NHS Scientist Training Programme

I know lots of postgrads are interested in the Scientist Training Programme vacancies in the NHS in England, so here are a couple of news items I’ve received in the last few weeks:

2012 recruitment round – the competition
7,735 people applied for the 205 posts on offer in 2012, though as you could apply for up to 3 jobs/locations, you can probably triple that to get the number of applications per job. At least it’s better than the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme where they had approximately 12,000 applicants for 150 places.

Interview process
We spotted a document intended for interviewers (link to a pdf) which gave the format of the interviews (but not the questions!) It’s a bit like speed-dating (a format they’ve been using in medicine for a couple of years) so it’s best to have an idea of what you’ve got coming to you before you get there.

Even better than this though, we’ve had some feedback from someone who was offered a place on the Medical Physics strand of the Scientist Training Programme, so here’s what they went through:

Online Application
This is the most important part of the application process and as there are no phone interviews it is the only opportunity you get to “sell” yourself initially. Really think about the answers that you give here, particularly the essay-style questions. Write your responses in a word processor then copy and paste them into the form as the page will time-out if you try and write everything in there directly. The online application process probably takes about 1-1.5 hours. For 2012 intake the applications were open only for a short period so make sure you keep updated on when applications open!

Online tests
If your online application is successful you’ll be invited to take some online tests. These are in maths and verbal reasoning. Pretty straight forward, just make sure you’re somewhere quiet and you’re not going to be interrupted.

Interview
If your application and test results are good enough you’ll be invited to final interview. My interview was in Birmingham (All STP positions are interviewed centrally so expect to travel).

The format is almost like a speed dating night! Four different stations, ten minutes at each, move on to the next one when a bell is rung. It’s quite an odd setup and you end up talking to 8 different people but it’s good. If one station doesn’t go too well you’ll be moving on to the next one in a minute or two.

As I mentioned, there are four stations. Two are scientific questions, based on medical physics (or your chosen speciality). I was asked questions on X-ray, image mathematics, nuclear medicine and some general questions on radiation. Definitely worth brushing up on your medical physics before the interview! I was unable to answer some of the questions on nuclear medicine as I’d not studied it at the time of interview but tried my best to figure out the answer at the time and I think that attempt was enough to impress. The other two stations are an HR station (questions about your personality and ambitions etc. Enjoy this station, it’s the nicest one and a bit of a break! Really sell yourself at this point). And the last station is a general science and healthcare station with questions about your experience and also some questions on statistics and processes.

The interview stations can happen in any order.

The upshot of all this was that he was offered the job – but very unfortunately, he didn’t achieve the 2:1 required, so the offer was withdrawn. Unsurprisingly, his most important advice (to undergrads) was “make sure you work hard to get the required grade!!” (Really hope he gets something else soon as he’s obviously good at getting through the whole application/interview process).

We won’t know which jobs are coming up when, though I’d look out from December onwards, but don’t panic if they don’t get advertised until February (as usual).

If you want any further info on the application process (for 2012), have a look at my previous post:
NHS Scientist Training Programme – 21st February, 2012

What If I Want A Graduate Programme Outside London?

Not all graduate jobs are in London – not even all the “graduate schemes”. One of the comments I got on my last post (about graduate recruitment for 2013 already starting) asked about graduate programmes in South Wales.

I know a lot of you also want to avoid moving to London but don’t want to miss out on some really great graduate level jobs, so I’ll reproduce my (slightly amended) answer here:

Question:
Are there any good Graduate programmes that run with positions in South Wales? Almost everything seems to be based in London!

Depends on what sort of jobs you want! If you want some sort of “managed programme” for graduates, you probably need an organisation which is fairly large, with either a headquarters or major office/presence in South Wales, or multiple branches across the country where they place graduates. [This holds true for any part of the UK. If you're lucky, you can find regional publications with this information - like the North West Top 200 Companies I blogged about last year.]

