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How to land your dream nursing job

Practice nurse interview


A good recruiter will know where to look and will advise you on the full spectrum of options available to you based on your CV and experience.

If you want to work in an environment that’s interesting, rewarding and challenging, a career in nursing will give you plenty of scope to do exactly that. But how do you find the role that suits you best? Recruitment manager Roberto Orlandi explores the full range of options and provides top tips on how to land the dream job. 

Nursing provides a wealth of opportunities to earn while you learn, climb the career ladder, fulfil ambitions, make a real difference in the world and find a job that you adore.

But the various pathways into the sector – and to progress once you are in it – can be baffling. 

After all, there are some 300 types of nursing role, from theatre nurse to mental health nurse, and neonatal nurse to district nurse, each requiring slightly different approaches and abilities.

The first thing you need to do is reflect on which areas of nursing appeal. Alongside this, important considerations include setting and geographical location, and even commuting preferences. Once you’ve done this, you can scale your recruitment search to meet these specific criteria.

Get hunting

Most nursing job boards will allow you to search by speciality and location.

Every NHS job available is listed at Jobs.nhs.uk, which also has a dedicated platform for general practice nursing at gpnursing.jobs.nhs.uk. You can also find specific healthcare jobs at pulsepracticejobs.com, bmj.com/careers, pulsejobs.com and fourteenfish.com/jobs

If you are restricted to a particular location, bear in mind that every area has a local medical committee, which has its own jobs board for the locality.

More general recruitment sites that are worth a look include CV Library and Indeed, which allow you to search by industry, keyword and location. You could also contact local recruitment agencies.

A good recruiter will know where to look and will advise you on the full spectrum of options available to you based on your CV and experience. They will be able to recommend suitable private sector companies if you are interested in that route. 

Recruiters don’t tend to charge prospective employees for their services. Instead, they make their money through the employers themselves. That’s why they are often an attractive choice for someone with a specific career goal in mind.

How to apply

Once you have found the right job, ensure your application presents you in the best light possible. First and foremost, make sure your CV is up to date and includes your contact details and training.

Remember that this is your first impression, so it should be clear, concise and easy on the eye. Remember, the employer may be looking through a pile of CVs, so a confusing layout will count against you. The RCN has valuable advice in this respect and there are many other websites that guide you through the process. Make sure your information is correct and that you are including all relevant qualifications with the exact dates that your training was renewed or expires.

Nursing is a compliance-heavy profession, so always ensure you are on top of your documentation and records. It is your responsibility to ensure your own training is up to date, that you are registered with the NMC and your revalidation is within date. The NMC offers full guidance for this.

General practice nursing can be difficult to enter as a newly qualified nurse, because many practices ask for experience. For that reason, it’s essential that you really think about and highlight your transferrable skills.

Don’t forget to include the details of two referees and remember that a two-page CV is the ideal length to demonstrate your experience.

Interview preparation

With a well-written CV, you have a good chance of being called for interview. Before you go, do your homework.

You need to know as much as you can about the position you are applying for and the place where you hope to be working. If you are applying for a job in your local area, do you know anyone who can provide you with valuable ‘inside knowledge’ of the workplace?

You should also spend time planning how you will ‘sell yourself’. This is a chance to talk about your achievements, your passions, your interests and your qualifications, but your potential employer will be particularly interested in how you see yourself fitting in and what you can offer the specific setting.

If you are applying for a job in general practice, the interview will usually be conducted by the practice manager and a clinical professional, like a GP or lead nurse. It’s highly likely you will be asked some scenario-based questions to find out how you would handle a specific situation. For example, if a patient was showing a particular set of symptoms, what would you ask to arrive at a likely diagnosis, or how would you tackle a sensitive subject such as obesity

The interviewer will be interested in finding out about your process and the questions you would ask to elicit the information needed from the patient, so it’s important that you prepare for this accordingly. 

The location of the practice and the demographic of the patients will determine the types of questions you are asked so it’s vital that you do your research. For example, if a practice is near a university campus and there is a high proportion of young people on the practice’s list, you might be quizzed about healthcare issues that are common among students. If the area has an ageing population, you might be asked about managing comorbidity and long-term conditions.

Again, if you have contacts who work in similar settings, conducting a mock interview can be very helpful.

Finally, prepare some questions of your own to ask the interviewer – this shows you are keen and interested. Demonstrating knowledge of local issues and awareness of factors specific to the workplace will be likely to impress. It might be worth checking the CQC inspection report to identify strengths and weaknesses to inform your questions.

They are looking to see if you are right for the job, but you are also looking to see if the job is right for you.

You’ve been offered the job – now what?

Great news! But is the offer ticking all the boxes?

Make sure the role covers everything you expected it to, and don’t be afraid to question something you are uncertain about. They’ve decided you are right for their team, so the ball’s now in your court to do a little negotiation.

Your concerns might not be in relation to pay – they may relate to shift patterns, work-life balance, career progression or anything else you want clarification on.

If you are unhappy about the money, don’t forget that there are pay rates for NHS nurses are split across nine bands; you can find details on the Royal College of Nursing website or at nhsbands.co.uk. Which band a nurse falls into depends on role, experience, location and supply and demand.

However, general practice nursing salaries don’t usually come under the same bands as other nursing jobs, as GPNs are normally employed by the practice itself rather than by the NHS. However, many practices do follow the Agenda for Change (AfC) pay banding, which you can find out more about here. Nurses can also negotiate for a higher wage from their practice.

Unlike many other professions, nursing does not necessarily offer higher pay (weighting) to those working in London. There are more nurses than jobs in the capital, so supply is greater than demand. Other locations where demand outstrips supply might offer more.

Is the NHS my best option?

Of course not – if, for example, the shifts don’t suit you or the pay and conditions don’t meet your expectations. There are a wide range of roles in nursing – you can be a district nurse, practice nurse or work in a care home, to name a few roles. The world is your oyster.

You could also work for an agency. The benefits here are that you can pick and choose which shifts you accept and usually the rate of pay is higher. Clearly, there are downsides as well as benefits. If this is a route you want to explore, your best option is to speak to a specialist nursing recruitment team.

Look for one that is an approved framework supplier of primary and secondary care recruitment across the UK. This will give you more options in permanent and temporary roles for the NHS and for private providers.