Tips to nail your Graduate Nurse Program application and interview

“We’re looking for people with strong interpersonal skills and an enthusiasm to learn,” says Sarah Britten, Graduate Nurse Program Coordinator at Melbourne’s St Vincent’s Hospital, of how she goes about selecting some of the next generation of nurses.

“Your graduate year should be all about learning, so we want grads to be self-directed and passionate about that. Above all, we want grads to be really passionate about nursing. It’s a great career and there’s a lot of opportunities.”

The St Vincent’s Graduate Nurse Program offers more than 100 graduate positions each year, spread across its RN, Aboriginal and Care of the Older Person programs.

Graduates undertake two six-month clinical rotations, across areas such as cardiology, the emergency department and palliative care, receiving support from Sarah and co-GNP Coordinator Paula Titford, as well as Practice Development Nurses (PDNs).

Sarah Britten

“Our role is to recruit the next wave of nurses and the new graduates for the following year,” Sarah says.

“We undertake that recruitment from the application stage right through to interviews and then selecting them.

“When they’re part of our program, we facilitate study days and learning opportunities for them and coordinate their clinical rotations. We provide a contact for them and support them through the year. Even though they will be homed on individual wards and their managers look after them, we provide a space to support them through their graduate year.”

St Vincent’s, which employs more than 6,000 staff across 18 sites throughout Melbourne, typically receives about 800-900 applications for its Graduate Nurse Program each year, meaning competition is tough.

Lodging your online application

For Victorian nursing students applying to St Vincent’s, the hospital requires a cover letter, resume, academic transcript, two clinical placement reports and one referee, which can be either a clinical teacher, preceptor or RN that the student has recently reported to.

“We look at all components of the application,” Sarah explains.

“We look at their CV and cover letter and just have a look at what their background is, what type of degree they’ve completed if they’ve done any voluntary work and what they’ve done throughout their clinical placements.

“With the cover letter, like all potential employers, we’re looking for strong candidates that can write well, have researched our hospital and can tell us why they want to become a nurse and undertake a graduate program with us.”

Sarah says while academic scores are taken into consideration, they make up only one aspect of the overall application. She says students should not be unduly concerned about their results, with the most important thing being that they have completed their academic requirements.

A large emphasis is placed on clinical placement reports because they invariably reveal how an undergraduate has performed and if they will make suitable graduates.

“We’re just making sure that they’re at the standard level of what the reports are supposed to be,” Sarah says.

“Every university has a different report and you have to be at a certain level to be passing. We want to make sure candidates are at standard level for their university and for a third-year nursing student and are looking for comments about teamwork, communication, how many patients they might have been caring for, those sort of things that make them stand out.”

Sarah advises students to make sure their applications are accurate and complete.

She says some students often attach the wrong clinical report or have pages missing within their application, but adds that the GNP program is flexible and will make contact with students to alert them.

After applications are received, GNP coordinators whittle the field down to a shortlist of 500 to be interviewed.

“Make sure your cover letter is proofread, that it’s addressed to the correct people and the correct hospital. It sounds funny, but we often get applications addressed to other hospitals because students are writing four letters and sometimes they just copy that letter four times. It’s not very personal. If you’re really interested in the hospital, make sure to be specific about that hospital.”

What to expect in your interview

Sarah says the interview process for St Vincent’s Graduate Nurse Program involves two parts – a group activity followed by an individual interview in front of a panel.

The group activity consists of about seven nursing students who are given a scenario that they need to problem solve within 45 minutes by using teamwork and their critical thinking to come up with a resolution.

“We want to see how well they work in a team and communicate,” Sarah says.

The group activity is immediately followed by the individual interview, in front of two panellists.

“It can be a really daunting experience, so we take that into consideration and try to put students at ease and give them ample opportunity throughout the experience to ask us any questions or come back to a question if they miss something. We try and provide a really engaging environment for them,” Sarah says.

“It’s a chance to meet them as a person and get to know them more individually. They are given some clinical scenarios that they have to talk through and they have to share a little about themselves.

“In the group scenario, we’re looking for good teamwork and great communication skills and individually we’re looking to see if students have done their research on the program and the hospital and its mission and culture. We want them to know specifics about our program and have examples of their own experience when answering questions.”

How can students stand out from the pack?

“My advice to students would be to prepare. We can tell when students haven’t prepared well for an interview,” Sarah says.

“We’re also looking for graduates who not only know our hospital really well and have researched our program but are committed to working with us. We’re looking for grads not just for the next 12 months but those who want a career at St Vincent’s for the long-term.”

What if you miss out on a graduate position?

With as many as 900 applications per year and just 100 graduate positions, Sarah says making the cut is difficult.

“That’s the sad reality,” she concedes.

“That there are probably more nurses than graduate spots, so it is really hard for these students that do miss out.”

Sarah says St Vincent’s always encourages those who have missed out to remain in contact throughout the year in case a vacancy comes up and to also look at other alternatives and keep persisting.

“When they get notified if they’ve got a position or not we encourage them to ring around hospitals and just ask, to see if any vacancies come up because people do withdraw.

“We often advise them to look at the smaller hospitals that might not have been in the PMCV Computer Match system who may not have filled all their positions. It’s really about them being proactive and just making contact with health services.

“And it’s not just initially. We do have people pull out of the program throughout the year for many different reasons, and sometimes we need to look back on our previous applications, so if people are in contact with us and they’re fresh in our memory, then we’ll definitely go back and look at them.”

To find out more about St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne’s Graduate Nurse Program click here.

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