High Fliers research (pdf of their “Graduate Market in 2012″ report) found that for the Times Top 100 companies that they surveyed, 41% expected to have jobs in Wales for 2012 – so it’s definitely not a lost cause. Unfortunately, they didn’t say which 41% had jobs in South Wales, but it doesn’t take much to guess that it would include the major accountancy firms, the BBC and the big retailers on their list for starters. [Page 14 of this report has data for other parts of the UK, in addition to Wales. For example, 52% expected to have vacancies in the North West.]

If you can get hold of a paper copy of the TARGET jobs GET directory, it has a handy table at the back with the location of the companies who advertise graduate jobs with them (though that list isn’t online).

If you take the approach that large companies headquartered in South Wales are more likely to have graduate schemes, have a look at all the large organisations in South Wales. Wouldn’t normally recommend Wikipedia (although, let’s be honest – we all use it!) but it does have a page of Companies of Wales by head office location – you could check each one of these out. [There's an equivalent Companies of the United Kingdom by head office location page - although I was amused to see Cornwall listed separately from England. Must be some Cornish nationalist Wikipedia editors.]

If you still have access to a university library, you could use one of their databases to search for companies in specific locations above a certain size (number of employees or financial measures). The University of Manchester Library has the FAME database (instructions here) which also gets to those multinationals which aren’t headquartered in Wales [or any other part of the UK] but have a significant presence there.

And of course, you have to remember that most graduates don’t go into a “graduate programme” – they go into graduate level work with smaller organisations. This certainly doesn’t have to be second best. Many of the most exciting jobs will be in small fast-moving companies, in the creative sector, in technology, in consulting etc. They can also be advertised at any time of year and are more likely to be looking for talent 2 or 3 months before they want you to start. You do need to be prepared to take responsibility early in these companies, but you avoid just being the latest “new grad” going through the system.

One final caveat – many of these “graduate programmes” for the large high profile employers are advertised once a year, in the early autumn (or even summer), a year before you would start. In another comment on my last post, Tommy asked if he was being over-enthusiastic thinking of applying now for some of these programmes, before he’d even started his Masters in September. My view? He’s the smart one, giving himself the best chance of getting into these highly competitive programmes which will often be full well before the official closing dates.

2013 Graduate Schemes Start To Open

If you’re not quite ready for starting a job yet, for example, if your Masters or PhD won’t finish until later on this year – don’t miss out now. Some of the big graduate employers are already starting to look for 2013 new starters.

Here’s some sound advice from our Information Manager, Holly Seager, from our Graduate Blog:

“While there are lots of graduate jobs being advertised at the moment with immediate start dates, some 2013 graduate schemes are also opening now. These opportunities are open to graduates from previous years as well as the class of 2013. If you are graduating this summer, or have been out for a while and think you might be interested there are many reasons why it is a good idea to get in early…

  1. The opening date of a job is always more important than the closing date. Often organisations will close the opportunity without warning when they get enough quality applications.
  2. Organisations may start interviewing immediately. You might be able to get a firm job offer for 2013 within the next few months leaving you free to go travelling or take some time out.
  3. Some schemes fill up really quickly and if you don’t apply early you won’t get in at all. One example is Teach First, for the last three years they have filled their places for humanities graduates by September! Even if spaces are left on the scheme you are applying for it is always better to be interviewed when they have dozens of jobs to fill than when they only have one or two left. Every year I meet students and graduates who pass the recruitment process but are told that they are not being made a job offer as the last place has just been filled.
  4. Applications take a long time to do properly. You can do a better job if you apply to one or two a week as they open, rather than trying to send 15 all at once later in the year.

Here are a few companies advertising at the moment:

  • AECOM – starting June 2013
  • Tesco procurement graduate programme
  • Factset – this one starts January 2013
  • Teach First – starting summer 2013, or you can apply for a deferred place for 2014.
  • Clarksons (global shipping)
  • Deutsche Bank
  • Accenture – limited opportunities to join from spring 2013 in Consulting

More will be opening applications soon. Ernst and Young for instance have contacted us to say they are opening applications on July 1st. Investment banks in particular tend to open applications in the summer.

