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Read our top CV tips and learn how to incorporate your qualifications and experience into a winning job application. From qualifying for a degree in nursing to preparing your CV and cover letter as a qualified and experienced nurse - we cover the whole job searching process for all levels of nurses in the UK.
23rd July 2013
Getting qualified for that RGN job
First things first. If you’re serious about getting an RGN job, you need to make sure you’ve got the qualifications to back it up. Politicians nowadays love to take pot-shots at nursing, making it sound like it’s a profession filled with feckless types that swan around drinking tea but, of course, it is not.
This is a 3 year scientific degree course that covers anatomy and medicine in all kinds of areas (such as fractures, chemotherapy, palliative care, haematology and renal treatments to name but a few) and a great deal of time working on wards, getting that practical experience you need to be a good nurse.
Let’s work backwards – To become registered as a nurse, you need a degree in the nursing area you are more interested in. The main four options are children, adults, those with learning disabilities and those with mental health issues. It is also sometimes possible to combine these so you do a degree in, say, child nursing and nursing for those with learning disabilities.
To get a nursing degree, there are a few routes that can be considered. The classic route is GCSEs and A Levels – you’ll need at least 5 GCSEs at C or above with English and Maths included and then A Level grades that total 220-300 UCAS points but some are higher than this (see the UCAS website for more details). For reference, 300 points equate to three B’s. Please note too that some courses will require at least one A as well. Often, you must have a science A Level at C or above too. It’s possible to enter with BTECs, OCR awards, Highers/Advanced Highers and combinations of other qualifications available at colleges or as apprenticeships – it all depends on the subjects and context.
Academics aside for a moment, you need a good level of physical fitness too – I’m not sure how nursing fits in with the legal requirements to make work places accessible for everyone regardless of disability or impairment but there will be some roles that you won’t be able to do unless you have a typical level of good health and ability.
What jobs are good for preparing me for RGN work?
The classic is a Health Care Assistant (HCA) job. You’ll work in health care facilities alongside nurses, supporting them to carry out their role and working closely with patients to attend to their comfort and happiness. This is probably where you’ll best know if nursing is really what you want to do. If you want to work with children, any role that works closely with children will surely help. Perhaps time in a nursery or in support work for children would be a good move to ensure you truly do enjoy their company!
For those with learning disabilities or those with mental health needs, social care and support work with these cohorts will also ensure that you are certain about committing to a career with the specific attendant issues. For all three, any HCA work you can get that is based with these groups will be stellar experience.
Starting the job search
Well, this bit is easy. You’re already in the right place. Nurses.co.uk was launched in 2008 to provide a list of jobs in nursing throughout the UK. We don’t post the jobs on this site. They’re all posted by employers (like BUPA) or recruitment agencies (like HCL nursing).
When you find a job that you want to apply for just hit the Apply button. This will take you through a quick Sign up process (if you’ve not done that before). Once you’ve done that your application will be sent by email to the organisation that posted the job.
You only need to Sign up once. Your details are stored in your CV account on this site so that you can apply for any job on the site quickly and easily.
To Sign up, you’ll need a CV...
CVs and why yours must be fantastic
CVs are your identifying feature – they’re how you show your competencies, experience, qualifications and skills. If you don’t take them seriously, why would an employer ever think you’ll take their job seriously? Your CV will be read by HR departments, managers who are looking for an employee and likely, scanned by a computer too. Because of the latter, there’s a few things you need to consider but we’ll cover that later.
Remember that, as someone looking for an RGN job, you ain’t alone in that. There may be 30 people applying for the same job, depending on where you live and how specialised it is, so your CV really needs to stand out and you as a person must shine through.
So what are the basics of a CV?
The absolute minimum needed by a recruiter to assess you is: your current title with responsibilities, the one you held before that, start and end dates for both and your qualifications. This alone probably won’t get you the job but it’s a good place to start.
There is one more thing we should mention here.
As a jobs board, we see many, many, many CVs and this level of experience has brought a wealth of knowledge about just what makes a good CV.
We have to start at the very beginning – it might sound silly but it bears repeating:
If the employer can’t contact you, you’re never going to get a job. It sounds obvious but there we are. People still forget to ensure these details are correct. Every time you open your CV, take a quick look and think: have you changed your mobile number recently? Do you still check that email address? And, for goodness sake, make sure your email address is formal. No ‘firstname.lastname@example.org’, thanks.
