How to be successful in the recruitment process for the NHS graduate management schemes

To succeed, you need to tell your interviewers – with evidence – why you are great.

The application and interview process for the NHS graduate management schemes 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, senior programme lead resourcing at the NHS Leadership Academy, has 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 bunch 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 the NHS regularly receives 15,000 applications for its schemes each year. Does this intimidate you?

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 – and one of the hardest elements is that you will be expected to manage your own time on the day.

‘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. ‘Around 99% of those who get onto our scheme have used our app to help them prepare.'

One tip, though: use Facebook, Twitter and the like to ask the recruiters questions, but make sure that you are not asking them something that they’ve already provided the answer for. ‘We 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 recruiters also provide you with reading to do prior to the interview and assessment centre. For example, they provide you with details of their ‘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 on leadership models and the importance of collaborative working to inform your behaviour at the assessment centre?


Successful candidates look beyond the obvious and set information in context

The ability to analyse data is a core skill required from NHS graduate managers. During the recruitment process, the recruiters are interested in how you think and whether you can see the big picture.

‘I don’t expect you to be able to explain the structure of the NHS at an interview or on the assessment day,’ says Rob. ‘I want to know whether you have a sophisticated understanding of the challenges and the constraints facing the organisation. It’s not enough to know that money is an issue. You need to know why it’s an issue and in which areas it is a particular issue.’

Similarly, you need to put the data you are given in context: ‘Look for trends. If you are examining mortality rates, for example, look for reasons that could explain any higher rates. Are patients from a more vulnerable group or is the procedure more risky?' says Rob. ‘Use your knowledge and common sense to form an opinion, identify whether action needs to be taken and then think about what action you would take.’

Successful candidates can articulate their motivations and why they’re great

Rob says that most of the questions in your face-to-face interview are focused around you, your application 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 are motivated  to work in the NHS – or have at least seriously thought about it,’ says Rob. You need to give examples of how you share the values of the NHS, be able to talk through the issues facing it (showing that you understand them), and truly want to be part of making it ‘fit for the future’ – without making out that you have all the answers.

Rob has already told us that the calibre of people who progress through the selection process is high, and it will help if your application 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 remember 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.’

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