Answering the NHS Wales Graduate Management Training Scheme application questions

The secret to application success lies in choosing the best examples.

NHS Wales makes no secret of the fact that it wants graduates who are up for a challenge, nor that its graduate management trainees are involved with making some difficult decisions. Graduate managers have to ‘make every penny count’ in a ‘challenging financial climate’ while improving services, according to the Welsh government’s strategy document ‘Together for Health: A five year vision for the NHS in Wales’.

It’s no surprise, then, that the NHS Wales Graduate Management Training Scheme application form includes questions about when you’ve done similar things to what you would be doing on the scheme. At first glance, the questions are daunting. The secrets to success lie in choosing the best, most relevant examples and writing about them in sufficient detail.

Succeed in your NHS Wales graduate application tip 1: choose the best example

When approaching these questions, make sure your examples really show you doing the tasks and using the skills you have been asked about. After all, senior programme lead resourcing manager at the NHS Leadership Academy in England, Rob Farace, has advised graduates: ‘Where candidates fail is almost always in the example that they use. It needs to be relevant – you might have officially “led” 80 people, but if all you did was sit there and oversee them then there’s no real leadership in that.’

Review all of the things you did on your course, in your spare time at university, in your part-time jobs and work experience and during any gap years (before and/or after university). Ideally, you’ll have a different example for each question – but, if that isn’t possible, do make sure that you answer the question being asked rather than copying and pasting from a previous question.

To help you get thinking of examples, we analyse the questions and suggest possible times when you could have used the skills required.

LEADING CHANGE – Please give one example of when you have led an important change which involved other people.

Examples of you leading a change involving other people are most likely to be found in involvement you’ve had in student societies (although they could come from any area of your life). Your chosen example will probably involve you introducing a new way of doing things or a new initiative. If you were an editor of your student newspaper, an important change could be ‘relaunching’ the paper, introducing a new design and/or adding new columns or sections. If you were part of a drama society, it could involve introducing a new way of marketing your shows to audiences.

Note: to have led a change you do not need to have been in overall charge of a project – you just need to have been in charge of introducing a particular change and seeing that the change was implemented successfully. In the newspaper example above, you needn’t have been the overall editor: you could have been a features editor or news editor.

PERSONAL VALUES – Please describe a time when you have had to consider your own values in relation to a piece of work that you were involved in.

You could write about any charity or fundraising projects you’ve got involved with, how the cause chimed with your values and how you called on other values (such as the importance of working hard) to achieve your goal, such as raising a specified sum.

However, remember that management trainees need to uphold the values of NHS Wales (found on the Health in Wales website) while looking to make the best use of money – and it is possible that there may be tension between the two agendas. NHS Wales needs to see whether you can achieve a set task without sacrificing your core values.

Ideally, then, your example will be one where you acted in accordance with your principles but still completed your set task. It may be that you had to be pragmatic in finding a new way to reach your goal without sacrificing your principles and that’s fine. Just explain how.

Perhaps your example could come from your part-time work. Let’s just say that you were asked to finish a boring task and that once it was done, you could go. If you were prepared to skimp it, you could leave early – but you know that you’d do a bad job and that your boss or colleague would probably have to redo the work. What did you do? Did you uphold your value of doing a quality job even though you had to stay later?

Outline your values and explain how they connected to the work you were doing.

USING RESOURCES EFFECTIVELY – Please describe one example of when you have been responsible for limited finances (other than your own), making savings or managing a fixed budget.

This is a tricky one because the recruiters do not want to hear about when you managed your own money. An ideal experience to draw upon would be if you’d acted as a treasurer to a student society and oversaw an efficiency drive or kept costs down. However, there are other ways in which you may have come into contact with money. If you were publicity officer for a society, how did you maximise publicity for the society even while sticking to a budget – or even managing without one? If you directed theatre productions as part of a drama society, how did you price tickets and bring the play within budget? If you helped out with a brownies or scouts group, did you look after children’s money on school trips? Did you have to stop them from over-spending?

TACKLING A BIG CHALLENGE – Please describe a situation when you were faced with a particular challenge which was important for you to overcome.

This question gives you a wide scope for possible answers. The challenge could be something personal, that you’ve set yourself – perhaps achieving a particular academic grade or running a marathon. It could also be something that you did as part of a team or at the suggestion of someone else – perhaps winning a sports championship. Focus your answer on how you tackled it and why it was important for you. Bear in mind that the word ‘challenge’ suggests something that you didn’t find easy or comfortable to do. It also suggests the need for hard work, persistence and resilience to vanquish it.

WORKING AS A TEAM MEMBER – Please give an example of when you have been part of an effective team or worked with others to achieve a ‘big result’.

This example should be something where your actions were instrumental to the effectiveness of the team or the success in achieving the big result. It doesn’t have to be an example where you were the team leader, however. Examples here can come from student societies, your work experience or any part-time jobs where you work with others.

Succeed in your NHS Wales graduate application tip 2: write detailed answers

Don’t be fooled by the instructions ‘Please give…’ and ‘Describe a time…’ – NHS Wales wants more detail than that. To assess your answers properly, NHS Wales needs to know what you did, how you tackled a situation and what happened in the end. To give the right amount of detail, follow the STAR structure. Explain the:

  • Situation, including some context on why the challenge or change was important, for example, or the size of the team you were working with
  • Tasks that needed to be done to accomplish the objective
  • Actions you took
  • Results, including whether you reached your target or whether the change was effective.

When writing about your actions, you need to break them down so that the recruiter can understand exactly what it is that you accomplished. For example, if answering the question about a time when you led an important change, explain in your answer how you:

  • devised a strategy for bringing about the change
  • explained both the change and the strategy for introducing it to other team members
  • delegated tasks
  • set deadlines
  • checked on progress and dealt with any issues or problems
  • verified the quality of the change implemented.

This sort of detail will impress. One final tip: when you’ve finished writing an answer, re-read the question carefully to make sure you’ve covered everything.

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