Oh, and whilst we’re at it:
If you’ve ever at all thought ‘Gosh, I didn’t know that word was spelt that way’, get someone to read it. Friends, family….even freelancers online will happily give it the once-over for £5 or £10 – they may even improve it if you ask nicely!
Secondly, drop the pretension. Don’t use long words if you don’t normally use long words. Use long words if they are relevant – like ‘gastrointestinal’ or something – but seeing someone use a complicated word and getting it a bit wrong is not impressive.
Making sure your CV is top-notch – moving from ‘acceptable’ to ‘amazing’
Great CVs hold more than the few bits mentioned above. They make it really easy for your employer to see just how fantastic you are via a few straight-forward areas:
Key skills – These are the job-centric skills you are best at. We can assure you that employers will always want abilities like teamwork, communication, problem solving, leadership, organisation, the ability to work under pressure and perseverance, regardless of the field you’re in. But these aren’t enough.
To stand out further, you need ‘hard skills’ – NG tube insertion, catheterization, IV starts, assessments and so on. These are the parts that will get you the job. By showing that you understand what the job actually requires will be a real boost to your perceived employability.
It has been said that "Having hard skills gets you hired; lacking soft skills gets you fired". Show you know how to do the job in your CV, make sure you’re a decent person towards everyone else as you carry them out and with these together, you’re golden!
Also, you know we talked earlier about computers scanning your CV? Content is where you need to think about this. Go through the job description and person specification carefully – what are they asking you to be able to do? Both hard skills and soft skills will be mentioned. Make sure your CV has these words in them so that the computer can catch your CV as potentially relevant. Think of it as how Google works – it's like the computer is asking for certain search terms, as it were.
Formatting – What not to do
Formatting can be a tricksy area – it’s tempting to try and make yourself stand out with unusual fonts, a picture of yourself or by cramming in as much info as possible.
The key here is ‘white space’ – the blank bits around the words. Things are more readable when you have white space so keep that in mind. Keep your paragraphs short, just like in this section, and use bullet points for competencies, skills and responsibilities. Moreover, there’s a 2-page limit on CVs. 1-page is nice but not entirely feasible these days as we now move between jobs more than we used to. If you can’t get it down to 2 pages then something in there isn’t relevant enough. No matter how much you want to put in certain job roles or certain personal statements, you must be brutal – kill your darlings and just have the most relevant bits.
Secondly, fonts – fonts must be simple. Partially due to stylistic reasons (not everyone likes what you like) and partially because not every computer can display every font. Arial, Times New Roman, Tahoma, Century Gothic, Georgia and Lucida will see you through – stick to these.
Lastly, pictures of yourself (or heaven forbid, ‘relevant’ clipart!) – we don’t do those in the UK. I appreciate it is common in some countries but here, it doesn’t look right. Leave out the pictures – all of them.
On a semi-related note, make sure you save your CV as a .doc file. You can do this by checking the drop-down list below where you type in the file name you want for your CV. This type of file can be read by pretty much any computer or program so it’s a good bet. It would be truly sad if you fell at the first hurdle by having an unreadable CV.
So it looks pretty but what's supposed to be in there?
By now, you should have the basics covered; contact details, a readable format and at least the categories of key skills, key words, duties and responsibilities and continuity of employment/job-seeking, if not the content therein.
But how do we make sure the content is top-notch, too?
First, know this: It's entirely okay to just start again. It's tempting to avoid this as it can seem like hard work but actually, you may find that it's sometimes a relief. Ploughing through it all and trying to thin the facts from the dross can be quite exhausting. Treat yourself by starting a new document, pasting in your contact details and category headers and then enjoying all the lovely white space this brings - ripe for the careful insertion of facts.
Start with jobs First, your most recent job with your competencies, skills, responsibilities and, of course, the dates that you started and finished (where appropriate). Bullet points are your best friend here so use them! Make it’s easy as pie for your employer to see just how marvellous you are.
Next, your professional skills Remember our distinction above between hard skills and soft skills? This is where you put the hard skills. What are the quantifiable, appreciable, real things you can do? Getting on with your team-mates is a given for any successful employee but what equipment can you use? What do you have experience in and with which cohorts of patients?