If you are interested in a particular company be sure to check their website regularly/follow them on Facebook or Twitter/sign up for email notifications so you don’t miss out. You can start researching them now and deciding which opportunities to apply for so that when applications open you can be one of the first to send a well thought out, polished application.”

Graduate Fair – Who Are Employers Looking For?

List of what employers are looking for at the Graduate Fair (pdf)

Don’t you wish there was an easy way of finding out which, if any, employers need people in your subject at the Graduate Fair on 13th and 14th of June?

Well, there is – here (pdf document)

You’ll see that there are lots of recruiters who will take people from any subject, as well as those who are specifically looking for eg. electrical engineers, physicists, HR, psychology.

I was also interested to spot that only a few were specifically asking for a business-related degree although there are lots of “business” employers attending. That reinforces the advice that you don’t necessarily need a business qualification to get started on a business career.

Word of caution: You need to check which day specific employers are attending – there are different employers attending on each day of the fair.

Making A Difference To Global Poverty

If you’re wondering if your Masters will ever get you the job you want – or frankly any job where you can make a difference – this is just the boost you’ll need.

Eleanor Carey finished her Masters at the University of Manchester last year and is now working at the Co-operative Group. This guest post shows how getting on to a graduate scheme can help you make a difference.

Guest post: Eleanor Carey 

Hi All,
A quick update from someone on the other side of their dissertation (yes, you will finish it one day!) Whether you are scrambling to finish final essays or getting down to the hard graft of research for your dissertation, I’ve been there and I’m here to share a little of what life is like post-postgrad.

My Masters postgraduate degree
In September of last year I graduated with an MSc Poverty and Development from the Institute of Development Policy and Management which sits within the School of Environment and Development.

The experience of doing the masters was invaluable and looking back I am so grateful to have been challenged and stretched as far as I was. It has certainly made a huge difference to my analytical skills and any employer will value someone who can think creatively, thoroughly, and see connections that others cannot.

Simply having a Masters helped me to get my current position so don’t fall into the trap of thinking that higher education and the world of work are completely unconnected. Your grades do matter as employers will see these as indicative of how hard you are willing to work.

Getting on to a graduate scheme
I was fortunate enough to be accepted on to a graduate scheme with The Co-operative Group and so had just 10 days off between handing in my dissertation and starting here at the head offices in Manchester city centre.

If I had one piece of advice for finding a job after your post grad, I would say start looking early, especially if you are looking at graduate schemes as most will have a September start date and close their application process well before that.

I was hired at The Co-op in late May though others had been hired as early as January. Also, try to find an organisation which is a good fit for you. This might sound obvious, but I definitely went through a stage of panic in which I applied for any and every job I could (not a great strategy and very time consuming). So, make a list of criteria that are non-negotiable. For me, I wanted to stay in Manchester, needed a paid job, and something that would develop my skills.

Think about stepping stones to your future
I would say as well, try to think outside your subject of study. Even if your first job out of your masters is not your dream job, if it is something that can help build your skills or allow you to network with people that you may want to work with in the future, then this can be a good stepping stone. So, once you’ve found somewhere you think might be suitable, do as much research on the organisation as you can. Try to understand their ethos and what they are looking for in a candidate, and think of how you can demonstrate that you match their criteria.

The Careers Service at the University of Manchester was excellent during my application process and I would strongly recommend that you utilise any services, such as mock interviews, that they offer.

Keep building your CV
Building your CV can be tough, especially if you have gone directly from undergrad to postgrad. I have no new pearls of wisdom on this topic. The usual suggestions really are the best: volunteering, part-time jobs, extra qualifications. The aim of the game is to show an employer that you’re not afraid of hard work, that you can balance your time well, that you are willing to go the extra mile to do something that isn’t required of you, that you can work as a team and self-motivate. If you’ve got the chance to learn a language, set up a society, or join a sports team then take it.

