- 15 January 2019
- 31 min read
Complete career guide for qualified RMNs and mental health nurse students
Are you thinking of becoming an RMN? Or are you already an RMN and want some CV writing tips, or interview hints? Whether you’re wondering what GCSEs you need on your journey to becoming a mental nurse, or require help composing a cover letter for an RMN job, we have all the answers you need.
Welcome to Nurses.co.uk's guide to getting an RMN job!
You'll find we've covered just about everything involved in an RMN career here: from University to CVs to cover letters to interview to CPD and more. Mental Health Nursing is tremendously worthy work to undertake and it's great to have you here, whether you're thinking about getting started or are moving forward with a new role in mind.
For those of you at the beginning, let's get started on how to get your degree!
Getting the most important bit of paper - pre-degree qualifications
To get an RMN nurse job, you must be qualified to degree level.
You'll be working with service users who have very challenging needs and, whilst you may have fantastic experience as a care worker or support worker, there's more to learn yet.
Many universities offer under-graduate degrees in Mental Health Nursing and some offer a combination of RMN as well as one of the other three main nursing possibilities; Adult, Child and for those with Learning Difficulties.
Like other nursing degrees, it requires decent academic attainment.
For those that took the very traditional route of education, you'll need at least 5 GCSE's at C or above, including Maths and English.
UCAS point requirements vary dramatically, depending on where you're looking at.
Courses generally want something along the lines of 260-300 UCAS points. Others may state that a certain number come from just two A levels (e.g. City University London want 180 from just 2 – that is, at least a B and a C).
To get this level of UCAS points, you're looking at something like 3 B's or A/B/C.
Some courses may have minimums instead, like BBB. If you took BTECs at college (and unfortunately, this may not include Early Years BTECs so do check if that's your background), you need to have achieved Merit/Distinction/Distinction.
If English is your second language, your IELTS score must be at least 6.5 with no component scoring less than 5.5.
You'll also need to have a persuasive argument as to why you're fit for this kind of work. “It seems interesting” is not sufficient.
You'll need experience – whether it's paid, voluntary or personal – to demonstrate why you're a good candidate for the course place.
Experience to support your RMN application
As with any professional work that involves a great deal of responsibility for others, you should have experience in the field to ensure it really is what you want to do.
Partially for you, so that you don't waste your time and money but especially for your future service users – they need someone 100% committed to their work.
For RMNs, the best experience to get will be working with those with mental health difficulties. Care work or support work in the area will give you a very true flavour of what it's like to work with your future cohort.
If you don't have the option of changing your actual job, talk to local charities and voluntary organisations to see if you can get some hours at a day care facility or similar.
If you really can't find anything involving people with mental health issues, care and support work in other areas (like for those with learning difficulties or disabilities, homeless people or people with drug and alcohol issues) will bring a lot of the experiences you need; working in challenging situations, dealing with complex psychological and medical needs and getting an idea of what it's like to strive to assist others within the medical and social services systems.
It is however possible to get a place on a mental health nursing course without any prior experience; I myself went into nursing straight out of my a-levels without any prior care experience.
You just need to be able to demonstrate a passion, that you’ve done your research and transferable skills.
CVs and getting them perfect
A good CV is tremendously important for professionals.
At this level of work, reasonable and functional literacy is not too much to assume and as you get further along your career ladder, the kinds of skills that a good CV needs are needed for your roles too!
So, don’t skimp on the CV – do the best you can so your prospective employer can appreciate just what you're capable of.
Another excellent reason to take care with your CV is that they are often scanned by computers to see if they contain the 'correct' words, as a means of paring down the pile.
Even if a computer isn't used during the process, getting the right words in there makes it easier for the reader to consider you a viable option.
Therefore, it is important that we tailor your CV to the job – a somewhat lengthy process but so worth it for both being picked and as preparation for your performance at interview.
A good way to start your CV polishing is to start again with a totally blank CV, believe it or not.
Sometimes, this doesn't appeal but it can be exceptionally useful for making sure you really are only including the cream of the crop.
There are parts of CV content that are oft-debated areas but there are a few that are always correct to include.
These are: your current job title with your responsibilities, the job you had before that with details, start and end dates for both and your qualifications. Get those in and we'll go from there.
The bare minimum
So, you have the skeleton of your CV.
Now, we're going to go back to the very beginning. And you're going to roll your eyes but we must.
As a jobs board, we see many, many CVs and it's just amazing how many there are that mean we must start at the very beginning.