After this, your education Not your A levels and GCSEs – we don't really need those. We're talking about your degree, work placements and any further professional development. Arguably, the latter is more important than your degree but this will depend on how far along your career path you are. Don't bother to go into detail about your placements unless they are relevant to the job you are applying for. If you've a great deal of CPD (Continuiing Professional Development), you can make this into a separate section.
Finally, references You don't need to put in contact details – just say ' References available upon request'.
Now you've gotten these bits filled, let's polish them.
Job history – You don't need every single job here. Employers often sternly tell you that 'all gaps in employment must be accounted for' but there just isn't space on a modern CV. Just enter your most relevant posts – ones that have the transferable skills for the job you want. Similarly, you should really only be putting in nursing jobs. However, occasionally, you'll have non-nursing jobs that are relevant – perhaps a student HCA job in the area.
It is also likely that you may need to rewrite each job entry a little to make it perfect for each job you apply for. Different jobs will be in different locations with different cohorts and different local pressures – tweak your job details so it shows how exceptionally applicable your experience is. Check each job's person specification and job description to make sure it's on-target.
Your CV is sparkling and you couldn't sound more perfect for the job. It's time to send it off but not before your cover letter is a hard-hitting précis of your perfection.
Let's start with an understanding of just what cover letters are. They aren't a formality where you say 'Dear Sir/Madam, here's my stuff, yeah?'. It's another chance to summarise your CV and again, make it really easy for them to see just why you are the perfect match.
Start by telling them why you're applying for this job and not another – is it the facility, the reputation, the work they they do....? You can add in here about your willingness to relocate, should this be relevant.
Next, talk briefly about how your CPD and qualifications match the needs and expectations of the role. Within this part, you can also talk (modestly, not demandingly) about the professional development you hope the role will bring and specify how this desire will help them in their goals.
After this comes your ambitions for the role – a chance to really outline what you want to do and why you want to do it. Why are you passionate about this area and why will this specific role be absolutely perfect for your ambitions? How does this line up with what they are aiming to do?
Then, a little on personal qualities – the 'soft skills' we talked about above. Don't pretend to be something you're not. There is absolutely no point – the job's got to be right for you, as well as you being right for the job. You'll have enough on your plate with pretending to be outgoing when you're actually quite a restrained person or trying to clown and crack jokes constantly when you prefer a dry sense of humour. Don't go overboard here – it's just a little taster of you to get them interested and to finish the cover letter on a positive note that adds to their interest of you personally, rather than one of the other applicants.
Finally, reiterate how they can get hold of you. And quickly make sure your mobile's voicemail message is nice and professional too.
Again, I've got the basics – now, how do I make it outstanding?
If writing creatively is not your natural style or listing your positive attributes feels like showing off, let's have a little brainstorm. What's great about you? What makes you, you? What would be the answer to ‘What makes you a great nurse who should be considered for this role?’?
Are you confident? Experienced? Motivated? Committed? Diligent? Ambitious? Friendly? Personable?
Do you always go the extra mile? Do you have tremendous attention to detail with nary an uncrossed 't' or undotted 'I' escaping your attention?
I'm sure you're all of these and many more. If your vocabulary skills are temporarily eluding you (and they will because you'll have a touch of nerves), use a thesaurus. This doesn't mean you are to start writing things like: 'I am both loquacious and sesquipedalian' when you mean 'I love to talk to people'. It's just meant to jog your memory and remind you of simple words you wanted but couldn't bring to mind.
I'm a newly-qualified nurse looking for RGN jobs – what do I write for the CPD part?
Talking about CPD is problematic if you don't really have any. For the newbies out there, you must concentrate on your placements and the specific skills your nursing course taught you. This may be harder if you don't have any placements that reflect the job you are applying for – if so, you'll need to find other reasons why you'll be a great worker. It can't just be 'I'm really interested in this', that isn't enough. If you're interested in something you have no experience of, then read a book, read a magazine. You've got to be able to show how you'll save lives and meaningfully increase the quality of life for the patients. For that, you need hard skills, garnered from nursing modules and work placements. If you can't pinpoint these, you may need to accept that the role you're looking at is one for a little further down your career path.
I'm a well-experienced nurse – what should I be writing?
For nurses with lots of experience, it's all about the professional development achievements. You'll have plenty of these because you have to attend courses in order to keep your registration. Hopefully you'll have lots of them because you're so darn interested in and committed to your area of nursing. Making it clear that you're a relevant choice won't be difficult with your years of training.
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