Working with the Co-operative Group
Since starting on the scheme I have created, launched, and managed to completion a membership campaign on Fairtrade, assisted in organising an event expected to attract over 10,000 people, managed business development with community co-operatives in the UK and have been involved in looking at our trade with European co-operatives.

As the co-operative ethos encourages giving back to the community and as part of our commitment to tackling global poverty, I am a Global Poverty Ambassador representing The Co-operative Group. As part of this activity, there is a presentation called “1.4 billion reasons” that is being shown around the country which is an introduction to issues surrounding poverty and ways to end it.

If anyone is involved with a group/ organisation/ business in the Manchester area that might be interested in seeing the presentation, please do not hesitate to get in touch on
Eleanor.carey@co-operative.coop

The graduates also run a charity which fund raises for youth groups in Greater Manchester. In addition, I am involved in the Manchester Gold mentoring programme.

All of this demonstrates that it is possible to get the experience you want and to develop the skills you need if you look for and take the opportunities that come your way. This might mean volunteering some of your time outside of work, or taking on extra responsibility within your role. Graduate schemes are perfect for this kind of broad experience.

My top tip is this: don’t panic :-) 
This is a very stressful time, handing in essays, writing dissertations, looking for a job and maybe working part-time as well isn’t easy. You’ve probably also got all the mixed emotions that I had this time last year, when you just want it to all be over, but at the same time you feel the pangs of the looming end of your time as a student. Try to set yourself a time limit for job-hunting and don’t let it eat into your study time. This should still be your main focus.

I hope some of this was helpful. If you have any specific questions about The Co-op, graduate schemes, or would like to see the Global Poverty presentation please get in touch.

The very best of luck with finishing your studies and whatever you go on to do next.

Eleanor

The Big Annual Summer Recruitment Fair

I’m thinking of renaming all our events in this WYSIWYG style – because it will be BIG.

Our summer Graduate Recruitment Fair runs for two days, with different employers on each day:

It’s in the Armitage Centre in Fallowfield, in the big sports hall, and if you thought 400+ PhDs milling around University Place for our Pathways event (on June 8th) was big, try getting 3,000 students and graduates through our fair – that’s each day.

Who can attend?
Anyone! It’s targeted at those graduating in the next few weeks or months, or who have recently graduated (postgraduates or undergraduates). Although it’s run by the University of Manchester Careers Service, it’s also open to graduates of any university. In particular, we have staff from most of our local universities on hand to give advice.

It’s free, and if you register beforehand online, you’ll save yourself some time when you get there (no filling in bits of paper to get entry).

What kind of jobs will be on offer?
This fair has a different flavour to the autumn fairs. In the autumn, it tends to be the very large employers who are recruiting on to special “graduate programmes”, a year in advance. In the summer, there’s more of a mixture.

Some of the biggest names are still there recruiting (eg. Deloitte, Google, Aldi, IBM, Schlumberger, Civil Service, Dyson, HSBC, Qinetiq) but they’re more likely to be looking for people to start in the next few months (ideal for Masters finishing in early autumn) – or immediately (for anyone already looking for jobs).

There are also lots of other large to medium sized organisations who need graduate level employees in the immediate to short term. You may not have heard of some of them. They’re more likely to be specialists, working with other businesses rather than selling to consumers, or be fast-growing industries (future Googles?) who need keen, smart graduates to help build their future.

Most importantly, do check who’s going to be there before you go. If you’re dead set on one type of employer who isn’t going to be there, don’t waste your time. For example, don’t expect to see any investment banks at this time of year. On the other hand, if you’re more open minded, especially in a tight employment market, go and see what some of the people you’ve never heard of have to offer – you may be pleasantly surprised (or even get a job).

