The application and interview process for the NHS graduate management scheme is designed to find out whether you have what it takes to ensure that the NHS delivers high-quality services within the constraints of austerity. Rob Farace, head of the NHS graduate management training scheme at the NHS Leadership Academy when we spoke to him, told TARGETjobs the qualities that successful candidates tend to have and how you cultivate them.
Successful candidates are resilient, confident and calm
Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficulties and achieve results despite obstacles. You shouldn’t underestimate the pressure of working in the NHS: the work you do is highly scrutinised and makes a difference to people’s lives. Rob says that a lot of pressure can also come from your own desire to succeed: ‘On the scheme you’ll be working with a lot of talented people and you will also be constantly learning and developing your skills – you might not do everything perfectly first time. The best graduates are spurred on by this but are also able to put things into perspective and remain calm.’
An initial test of whether you have the confidence and resilience is your reaction to the fact that, for the September 2019 intake, 9,000 people made applications and just 262 were given positions as trainees. Does this intimidate you or would you be able to work hard and stay determined during the recruitment process, in spite of the pressure of competition?
But your resilience is most obviously assessed during the assessment day, which will include a variety of tasks and being given a considerable amount of data to absorb. It is known to be a challenging day that takes a lot of energy.
‘Resilience and confidence can be found through practising techniques that help you approach a situation calmly and rationally,’ says Rob. ‘If your first reaction to being asked to perform in a role-play is to be terrified, for example, you need to create a mindset that allows you to see it as an opportunity to showcase yourself.’
It’s important to note that there is not one technique that works for everyone and you need to take the time to find the best techniques for you. Some will find practising mindfulness or repeating positive affirmations helpful, but others won’t. Rob is keen to stress that you don’t need to spend money in order to identify these techniques: there are lots of free websites and resources in the library.
Successful candidates use the information that the NHS provides
‘We disseminate loads of information about the NHS and the schemes through our website and social media,’ says Rob. ‘Everyone who successfully applies to our scheme has used these channels to help them prepare.'
One tip: use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and the like to ask the current trainees questions, but make sure that you are not asking them something that they’ve already provided the answer for. ‘They are more than happy to answer questions, but slow down and take the time to read the information that is already there,’ advises Rob. ‘Think about how you are presenting yourself when you ask a question.’
The NHS also provides you with reading to do prior to the interview and assessment centre. For example, they provide you with details of their ‘healthcare leadership model’. The recruiters are looking to see how you interpret and act on the information they give you – for example, do you use the information in leadership models to understand the importance of collaborative working to inform your behaviour at the assessment centre?
Successful candidates are able to reflect on their performance and understand why they were successful/unsuccessful in an activity
The ability to critically reflect on your performance and understand why your actions worked or didn't work is a core skill required from NHS graduate trainees. During the recruitment process, the recruiters are interested in how you think and whether you can demonstrate how you regularly learn from your experience to inform your future behaviours.
Rob said: ‘I want to know if you have a sophisticated understanding of how you impact upon others and that you can not only demonstrate an awareness of this but also learn from it. It’s not enough to just provide an example of something you did that was successful. You need to know why it worked and how you would do it even better next time.’
Similarly, you need to be open about your development areas: ‘We want to understand how you analyse the gaps in your knowledge and take action to remedy this,' says Rob. It’s important that you're able to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses you demonstrate during the assessment centre, too.
Successful NHS candidates can articulate their motivations and why they’re great
Rob says that an important part of your interview focuses around you and your motivations for applying. ‘One of the most common reasons that people are rejected at interview is that they don’t convince us that they have carefully considered why they want to join the NHS Scheme,’ says Rob. You need to give examples of how you share the values of the NHS, be able to talk through the issues facing the NHS (showing that you understand them), and truly want to be part of making the NHS ‘fit for the future’ – without making out that you have all the answers. It will certainly help your interview preparation if you have read the NHS Constitution.
Rob has already told us that the calibre of people who progress through the selection process is high, and it will help if your interview indicates that you have participated in a range of activities (in a meaningful way). However, these don’t necessarily have to be ‘big’, ‘headline-grabbing’ activities – you don’t have to have raised thousands of pounds single-handedly for charity, for example. Rather, it could be that you have volunteered for a student-run Samaritans service for a considerable period of time. ‘It doesn’t matter exactly what you have achieved inside or outside of your studies,’ says Rob. ‘We are looking for people who can tell us – with evidence – why they are great.’ You can read TARGETjobs' advice on how to clearly articulate your strengths in our feature on how to sell yourself if you are a shy job-hunter.
In terms of particular activities that would enhance your application, you don’t need to have done any work experience within the NHS, but you might find that volunteering in a hospital gives you a greater understanding of the issues facing the NHS. You can contact your local NHS hospital/organisation to ask about volunteering.
Successful candidates have good interpersonal skills
This last is such a basic one that it is surprising that some candidates forget it: it is to do with being courteous, respectful and considerate to others. ‘As recruiters, we appreciate those who are polite, interested in others and know how to engage correctly with people,’ says Rob.
Remember that this doesn’t only extend to face-to-face interaction with recruiters, staff and other students: put extra effort into ensuring that your posts and messages through social media and email read politely – without facial clues and tone of voice, they might be interpreted as abrupt or rude. ‘I think that sometimes “being polite” is an undervalued skill,’ adds Rob. ‘Remember that you only get one chance to make a first impression, so make sure it is a good one.’