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Before Applying

There are a number of things you could do before you put pen to paper and complete an application form. The current shortage of — and increased demand for — nurses means career prospects may be better than ever.

Take this chance to look at a range of opportunities. Before finding a job that matches your skills, first match your skills to a range of jobs.

You can then take positive action to secure the job that fits your skill set.

Scoping Exercise

This exercise will help you analyze the skills needed to do the job, in relation to the skills you feel you have.

First, get job descriptions or qualifications for a range of jobs; don't limit yourself to jobs that match your present role. The purpose of a scoping exercise is to look across spheres and look at job descriptions you might not even consider applying for. Don't rule things out before you get the information.

The job title can be misleading; concentrate instead on the advertisement, job description and qualifications.

Don't be afraid of vocabulary in the job description and personal qualifications that you don't recognize. Many buzzwords may be unfamiliar but may have obvious meanings. If words are unclear, contact the prospective employer and clarify the meaning of the term.

Get a piece of paper and construct a matrix like the one below. List the job titles across the top of the grid and the required skills down the side. Mark those skills that you feel you have.

JOB TITLE, SKILLS Unit Manager Clinical Nurse Specialist Research Assistant Nurse Practitioner
Strategic thinking    

When you've completed the exercise you should be able to pick out some skills you already have, which will indicate the types of job you may already be prepared to apply for.

However, the skill deficits are just as important as the skills you have. Look for gaps between skills you have and skills needed to do the job.

Identifying the gaps can inform planning by highlighting your development needs. All too often we complete application forms feeling confident about the skills we have but ignoring shortcomings and the skills we need to develop.

Visit your portfolio and record what you have learned.


Shadowing has become a popular way to learn about other people's roles. In addition to learning about the nature of the work, it provides an opportunity to appreciate the knowledge and skills needed in a specific role.

Shadowing offers several learning opportunities that aren't available through more traditional learning. You can observe individuals and work alongside specialists who possess the skills you want to develop. You'll be able to see how they operate, make notes of their behaviours and ask questions.

Try to identify someone you know who is competent in their role. Observe and review the practical application of skills used. Shadowing is particularly effective where the work involves fine judgments and quick decisions. It's an opportunity to identify skills and knowledge, which are difficult to learn from the literature.

The length of a secondment is a matter for personal judgment. Some shadowing exercises last no longer than a day. Others may go on for days, or even weeks. If you feel you would benefit from a longer shadowing experience you might consider a secondment or outposting.

Shadowing exercises and secondments need to be organized with the prior consent of your manager. When discussing the details, it would be helpful if you could present the benefits to both yourself and the organization that you work for.

Tracking Career Stories

If you have a good idea about the sort of role you aspire to, you may find it useful to track the career story of an individual who occupies a similar role.

This can stimulate ideas about the potential stepping stones needed to get you to your desired career destination. This is not to suggest that there is only one track to a particular role, but you may get ideas about the various routes leading to such positions.

If you can find more than one individual in such a role, it may even be possible to look at similarities in career routes.