Is there any point in postgraduates going to a graduate fair?
I’m asked this question repeatedly, so last autumn, I recorded my views in this short video. As usual, the answer is “it all depends” – but if you are going, do listen to how you can get the most out of meeting employers at the fair. Too many postgrads wander aimlessly around a fair and leave, having lost a great opportunity to get the information they need to make themselves stand out.

Right, I’ve got my fingers in my ears and closed my eyes so I don’t have to watch:


What’s this PhD Zone?
As part of our Pathways programme, on Wednesday only, we have a special room set aside just for doctoral researchers. It’s a bit different to the main fair, as the recruiters aren’t all actively recruiting at the moment. It’s meant for PhDs at any stage in their degree to be able to talk to real employers (and postgraduate careers and training staff) about:

  • how their PhD might be seen by employers
  • what employers value in PhDs
  • what PhDs might do outside academia
  • how best to promote their PhD to employers

You’re also welcome (or rather encouraged) to talk to the employers in the main fair – who knows, you might find the ideal job as well as getting PhD career advice?

Around 700 researchers came along last year, so you’ll be in good company (even if you just want to share experience with other PhDs). Have a look at our PhD Zone information on our Graduate Recruitment Fair website for our official info.
Update: The PhD and Researcher Career Zone catalogue (pdf) is now available online. You can also pick up a hard copy on the day.

One important caveat though – most of the PhD Zone employers are targeting science and engineering PhDs. There are very few large employers who recruit multiple humanities PhDs each year and are prepared to staff a stand at a fair. Humanities PhDs are more likely to work for niche / specialist employers or a university. However, if you want some on the spot advice, come and talk to our careers advisers and exhibitors like jobs.ac.uk … oops, strike them off – they’ve just cancelled, the day before the event (sorry)!

Who’s coming to the PhD Zone?
Currently signed up are – AMEC, Chemtura, GVI, IBM, Instrument Design Technology, Jaguar Landrover, National Nuclear Laboratory, Pentest, Rolls Royce, Romax Technology, Schlumberger, SRG and Tessella.
Just added: Unilever and Adelphi Communicatons (local medical communications company)

Just cancelled: Paterson Institute Christie Hospital (oops, turns out they wanted to publicise their PhD studentships & didn’t realise the PhD Zone was aimed at people already completing a PhD!)

Just cancelled (2): Jobs.ac.uk (the third year running they’ve pulled out just before the event – pity, I was hoping to find out about their CV database …)

Want To Be A Business School Academic?

If you’re a management or business PhD, looking for an academic job in a Business School, you might be interested in Akadeus, an agency which focuses on advertising jobs in Business Schools across the world.

There are only a limited number of jobs on there, but they do include jobs in Europe, North and South America, the Middle and Far East. You can sign up for regular e-mail alerts, as well as registering online so you’re searchable by potential recruiters. Don’t know how successful people have been with this approach (see the recent post on uploading your CV online) but given the international nature of academic recruitment, at least it’s somewhere which focuses on one discipline, but not one location.

There are more general academic recruitment websites on An Academic Career, under “How to find job ads“, but I haven’t included discipline specific sources there. If you know of other sources of academic jobs which are specific to your discipline, let me know and I’ll start to build up a list to include in future.

Many thanks to Prof Julie Froud for sharing the Akadeus resource with me, when I talked to her PhDs yesterday in Manchester Business School.

Uploading Your CV Online – Is It Worth It?

I’ve normally been a bit dubious about the merits of uploading your CV to general jobs sites and expecting employers to do all the hard work of looking for you, particularly in a tough job market. I still think it’s a real long shot if you don’t already have experience or specialist skills which might be in demand. However, it may not be employers who are rummaging through those CVs – it’s probably more likely to be a recruitment agency, looking for the right candidates for jobs they’ve been asked to fill.

I recently met two consultants, Phillipa Kenyon (who covers Cambridge) and Sadia Razzaq (for the West Midlands) from specialist science recruitment agency, SRG, who gave me some interesting insights into how they sourced candidates.

