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Top Tips When Applying For Mental Health Jobs

Published on: 1 Sep 2022

Top Tips When Applying For Mental Health Jobs

AUTHOR: Dean Malpass

Landing a job in mental health services is quite different from when I first started working in a mental health hospital in 2007. Then there was fierce competition for newly qualified positions. 

Times have changed and it is now an employee’s market as organisations struggle to find enough high quality recruits. But even so many candidates do not land their preferred roles because of some easily avoidable and common mistakes.

Over the past fifteen years I have been part of the recruitment and selection processes as a registered mental health nurse, hospital manager, regional nursing director, and now as an independent consultant. 

I have interviewed well over a hundred people during my career, for roles ranging from consultant psychiatrists to student nurses, kitchen assistants to regional nurse directors. I have read their CV’s, their applications, and met them in interviews. 

Here are some of my observations and ‘top tips’ to help you land your perfect role. 

Before applying for any roles: 

  • Review your online presence and make it employer friendly. It is now standard practice to do a web and social media search on prospective employees and many do not realise that this forms part of the selection process. Make sure your social media accounts are as private as necessary and that all content that might reflect poorly on you or your current and prospective employer is either removed or hidden to unauthorised viewers. This is even more important for registered professionals (check with your regulator for standards/guidance).

  • Know yourself first. The key to a successful career is being able to match yourself to prospective roles and employers. Recruitment is not a ‘first past the post’ process but more akin to match-making. You, the role and the employer should be a perfect fit. You cannot identify those roles until you understand yourself, what you want and when you are at your best. I recommend sitting down and taking the time to answer a few questions to help you reflect:

    • What motivates you?

    • Do you thrive and excel in busy and changing environments, or do you prefer getting to know your patients over many months?

    • Do you work well in large teams, or prefer smaller working groups?

    • Do you seek quick career progression, or would you rather spend more time working at the same level and honing your clinical skills in a range of areas?

    • Do you see yourself moving into management or corporate services, or see yourself more as a clinical specialist?

    • Do you like a lot of supervision or prefer more independence? 

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. This is about figuring out your own career goals and workplace needs. This will help you better target those roles and employers where you will thrive and be able to accelerate your progress towards your career goals.

  • Believe in your strengths. Alan Weiss (and many others) wrote that the first sale we make is to ourselves. If you don’t believe in yourself it will be very difficult to convince someone else to believe in you. Confidence is a skill everyone can learn and it starts by remembering and noting down all those times when you brought value to a team, a role and organisation. From this you can then identify your strengths and evidence them to a prospective employer through cover letters and CVs. A significant amount of my coaching work focuses on this area.

  • What’s your brand? It sounds odd to talk about ‘branding’ in relation to professionals in a caring profession but it all helps to match you with the right role. Think of how companies use ‘branding’ to find those customers that will love their product and recommend it to others. The same applies when trying to find the role and employer that will make you happy and will help progress your career. To help visualise your brand, look at your strengths and the value you have brought in the past and then also think about what differentiates you from others in the same role. This could be the story of how you got into this sector - perhaps you had experience of helping people as a child or teenager and it triggered your passion? Perhaps it’s a unique combination of skills and interests that mean you can see solutions that others cannot?

  • Be selective. By now you should have a much better idea of the type of roles you should apply for. A common mistake made by those unhappy in their current role or desperate to land their first job, is to apply for 10 - 15 roles in one go. The chances of error increase with the number of applications you do, particularly if you are already in a job and can only devote a few spare hours to applications. I can’t tell you how many times I have read a cover letter that was obviously written for a different role to the one I was recruiting for. It creates a bad impression before you even get to interview. Pace yourself, apply only for those roles you really want and learn from each process to improve.

  • Don’t be afraid of rejection. Applying and interviewing for jobs is something you get better at with practice if you have the humility to ask for feedback, reflect, make changes and improve. The payoff is landing a job that will make you happy, not just pay the bills.

Dean Malpass is a Registered Mental Health Nurse and Chartered Manager and was previously a regional nursing director (Midlands & Wales). He currently provides consultancy services (