The Complete Guide to NHS Job Applications

the complete guide to NHS job applications

You’ve had your heart set on that one clinical position since you started your degree. Or maybe you’re thinking of switching up your office job to work for the National Health Service?

In general, job applications follow the same pattern of questions (and there’s plenty of great guides on this), the NHS jobs application portal can be a little different to navigate.

The NHS prides itself on providing excellent patient-centred services and following a code of values that embodies compassion, dignity and respect. Being able to implement the same values in your role will work wonders for your career in the NHS.

Your role can affect many people’s lives and wellbeing. In fact, it can affect the entire nation! Such an important role requires a thoughtful approach, and this begins with your job application.

So where do you begin?

Job Selection

It’s important to read a job application thoroughly to see if that role

a) interests you and

b) is a good fit for your skills

You might even be planning for the ideal role that’s a few years away. This would require you to build up experience or finish a training programme to get there, all of which means you’ll be applying for different jobs in the meantime.

Many NHS jobs are situated on a unique pay scale called the Agenda for Change. This is where you might hear the phrase ‘band 6’ or ‘band 7’.

This isn’t simply about pay, however, but also experience. For example, newly qualified hospital pharmacists start at a band 6 level. This isn’t negotiable, as might be the case in other sectors.

The time it takes to ‘move up’ the bands very much depends on individual circumstances, such as applying for senior role vacancies or the completion of further training e.g., a clinical diploma.

However, it’s important not to get bogged down by the bands as this is very much part of the structure of the NHS workforce.

The Anatomy of a Job Vacancy

So, you have a job in mind, but the vacancy document is over seven pages long! You don’t have time to read all of that!

How do you cut it down to get to the meat of the application, so you know what you’re applying for?

NHS job vacancies are usually presented with two crucial sections:

  • Job description (JD)
  • Person specification (PS)

Have a look at this infographic to get an idea of how an NHS job vacancy is structured:

an infographic showing the different sections of an NHS job application

In short, the JD is where the employer will tell you about themselves and the responsibilities of the job role.

The PS is where they will state what they are looking for in YOU in order to fulfil this role. This is the part where you have to demonstrate how you meet all their criteria.

It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the amount of information there is on a vacancy. It might be useful to print out the document and highlight the important parts.

While the PS is where you want your experience to shine, the JD is just as important. It is easy for an employer to spot if you don’t have a basic understanding of the role, whether this is at the application or interview stage.

The JD might be several pages long, but if you’re new to the sector it’s a good idea to read this document properly, for both your benefit and to ensure a smooth application process.

How long does it take to fill out an NHS job application form?

This depends on whether it’s your first ever job application or your tenth. It can take anywhere from thirty minutes to three hours, but once you’ve completed the first couple of applications, the next few won’t take as long. You can always tweak the original application to suit the needs of any subsequent job postings.

Writing the Application

Once you’ve gone through the JD and PS a few times, it’s time to write the application.

There are several different ways that an application might be presented:

  • As a series of questions to fill out
  • Simply uploading your CV
  • Writing a personal statement

Whichever way is presented to you, the same rules will apply:




Let’s go through an example question so you get an idea of what to write. I’ll be writing answers for the fictitious role of “Experienced Mug Collector” (yes, a totally fictional role…).

hiring a mug collector! image

Why would you be good for this role?

This is the question everyone hates. Other iterations might be “tell me about yourself” or simply “why you?”

Most people have a natural aversion to talking about themselves (I know I do). When this question pops up, it might spook you, making you want to hide in a corner and under a blanket.

But don’t be scared: this is a great question to show the employer why you are an excellent candidate.

So, why would I be a good fit for the role of Experienced Mug Collector?

This is a good place to brainstorm your ideas in short form. You don’t need to write out long paragraphs, but short bullet points are enough so you know the broad strokes of your answer.

how to answer NHS job application questions

Let’s go back to the rules:

Share your experience—

I have experience in selecting and curating exceptional quality novelty mugs.

This is direct, straight to the point, and tells the employer EXACTLY what you can do. Now you need to back it up.

Be specific—

In 2018, I collected a record fifteen mugs over eight months when travelling abroad across Europe. This led to being awarded the ‘Muggiest Mug’ certificate by the esteemed Facebook group, It’s a Mug Life.

