I started at the University of Manchester in 2009 studying my dream subject: Anatomical Sciences. Back then I had my future all planned out: do a placement year with a pharmaceutical company, graduate, get a PhD, make a major scientific discovery and win a Nobel Prize (or so I liked to think!)
Four years later, I’ve done one of those things: graduate. I’ve also presented to Chief Executives, saved my employer tens of thousands of pounds, improved employee satisfaction and worked on a £6billion project impacting 3 million people (I’m still waiting on the Nobel Prize though). And that’s only in my first year with the NHS Graduate Management Training Scheme (GMTS). The scheme is a fast-track development programme for ambitious graduates with the potential to become senior leaders in the NHS, combining full-time work placements with postgraduate and vocational study and training. It’s considered one of the best training schemes in the UK and highly competitive: last year the scheme received 12,500 applications for 100 places. So how did I get one of places?
For starters I worked hard during my three years at Manchester, and not necessarily just on my degree. I’ve always been that person who puts their hand up for everything. When I started University I realised there’s a huge range of clubs, societies and activities to get involved in and something to suit everyone. I sat on the RAG Committee, wrote for The Mancunion, worked as a Student Ambassador and was a Community Representative. I also enrolled for the Manchester Leadership Programme which had the added bonus of contributing to my degree. Not only did I have a lot of fun, but I built up a wealth of skills that I talked about in my application and interview and helped me hold my own against others who had several years of NHS work experience.
I also tried to be organised with thinking about my next steps after my degree, even if they did change dramatically. Most schemes take anywhere between six months and a year to recruit, and every year thousands miss out because they find out about these opportunities too late (this year’s NHS GMTS closes for the September 2014 intake on 9th December 2013). I found out about the scheme towards the end of second year and spent the summer preparing my application, before going to an interview in the middle of a tea-fuelled, sleepless January exam period and completing the final assessment centre whilst finishing my dissertation. Whilst it was arguably one of the most stressful years of my life, it paid off when I was sitting my final exams and enjoying the summer knowing I had a full-time graduate job to start in September and wasn’t in limbo like a lot of my friends. The Careers Service were integral to helping me balance my studies and job applications and there is no doubt in my mind that one of the main reasons I passed the rigorous application process first time was because I used them so much they came close to evicting me. They were hugely supportive throughout the process and are highly experienced in the ins and outs of graduate scheme applications. At every stage I used the services on offer to boost my confidence- from application checking, to mock interviews and practice psychometric tests and assessment centres.
On a slightly more enjoyable note, applying for graduate schemes was a legitimate use to spend time on social networking sites. I joined Twitter when I’d exhausted all interesting Facebook activity and was looking for a new distraction from my January exams (admittedly not great timing…). Back then I was using it to tweet photos of dogs in amusing costumes, but as I started thinking about my options post-University it became the easiest way to stay up to date with the NHS, find out who the key players are and engage with others in the industry. It breaks down the traditional barriers and opens up access to all sorts of interesting people- I regularly have discussions with Chief Executives, journalists and healthcare managers all over the world which continue to help me build networks and further my knowledge. Just remember to keep it clean- employers will Twitter-stalk you so leave the photos of your night in 5thAvenue for Facebook! (Although turns out NHS managers do enjoy the occasional hilarious animal photo).
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