So, here goes.
Does your CV have your name, address, email address and contact telephone on it? I know, I know. But, really. When was the last time you double-checked this? Are you sure everything is correct?
It's important that you have a professional-sounding email address that you can access easily – no 'email@example.com' and no addresses from previous posts that, whilst having a charmingly professional domain name, may become inaccessible if you leave your post before you find a new one.
Also take a moment to check your voice-mail message – is it correct and does it sound professional? Losing the opportunity for work because of a trivial but fundamental oversight would be a shame, wouldn't it?
Another key starting point is your language. Is everything spelt properly and do you use acceptable grammar? Now, are you sure? Are you double-sure? Do the spellings of words ever trip you up?
Perhaps the correct use of double consonants eludes you at times. Or apostrophe insertion?
If you have any doubt at all, get a friend to read it or pay a small fee to an online proof-reader to check it for you. It's worth the time and money.
Conversely, do you have a tendency to over-write? Using unnecessarily complex words is really jarring and we don't recommend it.
Even if it's habitual for you and technically a more accurate representation of 'you', it's important that you understand the use of correct register – that is, choosing the right words for the right situation.
Just because you can use long words doesn't mean you should.
Taking the minimum and making it marvellous
Having covered the basics of contact, employment, qualifications and good English, it's time to ratchet up a notch.
Good CVs have several other categories of information that you can either have as standalone categories or woven into others.
These are your key skills, duties and responsibilities using key words drawn from the job posting's documents.
- Key skills
These are divided into two categories – 'hard' and 'soft'. It is said that 'having hard skills gets you hired, lacking soft skills gets you fired' and no doubt you'll see why!
Soft skills are the behavioural traits that describe good workers – leadership, team work, organisation, reliability. They are all important to have but don't feel that these will get you the job alone.
Being on time and polite to your colleagues (no matter personal feelings) don't make you special – they're the bare minimum of a professional, after all.
To stand out, we need 'hard skills'! What is it that you can actually do?
Things like catheterization, assessments and NG starts, you know? Look at the job description, think back to your job history and training and see where the parallels lie.
Make sure these are included using the standard naming conventions so it's easy for employers to see where your strengths and training lie.
- Duties and responsibilities
These are pretty straightforward – you need to go back through your career and summarise what you needed to do in each post. Nothing too hard but do make sure you don't gabble at length.
Bullet points can be great for keeping longer sentences nice and neat; shorter pieces can be linked with commas or semi-colons.
Working it together
So, your CV now has all the important categories lined up and ready for filling along with an idea of the content to go in – contact details, education, employment history, duties and responsibilities therein and key skills, all in good English.
But how to mesh it all together to make a really great CV?
Let's work through each category
- Contact details
Your contact details will be at the top, almost certainly right-justified and with your name perhaps a little larger to stand out. You may also consider having your NMC pin here too.
- Your personal statement You may or may not decide to include this – some argue it's largely a waste of time that takes away space from the CV by repeating already said.
Others say it makes your skills quickly accessible to a rushed reader who's working through a big pile of CVs. If the latter rings true for you, insert it after your contact details, centre justified and no longer than 4 sentences.
As with any CV, the next part is your job history. Begin with your most recent or current job, stating start and end dates, employer and a short description of your duties and responsibilities.
Next comes your nursing jobs prior to this. Now, depending on your years of service, you may have many of these! If there are a great deal, consider cutting back to those that just support your application for the particular job you're shooting for.
Alternatively, if you're very new to nursing, you may want to include non-nursing jobs that prove your ability in the field – support worker jobs, HCA jobs or care jobs will all look good here.
You may find it best to rewrite different jobs based on your prospective post to reflect the different needs that role has – don't be afraid to emphasise different experiences or learning opportunities as needed and always keep the job description and person specification handy when doing so!
Next, a section on your professional skills. And here we mean 'hard skills', rather than the softer ones.
Tell your employer what it is that you can do. Include everything you can that matches the job description and anything else you think may be appreciable.
Things relating to types of equipment, standard procedures, different software, methodologies and pathways or specific skills relating to specific patient cohorts.
After skills, we can talk a bit about where you got them! Now, remember – by this stage, you don't need your GCSEs or BTECs or A Levels or anything like that.
Instead, we need to focus on your degree, further CPD and your relevant work placements.
Again, don't squeeze every possible instance in here – keep it relevant and job-specific.
Alternatively, if you're a well-rounded nurse, feel free to make CPD a separate section so your skills can really shine! -References Finally, references.