Getting their attention
When they have a job to fill, obviously they trawl their own databases and contacts, but I was interested to learn that they did also use online databases, the ones where you can upload your CV. It does make sense when an agency is trying to source candidates with “hard to find” skills and experience – some good starting points are all those candidates who have at least gone to the trouble of writing a CV and putting it out there.

Where did they look?
Surprisingly (to me), they raved about CV Library, a site which, I’ll admit, I’d previously dismissed (I do like it when my preconceptions are challenged – that’s when you start to learn). They liked the range of candidates with specialist scientific skills on the site, but they also got crucial information, such as expected salary, how far candidates would travel and whether they were willing to relocate. None of these would normally appear on a CV, so the site collects this information when you register – now you can see why it’s so important to get this right when you’re looking for work.

The SRG consultants also looked on LinkedIn and at the Totaljobs database, but were less enthusiastic about other sites such as Monster and Jobsite. Obviously this is only one agency and other organisations will have different preferred sources. Talking to Matthew Rollinson from Search (scientific), he would use both Monster and Jobsite as well as Totaljobs – but his first call would be the candidates he already knows and works with. It just shows that it can pay to cover several bases.

Keep it current
Their strong advice was also to review your CV regularly and keep it updated with any changes. It’s particularly annoying for agencies (and potentially employers) if they contact you with a job in your salary range, only to find out that you’ve now got more experience and are only prepared to move for a much higher salary (plus you’ve also missed out on jobs outside your original preferred range).

What format should you use?
Again I was surprised when the SRG consultants said they preferred plain old Word format, rather than .pdf (which is what I would have suggested). However, they were happy to receive either, but the biggest no-no was telling them to pick up your CV from your Skydrive or other cloud storage account.

Security online
Make sure that any site where you upload potentially valuable personal information is going to take good care of it. If you have any doubts about the security or legitimacy of an online CV database, I’d just try some other sources.

Sometimes websites are just technologically naive. Some years ago, I came across a fairly amateurish environmental jobs site which would let me register as an employer, for no fee and with no checks, and search the CVs which had been uploaded – it’s a good check to do yourself if you have any doubts.

In other cases, professional looking sites may be created purely for the aim of harvesting personal information for identity fraud. These sites may look legitimate, but probably don’t have many web pages or much detail behind the “send us your CV/personal information”

Genuine professional office or someone’s back bedroom?
Dodgy sites may also be cagey about their physical location. At the Careers Service, we do some standard checks on vacancies we’ve been sent before advertising them, and we have been known to use Google Street View where addresses look rather dubious! However, we can’t guarantee that dodgy sites won’t slip through, so if you feel uncomfortable filling in your details online, trust your instincts and keep safe.

Pakistan Job Fair – Today (Wednesday 22 Feb)

This is a last minute call:

If you’re a Manchester student from any year from Pakistan, or a final year student from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh or China, looking to work in Pakistan, we’re holding our first

  • Pakistan Graduate Job Fair, today, Wednesday 22nd February, 1.30-4pm, Alan Turing Building.

There are 17 recruiters coming over from Pakistan, from big multinationals to major homegrown industries. Types of employment covered include:

  • Oil and gas exploration and production
  • Motor manufacture
  • Management consultancy & technology services
  • HR consultancy
  • Retailers in textiles and in a range of fast moving consumer goods
  • Law
  • Engineering
  • Property development
  • Banking
  • Chemical manufacture
  • Beauty products (Hint: Because you’re worth it…)

This is a rare opportunity to talk directly to international employers who want to target University of Manchester students – don’t miss it. More information on CareersLink

NHS Scientist Training Programme – Apply This Week.

 I go on holiday for a week and what happens? They finally launch the NHS Scientist Training Programme recruitment for 2012, for England (hopefully you spotted my tweet about it just before I left).

This is the main recruitment round for scientists with a relevant degree who want to work in the NHS. It happens once a year, with a very tight deadline – it launched last week, and ends next week.

