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How to make your nursing job application stand out

How to make your nursing job application stand out
Photo: How to make your nursing job application stand out
The old adage goes ‘you only get one chance to make a first impression’. So, it’s important to get it right when it comes to your nursing job application, writes Karen Keast.

Job applications are the vital first introduction between you and your potential employer.

First impressions count, and none more so than your job application.

After all, your career depends on it!

Your application – which must include a cover letter, your CV and a document addressing selection criteria – is aimed at getting you to the crucial interview stage, where you can sell yourself in person in an attempt to secure the position.
But how do you make your job application stand out from the crowd?

The answer is making sure your application is a professional representation of yourself and that it also addresses the selection criteria.

Cover letter
A one-page cover letter is crucial. Keep it professional, concise and make sure it is well formatted and presented on the page.

Mention the position you are applying for and if you are responding to an ad, mention where you saw the ad - particularly if it was on the organisation’s own website. It shows you are interested in that organisation.

Brisbane’s St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital director of nursing Rosemarie White has reviewed countless job applications across a range of nursing levels, from graduate nurses to enrolled nurses and registered nurses right up to senior management.

“It’s really important that your letter is professionally presented; it’s clear, concise and that the letter you are writing to the organisation represents you as a professional nurse,” she says.

“For example, that you are a perioperative nurse with 10 years’ operating experience in the orthopaedic specialty.”

Rosemarie says it’s important to mention what position you are applying for, regardless of whether you are responding to an ad or sending a ‘cold’ application.

“If it’s a general letter where you are applying to a hospital for an RN or EN, be very clear in the letter what you are applying for so that people understand what type of position you are applying for,” she says.

“So say what position you are applying for, a few words around your qualifications or specialty that you are interested in and often people will add a paragraph that they value or would like to work with an organisation that has the same values as UnitingCare Health, for example.

“They look as if they have made an effort to understand what the organisation is about.”

Remember to mention what documents you have enclosed. For example: ‘I have enclosed my CV, my referees and selection criteria’.

The CV
Your CV needs to include your name, address and other contact details but you don’t have to divulge your age and your gender.

Clearly set out your educational qualifications, and the dates they were obtained, and list any other formal under-graduate or post-graduate nursing education, certificates or diplomas along with the dates they were achieved.

Include any specialty areas of practice, and add highlights, such as attending conferences relating to your area of specialty. This adds further substance to your education.

Also include any professional affiliations; listing any nursing organisations where you are a member.

Outline your employment history, beginning with your current position and working your way backwards, including the dates of the months or years you worked there.

State what position you held and what area or specialty you worked in. For example:  ‘I was an RN in an operating theatre’. List your key responsibilities, making sure you keep the details brief.

Also ensure you include three professional referees.

Australian College of Nursing executive manager of education John Kemsley-Brown, who has been a member of numerous selection panels, says even if you have an issue with your current employer, you still need to list them to avoid any unanswered questions.

“If they don’t put it down, you are left wondering,” he says.

You should also avoid listing personal referees.

“If you are an under-graduate, that’s one thing to have personal referees but for a nurse working it should be professional referees and someone who is working with you,” John advises.

“It could be a colleague, it doesn’t have to be a manager but it should be someone who has worked with you and observed you working.

“We want to be able to ask them - are they reliable, are they responsible, do they arrive on time, are they trustworthy, what’s their work ethic like?”

Personal interests and hobbies are not required but you can add them if you believe they will enhance your application, John says.

“Sometimes it’s good; sometimes it tells you a little bit about a person.

“Somebody who is into sport and plays for a team you know they are committed,” he says.

“Somebody who is into craft and hobbies, you know they are into detail. They are the sorts of things you find out on a CV.”

Selection criteria
When you are applying for a position and it outlines selection criteria, make sure you address each of the criteria. In a separate document, use the headline, Selection Criteria, and succinctly address how you meet each of the criteria listed.

“Make sure they are not too verbose. They don’t want to read a tome of paper,” John says.

“Sometimes it’s good to do a bit of research about the organisation you are applying with and try and incorporate some of that information into your response to the selection criteria.

“Say they are going through a major redevelopment and you have experience in that, you might want to work it some way into your response to the selection criteria.

“Doing a bit of research around the organisation shows employers that you actually want the job and you’ve done your homework – it’s kudos to you.”

Don’t stand out for all the wrong reasons
Avoid these common pitfalls to ensure your application succeeds.

Ensure there are no mistakes when it comes to your grammar, spelling and punctuation. It often helps to have someone else proof-read your application before it’s submitted.

Make sure you identify the correct hospital or facility you are applying to.

“Some people send applications to a number of hospitals and they don’t take enough care to ensure the hospital they are sending it to is appropriately identified. We would disregard those applications,” Rosemarie says.

“That actually flags with us that that’s someone who hasn’t taken the application process either seriously enough or has lack of attention to detail.”

Don’t make it personal. Rosemarie warns against writing in your cover letter that your cat has died, your partner has left you and you feel this job is now your calling.

“Letters need to be succinct and professional and identify to us what your areas of specialty are and to show that you also identify with the hospital you are applying to.”

Also, don’t use paper that is coloured or flowered in an attempt to stand out from the piles of application letters, and under no circumstances should you ever attach glamour photos.

These measures make your application appear unprofessional.

“There was a phase where a lot of younger nurses were putting photos with their applications that were glamour photos,” Rosemarie says.

“Photos are not necessary. They are absolutely fine but they need to be in context – it needs to be a professional photo.

“The important thing is not to make your CV stand out for the wrong reasons. It’s important to stand out for the right reasons.”


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Karen Keast

Karen Keast is a freelance health journalist who writes news and feature articles for HealthTimes.

Karen regularly writes for some of Australia’s leading health news websites and magazines.  In a media career spanning 20 years, Karen has worked as a senior journalist in newspapers and television. She has covered the grind of daily news and worked as a politics reporter at countless state and federal elections.

Since venturing into freelance writing five years ago, Karen has found her niche in writing about the health sector for editors, businesses and corporations.

Karen has interviewed the heads of peak health organisations in Australia and overseas, and written hundreds of news and feature articles covering the dedicated work of health professionals who tread the corridors of hospitals and health services, universities, aged care facilities and practices, day in and day out.

Follow Karen Keast on Twitter @stylemywords