No contact details needed here, just write something like 'References available upon request'
Once you've filled everything in, it's time to make sure that it looks fantastic and is ultra-readable.
When we consider the number of applicants for posts, you might find yourself wanting to really make yourself stand out with bright colours, unusual fonts, pictures or 'striking' borders. Don't.
It will look terrible.
CVs are not the domain in which to display the complexities of your personality. The most important thing here is to make life easy for the reader.
Make it easy to see why you're the best choice. Keep the fonts standard and no bigger than 12 point, avoid borders and don't include any pictures.
We mentioned bullet points above as useful punctuation for wrestling your content into handy bite-sized chunks.
Another trick is that of 'white space' – the unfilled areas around your short paragraphs and sentences. Our brains love white space as it allows us to process information simply and effectively.
When we're presented with crammed and busy information, we struggle to understand things properly. Increase your white space by keeping paragraphs short (no more than a few sentences) and use bullet points for short sentences.
It's also important to keep your CV to 2 pages as a maximum. If you're going over this limit, you're trying to get too much in – find a way to strip it back and be honest with yourself about the true usefulness of each statement.
Don't go for a splatter-attack where you hurl every possible piece of evidence at the employer.
Keep it simple and stick to the most important things.
Another important thing to think about for both CVs and cover letters is the file format!
If you're word-processing on Word, this probably won't be an issue but if you're using open-source software, make sure that you save it as a .doc file so everyone can read it.
Much like having bad spelling, it would be a real shame if you lost your opportunity merely because the interviewer couldn't open your document!
Writing the basics of a brilliant cover letter Next comes the writing of the cover letter!
You've gotten your CV looking fantastic with your skills shining through and appropriate, helpful formatting that makes life easier for the reader.
To send this off, you need an equally appealing cover letter that summarises just how essential it is that you are hired above anyone else.
It's easy to see cover letters as a vaguely-redundant and annoying procedure where you just sort of restate everything and ask nicely for an interview.
However, written well, cover letters can be so much more than this!
This is another opportunity to write a well-targeted summary about how you and the job will mesh beautifully.
- Why this job especially?
Start with a short paragraph about why you want this job and no other. Is it their company attitudes, the cohort they work with, the methods they use or perhaps their reputation?
There are lots of reasons a company is appealing – try to tone down the personal benefits therein unless it's to do with professional development (as opposed to the holiday allowance or staff gym!)
- How your CPD makes you a great fit Next, restate your training opportunities and be sure to draw their attention to how it fits the role needs as well.
This is also a good opportunity to talk intelligently about the CPD (continuing professional development) you hope to do in the upcoming months and years – hopefully, your plans do genuinely match the role but be sure to include (genuine!) aims that you think that will impress them and bolster your role as RMN.
- Future development in the role For the following paragraph, paint them a picture of how you'll settle in and move forward in the role.
Why does this job appeal to you professionally? How do you intend to progress and what makes you feel passionate about the opportunity to take on this post? And as always, be clear about the parallels between your desires and the job's needs.
- What makes you personally so very lovely?
Last, a chance to get 'you' across. As we've talked about before, 'soft' skills aren't especially impressive during the evidence-based line-up of the CV but for the cover letter, you can absolutely pop in a few qualities.
Finish the letter by giving them a flavour of who you are.
Are you gentle and considered? Or maybe hard-hitting and driven? Why do colleagues appreciate you and in what way do you fit into a team? Still keep it professional – no jokes about how you always bring in cake – but you can certainly dial down the register a smidge and let a little friendliness through here.
This will help the reader develop a spot of emotional attachment to the sterile (but of course impressive!) skills mentioned before.
- Contact details
Finally, be sure to reiterate how they can get in contact with you if they have any questions. Email address and phone number will do nicely – not every possible option, just the two main ones.
Improving it further
This section is for those that worry about their English skills as there are all kinds of ways our English can let us down (whether we're native or not!). Good writing here can also be affected by our inclination to avoid showing off.
Many of us are strongly encouraged not to boast – to the point that saying anything positive about yourself is thought of as boasting!
So take a moment with a cup of tea and a pad of paper and let's think about you.
Why are you good? You haven't given up, shrivelled up into a ball and renounced the world quite just yet so you must think deep down that there's something worthwhile present!
Brainstorm some adjectives – are you friendly? Reliable? Dedicated? Diligent? Organised Focused? Confident?
Another important writing technique is to use the active and not the passive voice.
