Healthcare Job Hunting Guidance
Healthcare degrees are some of the few courses with directly related career pathways. There is therefore often an expectation that you will walk into the perfect job as soon as you graduate, especially since the recent publication of the number of unfulfilled roles which has been widely discussed in the media.
Unfortunately, things are rarely this easy. Most people will secure their job during the final year of their degree. The vast majority find their jobs in the last 3-6 months of their degree. When you should start looking also depends on the sort of job you want. If you know you can only live/work in a certain area or want to work in a very specific role, it is useful to start looking early and enquire about any possible future vacancies.
In previous decades, the vast majority of nurses would gain a post in the hospital (or even the ward) that they trained on. Whilst a minority still do this, it is much more common for nurses to go through a formal application process and have to search for jobs on their own.
How do I search for jobs?
Finding job listings are very easy, but finding the full range of available jobs is actually very difficult. One of the first places most people look is the NHS Jobs website. There is a separate NHS Jobs website for jobs in Scotland, if you would like to look there. Both of these sites only show the jobs which are available to external candidates which have been approved for advertisement. If you are a member of the nurse bank, you may be able to apply for internal vacancies in your trust.
What about the private sector?
The NHS forms just a small part of employers for those working in the healthcare profession. You may also want to consider long-term care settings, private hospitals, private clinics, research facilities, intermediate care, insurance nursing and so on, which do not appear in the NHS jobs listing. If you are interested in these types of job, it helps to know which area you want to work in, and to look on the individual websites of employers you have identified. Unfortunately this can take some time, and websites are often not up to date. If there is a specific job you want, such as hospice nursing, for example, it would be wise to contact the hospices in the area and enquire as to whether they are expecting any job openings.
There are lots of rumours that it is hard to move out of the private sector once you’re in it. This, to some extent, is true. However, it certainly isn’t impossible, and most NHS nurses will have done at least a short stint in a private company. There are pros and cons to both options. Generally the structure of agenda for change and pensions make the NHS an appealing option, whereas in the private sector you generally get less pay for unsocial hours but higher salary overall, and more additional benefits like bonuses, but a poorer pension. This is, of course, a vast generalisation and it’s important to look at jobs in both areas and weigh up the difference. Nursing in the private sector can be very rewarding, and can open up career options which simply don’t exist in the NHS.
What should I be looking for in a job?
This may seem like an obvious question, but searching for your first full time qualified role can be very different to looking for a normal job. Here are some tips regarding things you might need to ask about:
- The role. Generally it is clear what sort of ward or area you will be working in, but sometimes it isn’t so obvious. Some wards will be split into higher and lower dependency areas, which would you be working in? Some roles require you to rotate through several clinical areas, which will these be and do you have any choice?
- Hours and shift patterns. How many hours do they require you to work? What are the shift times? Would you work days and nights? How often would you need to work night shifts? How many patients would you be required to look after?
- The contract. Is it a permanent, temporary or fixed-term contract? Most jobs require a 6 month probationary period. Find out how much notice is required if you want to leave (or how much notice your employer must give if they want you to leave). If your contract is fixed-term, how likely is it that it would be renewed?
- The salary. What is the basic rate of pay? What is the payment for unsocial hours/weekends/holidays? Always look for your base rate of pay to be in line with the NHS agenda for change, and always consider your unsocial hours payments. As a newly qualified nurse, there is likely to be little to no room for negotiation regarding salary, especially if you want to work in the NHS. Depending on your role, there may also be a welcome bonus or target-related bonuses which you should enquire about.
- Benefits. What benefits are available to you? Things like childcare vouchers, gym membership, cycle to work, holidays, free parking etc. can all make a difference in the long run. These things may not be deal-breakers, but the benefits say a lot about how much the employer is trying to please their workforce.
General Staff Nurse applications
Many hospitals advertise for general staff nurse posts several times a year, rather than advertising individual vacancies. You would apply in the usual way, generally via NHS Jobs, and would then attend an interview if selected. At your interview, you will be asked which area(s) you wish to work in. Usually you can give a couple of preferences. However, it may be the case that these areas are not recruiting or are already full so you may not be offered your first choice. If this happens, you can always contact HR and see if they have any other options available to you.
What about jobs fairs? Are they any good?
Jobs fairs are a very good way to assess your options. If you aren’t fussy about moving away, they can be a great option to secure an offer very quickly. There may, however, be fewer local employers. The employers who attend jobs fairs pay a substantial amount of money in order to attend, and therefore generally have a large range of posts available. Jobs fairs generally have a mixture of NHS and private employers. It can be worthwhile attending just to find out more about these different employers and what they can offer you. The RCN Bulletin jobs fairs tend to be very good and are free to attend.
I’ve heard they interview on the day, is that true?
Yes, sometimes. Depending on the venue facilities, there may be interviews on the day. You would speak to an employer you were interested in, and then sign up for an interview slot at some point in the day. If you have the opportunity to attend an interview, it is always useful to do so, even if you aren’t sure about the job.
If you are successful at interview, you will likely be told on the day and further information will be posted/emailed to you confirming your offer and requesting your documentation.
But surely that means they get lots of people who aren’t really interested?
That’s a chance the employers are willing to take, which must pay off financially or they wouldn’t do it. Employers at jobs fairs do not expect you to know their trust/company inside out (although giving them a quick google in the loos wouldn’t hurt!). Similarly to when you applied to UCAS, the employers know that they can give out X number of offers and Y percent will not actually take up the post.
It’s perfectly fine to hold numerous offers, just be sure to decline once you have made your decision so that they have plenty of time to find someone else to fill the post. Most employers will offer a visit to their hospital/company once you are made an offer. They realise that you probably weren’t expecting to get a job in their hospital and need to have a think about it.
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