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Job applications

How to write a successful job application and maximise your chances of getting shortlisted.

Once you’ve found a suitable job, you'll need to complete the job application. We've put together some advice on how to write the a successful job application. Don't forget that you can make an appointment with the RCN's Career Service if you want your job application checked before submission.

Job applications 

The process for submitting a job application varies greatly depending on the job and the employer. If you’re applying for jobs in the NHS or for larger organisations, you’ll find they will have included a person specification in the job application pack, outlining all the skills, experience and attributes required to do that role. 

Your job application will be judged and scored based on how well it tallies up to this person specification. Candidates who can demonstrate they are the best or closest match will be the ones shortlisted for the next stage of recruitment.


Read everything carefully. The pack could contain the job advert itself, a person specification, a job description, company values, and even instructions on how to apply.  Leave yourself plenty of time to do your application because writing a good personal statement typically takes a few hours. Also, if the job has had a lot of interest, the employer may pull the application early without warning. 

Cover everything  

To ensure you’ve got the best chance of getting through to the next stage, cover every single aspect of the person specification. It’s tempting to leave something out because you don’t think you have the skills or experience required, and don’t want to draw attention to it. However, this could cost you the job, so you’re better off thinking about what transferable skills you have. 

You could draw examples from: 

  • Current or previous roles within the healthcare industry 
  • Current or previous roles from outside the healthcare industry 
  • Volunteering roles 
  • Previous learning / shadowing 
  • University modules / essays / placements 
  • Research / project work 
  • Life experience 
  • Engagement with professional networks / RCN forums / RCN events / RCN congress 
  • Advocacy / activist experience 
See our advice on transferable skills for more in depth information about this.     

Back up your claims   

Try not to make unsubstantiated statements like, "I have excellent communication skills." Explain why and how, using specific examples and evidence to back up your claims.


Research the employer. Visit their website and browse the internet for information about them. It's useful to try and find out what their goals/visions are, if they have any core competencies or company values, or whether they're involved in any initiatives, projects or pilots. This information could give you valuable insight into what the company is looking for in a prospective employee. If you manage to weave any of these into your application, it could get you brownie points.

Spell it out  

Although you don’t have to, it’s recommended that you write your application in the same order as the person specification. Make it clear which attribute within the person specification you’re addressing and demonstrating. Not only will this make life easier for the person shortlisting, but it will eradicate the risk of them accidentally missing something.      

If there is no person specification   

If you’re applying for jobs with smaller companies in the private sector, there may not be a person specification or a formal job application process. The job advert may simply list a few sentences about the job, along with details of where to send your CV and a covering letter.

In this instance you’ll need to study the job advert and identify which skills/experience/qualities the employer is looking for, so that you can address and evidence them in your application or covering letter. If you have particular skills or qualities that haven’t been mentioned in the advert, but you think would be attractive or useful to the employer, then you can of course include them.

You might want to consider contacting the company for an informal chat. This can be the perfect chance to get more information about the job, which you can use to your advantage when you later apply. This can also make you come across as enthusiastic / proactive, not to mention you'll be more memorable later on when the employer is shortlisting.

If there is no person specification, your CV will be especially important. See our information on CV writing for advice and don’t forget you can have your CV checked by one of the RCN's Careers Advisers.