Deadline is 27th February (I’d get in earlier if possible).

UPDATE (27/2/12):
The deadline is noon today for getting your application in (or rather, it’s “12pm” – I’m assuming they mean noon as there’s no official UK definition of when “12pm” is!).
However, you also have to complete online aptitude tests by 5pm, Wednesday 29th Feb. See the FAQ doc
for more details of practice tests.

The jobs are grouped into “themes” of similar sciences – the largest demand is once again, Medical Physics – and involve both hands-on training within the NHS and completion of an accredited Masters degree. Even if you’ve got a PhD, you’ll normally still have to complete this Masters degree (I ran a workshop as part of a Masters on a previous version of the programme – 6 out of about 30 students already had a PhD). It’s a three year programme, with no guarantee of an NHS job at the end – but they’re unlikely to invest in all that training for you if they don’t expect to need you at the end of the programme.

If you’re at the point of filling in the online application, I’ve had a go at it myself to find out what they expect, so here are a few pointers:

  • The online form won’t let you advance a page until you’ve filled in any “mandatory” questions (and most of the questions are mandatory).
  • You only get to see the “essay questions” once you’ve filled in 12 previous pages, including all the mandatory sections. Want to know what they are in advance?

1.    Your motivation and commitment to the Training Programme

In no more than 300 words, please state why you have applied for the NHS Healthcare Scientist Training Programme outlining your motivation for the programme and what you plan to gain in terms of career development.

2.    Your passion for science and/or technology

In no more than 300 words, please demonstrate your passion for science and/or technology and provide evidence about how you seek to implement constant improvement and innovation in your work/studies.

3.    Patients

In no more than 300 words, please explain how you would hope to apply your skills and knowledge for the benefit of patients and the public.

4.    Team working and leadership

In no more than 300 words demonstrate how you have worked as part of a team and outline the skills you used to influence the outputs of that team. Please summarise your achievements in order to demonstrate you are a high achieving individual.

  • The site recommends cutting and pasting your essay answers from a word processing package into the online application, to avoid timeouts (I left it for an hour or so, and sure enough, it did sign me out, losing any text I’d added to the essay questions without pressing “Save & Continue”). There seems to be a slight discrepancy between the characters as measured in Word 2010 and those measured in the online application. I’d avoid going right up to the character or word limit in Word, just in case some of your answer gets cut off. It’s ambiguous whether they’re limiting the number of characters or number of words. In practice, I was able to add over 300 words as long as it was under the 3000 character limit – but there is no telling what the software does when it’s submitted. I’d keep under both limits, just to be safe!
  • One of the mandatory sections is your mobile phone number. If you don’t want to give them your mobile number (I’m fussy about who gets my mobile number), it doesn’t have to be a real one – you could give them a landline instead. Even if you do give them your mobile number, you don’t have to give them permission to SMS you, though they keep asking you for that on every page…
  • When a page looks nice and short – don’t be fooled! Once you’ve answered the first mandatory question, new ones often appear, as if by magic, on the same page (and they’re often mandatory too).
  • As you’re completing the various pages, you can go back to previous pages and change your answers – but can’t advance again unless all the mandatory sections are complete.
  • Once you’ve completed the essay questions, if you “save and continue”, it doesn’t immediately give you an option of going back to previous pages. Don’t panic – you can “preview” your answers and it does then give you the chance to “amend” them, which means (phew) that you can go back and change things before you press Submit.

This is an extraordinarily competitive programme (around 10,000 applications last year, and there are only around 200 jobs this year) but someone is going to get the chance – just make the most of those essay questions.

If you want to consider alternatives, there are separate recruitment processes for the NHS in Scotland (deadline is 24th Feb though), Northern Ireland (process not clear but at least some are being advertised here) and Wales (should have been an ad in New Scientist yesterday but no sign yet – try NHS Jobs site).

UPDATE (22nd Feb), from NHS Careers Consultant, Alan Simmons:

Good luck!