could ask me clinical questions in the application process and would want to learn about me personally when they could actually see me. The process of the interview was daunting, it worked in stations. We were called out one by one to fill out any paper work and be checked off on certain areas of our application. Once this stage was complete we were called “upstairs” one by one to wait, again, to be interviewed by the application board. They asked 10 clinical questions each that could be marked for 5-10 points. Example “You walk into a patient’s room and notice a new rash, what infection control precautions would you implement?”
The key to nailing these questions is to be precise and answer the question and nothing more. What I mean by that is; my example is specifically asking for infection control precautions, so you only need to explain about the infection control step you could/would do.
Like any interview take a breath before you answer, think about the key words in the question and model your answer on what you would do in a real life situation and speak about that.
Sometimes hospitals will conduct group interviews. These can include work stations where you will be asked to show clinical skills and have a group conversation around clinical scenarios. I honestly find these harder than an individual interview as I never know whether to be a strong character and answer every question or to seem more the team player. My advice is to answer everything you are certain of and see if you can involve others in what you are saying to show you can work in a team. If a peer answers a question, a good way to become involved is by agreeing with them and then adding to their answer.
Other hospitals may do individual interviews that are probably more like a normal job interview with a mixture of clinical and personal questions. I had interviews like these when applying for positions after my graduate year. They can be intimidating because of the close quarters, but try and relax and be yourself.
Overall the most important things to remember are to be calm and be prepared. Graduate applications are about showing potential and willingness to learn and be a part of the team. You are not expected to know everything, the only thing you are expect to know is how to find an answer and how to critically think/assess.
My top tips for interview preparation are:
- Research your hospital
- What kind of demographic does it service, what are their most common admissions and what are their key performance indicators? Once you know these you can then prepare likely clinical scenarios and attributes that are most applicable
- Bring a full print-out of every document they required for submission of application
- Dress smart business. I understand this is hard for most nurses as we are used to uniforms or scrubs, but nice work pants and a plan top should suffice. I tend to dress as if going to work on the floor, by this I mean, hair tied up away from my face, closed shoes and bare below the elbows.
- Be punctual
- If you don’t know the answer to a question be honest
- Ask them to repeat the question or explain a term if you didn’t understand
- In the context of a clinical question, you can say something along the lines of, I am unsure but will follow this path to find the answer, for example, asking buddy nurse, self-directed research, escalation of care
Other things to keep in mind for preparing your application are your workbooks or comments books for university placements – these are often required for graduate application. If I could change anything through my time at university, I would have put a lot more effort into my placement reflections and comment book. I would tend to rush through them and I wasn’t thorough when writing. Being able to competently reflect is an important skill as a nurse and a great place to be able to show you can do it is whilst on placements, network. Meet whoever is in charge of graduate applications, introduce yourself and show your enthusiasm. Have a good relationship with your facilitator on placements, they are great people to someone you can trust and openly talk to throughout your placements and also have as references. Keep your vaccinations and police checks up to date and have all your documentation and proof of these handy. Apply for your APHRA registration as soon as you are able to, currently this is 6 weeks before the completion date of your course. I encourage you all to seek feedback post your acceptance or rejection, if you are not successful, you have still gained so much experience in applications, especially if you are able to get feedback.
Do not give up if you do not get a position straight away, some places will do second and third round offerings and there is always next year or you can start applying for non-graduate jobs within nursing. A common misconception I found during this process, is a lot of my peers thought that if you did not complete a graduate year you could not work as a nurse, this is not true. It will be very disappointing if you don’t get a position, but not the end of your career. Many of my friends and peers were unlucky, but they ALL have jobs and or are study further in the similar field, i.e. midwifery.
Good Luck and work hard, it is never too early to start being aware.
Did you find this interesting? Read the rest of Lucy’s The Scrubs that Fit posts.