This is the evidence to back up your claim and can be approached in several different ways. My favourite is the STAR method, an extremely useful way to present the specifics of your answer:

  • Situation: what was the challenge/goal?
  • Task: what tasks were involved?
  • Action: what did you do and how?
  • Result: what were the benefits of the results?

Imagine the employer asking you these questions about your experience; they want to know more. Give them that information.

Answer the question—

This experience makes me an excellent fit for the role of Experienced Mug Collector.

Why did I put this rule at the end and not the beginning?

Once you’ve followed the first two rules, you’ll more or less have answered the question. However, sometimes it’s easy to go off topic and talk about your grandmother’s love for mug collecting, rather than your own experience.

Keeping this rule in mind towards the end makes you go over your bullet points and make sure you’ve shown how you answer their question.

It’s also nice to end with a summary sentence like the one above, just to link everything together.

If the application is asking to simply upload your CV, ensure the information in your CV hits the relevant points.

Employers will be looking for someone who ticks the boxes in their PS, so make sure you’re still sharing your experience, being specific, and answering their questions.

the STAR method to answering NHS job application questions

How long does it take to hear back from an NHS job application?

Employers are usually fairly quick to respond after the closing date, but if you haven’t heard back within 2-3 weeks, there’s no harm in sending a follow up email. A contact email for the recruiter can be found on the vacancy profile.

‘But what if I have no experience in mug collecting (or direct experience for the role)?’ you might be asking. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not the end of the world. People are always changing careers or are graduates looking for their first role in a sector, so it’s perfectly acceptable to not have direct experience.

BUT! It’s important to talk about the experience you do have. This could be from your previous job, a volunteer role, or even a hobby.

As long as you follow the rules above, you are still demonstrating that you can fulfil the role with the experience you have.

On top of your experiences, ensure you include any relevant qualifications that are a bonus to the basic requirements they are asking for (for example, if you completed a course in ‘Patient Consultation Skills’ in addition to your formal qualifications).

What about a cover letter?

NHS job applications don’t necessarily require a cover letter. Some vacancies won’t even have a section for you to add one.

But that doesn’t mean you don’t have to write one!

The information you would normally include in a cover letter will now be fed into specific parts of your application. This includes:

  • why you’re applying for the role
  • why you’re the best candidate
  • your formal qualifications

Top tip: stop ‘believing’ or ‘thinking’ — start being!

Compare the two:

“I believe this experience has provided me with a unique insight into the industry of mug collecting.”


“I have a unique insight into the mug collecting industry, shown when I…”

‘I believe’ adds a subjectivity that doesn’t work in your favour: your opinion can be disputed. If you write “I have X” instead of “I believe I have X” it demonstrates your confidence in your skills.

The Proofreading Stage

Finally! You’ve answered all the questions and are happy with the way you’ve presented your experiences.

This next stage is just as important if you want to show you are a serious professional. You need to make sure you’ve dotted all the i’s and crossed all the t’s (metaphorically speaking!)

If you’re proofreading your own work, here are some tips:

  • Take some time away from the application to give you a fresh pair of eyes.

Twenty-four hours is ideal, but if you’re pushed for time then give it a few hours and take yourself away from the screen.

  • Read your work aloud.

Reading aloud helps you to find the sense in the words and might help you spot those pesky errors.

  • Use a spell check software like Grammarly or even MS Word.

It’s important to note that these are not perfect and there will be nonsense recommendations from even the most advanced software. Remember to use common sense, too.

  • Ask a friend or colleague to read over your application for you

The last point is the most crucial. It’s incredibly useful to have another pair of eyes read over your application or CV to make sure you’re making sense.

They don’t even have to be from the sector you’re applying to, but their objective perspective will help catch errors you didn’t even realise were there.

Take it slow!

The process of applying for jobs can be laborious, time consuming, and disheartening. Take it a few applications at a time, follow these tips, and soon you’ll land on an interview and a role that you enjoy.

NHS job application proofreader ad graphic

Have you been applying for jobs but not getting the response you want? Or perhaps you’re struggling to get the ideas you have across and need help getting the words in the right place?

Take a look at my proofreading service where I can help structure your application you make sure your employers know EXACTLY who you are and what you can do.