The difference between active and passive is as follows:
Active – I was responsible for medication administration.
Passive – Responsibility for medication administration was held by me.
The latter comes across terribly to a reader – it sounds weak, unsure and isn't particularly enjoyable to read.
Don't make the mistake of thinking it sounds more formal because it's used for reporting in news media.
It doesn't sound right in a cover letter or CV. Keep it active so you sound positive and confident.
If you haven’t got any CPD yet because you’re newly qualified, that's okay – there is an option there for you! For very new RMN nurses, you need to use your work placements and degree knowledge as your CPD.
Still use the job description and person specification to focus the information you provide, as you would for CPD.
Getting that invitation to interview and getting ready!
Congratulations! If you're this far, you've gotten your invitation to interview and you're ready to prepare.
There are several simple things that anyone needs to do for interview as well as some other things that nurses should especially focus on.
Let's start with the basics that everyone needs to think about for interview preparation.
- Checking your route
It's easy to discount this one if you know the area well but, seriously, just double-check there aren't any roadworks, bus route changes, engineering works or tube strikes planned for the day.
If you're driving, check your fuel the day before – it's easy to assume that a fill-up won't take long but why risk it?
Sort it all out the day before so the next day is easy-peasy.
- Lay out your outfit
It may well be worth checking this kind of thing right at the start of your job hunt.
After all, you're going to wear formal wear and it's entirely possible you need something dry-cleaned – maybe your suit, maybe your coat, maybe a tie?
Once that part's covered, make sure the rest is all washed, dried and ironed the day before and hanging up ready for you on the day.
Similarly, don't try and do any complex grooming on the day or worse, get a haircut on the day!
These things have a way of either snowballing the amount of time it takes or just making you look worse and diminishing your confidence. Either stick to what you know or get it done days beforehand.
- Remember to relax!
Interviews are a psychological issue as well as one of organisation and information. Prepare yourself.
Give yourself enough to do everything so you're not a frantic, sweaty mess and try and do a little something for yourself the day before.
Work out, have a hot bath, get a massage, do your nails – whatever makes you happy and feel more appreciative of yourself.
You need to sell yourself on the day so doing something that emphasise your personal worth will help.
- Get some practice in
Now don't groan – you should do some role play!
Just one run through with a trusted friend. Make the simple mistakes before the day in order to erase your 'umms?' and remove your blank stares
- Looking the part
No, not dressing up again but making sure you can make appropriate eye contact. And whilst we're at it, body language in general. It's important to be able to make reassuring levels of eye contact and hold yourself appropriately.
As a RMN candidate, it's likely you are highly aware of these kinds of concerns due to your training but make sure your buddy double checks it during your role play.
- Stay positive Another area where people sometimes let themselves down is in the framing of their answers. We don't always find it natural to toot our own horns and end up sounding negative instead.
Don't worry, we're not suggesting you are over the top but do make sure you can answer questions about yourself without being self-deprecating, overly jokey or just straight-up sounding ashamed of yourself.
Again, role playing is a great opportunity to catch this!
- Check for competency tests
Finally, phone ahead of time to find out if there will be any competency tests. It's not very likely in RMN nursing interviews but do check – there's nothing worse than suddenly being faced with an interview competency test, I promise you!
- Information gathering
Next comes your information gathering. Life will be so much easier if you get data research and answer compilation out of the way.
It will increase your confidence and prevent the old rabbit-in-the-headlights feeling at interview. Find out the values or ethos of the trust you’re applying to work in, then try to work these themes into your answers to questions to show them that you’re a good fit for the trust as well as the role.
First, we need to know a bit about the place. What's their history and why were they started in the first place? What patient cohorts do they have most experience with and is there any part of their treatment which is unusual or notable in any way?
Learn about them so you aren't surprised by any references at interview. This is also a good time to formulate intelligent questions about the role with regards to organisational culture.
- Official reports Checking out reports on the employer is also an excellent way to prepare yourself again. Indeed, this would be a good step before you even start the whole application process – find out if they are actually an attractive organisation to work for!
There should be CQC reports available on the CQC website and the organisation may well have released a report in answer. These reports can then be used to assess how the organisation sees itself and deals with challenges and problems.
Defend your choice It is extremely likely they will want to know why you've applied for the job. You'll have gone into this briefly in your cover letter but make sure you have a few good sentences on exactly why you want this role. Memorise them and practice delivering them.
A summary of you and your past few jobs
In addition to the 'Why this job?' question, they'll definitely ask about you as well. Don't be fooled into thinking that this is a question about your hobbies – that's not the point of this question.
They want to know about what you've been doing for the past few years. Sentences on prior roles or your degree and placements plus the skills gained therein will do very nicely.
Again, simple and concise answers are good here.
Another possible answer you should prepare is that of your career goals. You’re likely have an idea about how you want to continue your role for the next few years so summarise it attractively.
You can talk about future CPD goals and stepping on the next rung of the career ladder. Just make sure it meshes with the opportunities the job provides or you won't seem like a reliable or attractive candidate!
Being clear about your knowledge, experience, skills, abilities
Preparing this area won't be too hard as writing your CV will already have gotten these pretty straight. But, it is important that you can both remember and deliver these points well.
Just to be clear, your knowledge is the actual things you know about; your experience refers to the times you put things into practice; skills refers to your 'hard skills' (i.e. the discipline's actual and useful procedures you can carry out) and abilities go hand in hand with experience in that you can specify demonstrable things you can do.
A nice way to make sure you've gotten everything rounded up for these is to use the STAR method; Situation, Task, Action, Result. Past experiences and relating them to the job's needs.
Once you've 'STARred' your past experiences, knowledge, skills and abilities, you must cross-reference them with the job's needs and desired qualities.
This kind of information won't necessarily be asked for separately so think hard about when and where you'll weave it into your answers.
And where do you let yourself down? An unpleasant question – 'Tell me about your weaknesses'.
I don't know about you but I hate this one. However, it's not hard to compile a good answer that both meets what they are looking for and still makes you sound like a viable candidate.
Nowadays, the general method for this question is to wrap it up in positivity. You find a genuine weakness but focus on how you are overcoming it.
So, for instance, you may find that you are quite anxious dealing with self-harm, but you’re over-coming this by doing more research on the area so you can better understand the motive behind it and interventions that work to reduce self-harm.
Your thoughts on topical issues
It is quite possible (especially for higher-level jobs) that you'll be asked about current issues in the sector. Hopefully, you do keep up-to-date with this, either from colleagues or an industry magazine.
If you don't, be sure to start following the news in the weeks of your job search. If legislation changes, a scandal occurs or the government makes a controversial statement, you need to know about it and have some reasoned, thoughtful opinions on the subject.
Your prospective employer may want to know how you think issues can be combated, aided and prevented. In the case of controversial opinions or statements, they'll want to know if and why you agree.
RMN continuing professional development – moving on and up!?
As a RMN nurse registered with the NMC, you are obligated to undertake Continuing Professional Development to keep your registration and therefore practice as a nurse.
You must complete 5 days of study every 3 years and there's all kinds of ways you can meet this modest requirement. If you don't have time to attend proper courses, you can take part in distance learning or e-learning courses.
If you do have time, try local universities for part-time courses in your area.
Your place of work may also organise training days for the team or you may choose to attend something like a prescribing forum.
The areas in which CPD can be taken are diverse, too. If you want to go into research, you may well want to go back to university for further study; if you want to get into health care management, then again university can be a good bet.
Websites for organisations like the Royal College of Nursing and British Medical Journal have online CPD modules to increase your practical knowledge surrounding specific illnesses, diseases or disorders and the management thereof.
- Typical nursing job paths
Once you've graduated, you'll undertake a probationary period where you are supported to gather the requisite skills. Then, having worked as a staff nurse for some years, you have the option to move to team leader/deputy ward manager.
After this, there are many, many options for nurses and plenty in RMN nursing alone.
The NHS divides your options into clinical, management, education and research – that is, staying within a health care organisation to provide front-line care, facilitating the provision of health care, training the new crop of nurses or increasing our understanding of how to approach and treat different issues.
If you want to follow the clinical path, you'll need to return to university for postgraduate work which will allow you to become a nurse practitioner and then nurse consultant.
Alternatively, you may specialise in an area like district nursing, practice nurse or sexual health nurse. If you want to work in education, you'll teach for a while and eventually work your way to course design and deliverance alongside achieving a Ph.D.
Similarly, nursing management will involve qualifications and experience in managing teams up to leading teams of professionals, policy and strategy development or facilitating systems that support others to carry out the aims of the team.
We do hope this has been truly useful for both those who are considering work in RMN jobs or those who are somewhere along the career path and looking to take the next step.
If it has, let us know on our Facebook or Google + pages or drop us a line by email.
Good luck in all your applications – we know you'll do well!