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An Honest Guide to the Application Process...Part 1

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I have clearly been slacking when it comes to my blogging duties, which is partly my fault and partly through unforeseen circumstances.  I am now way past the halfway point of my pre-reg and have crossed over to the hospital part of my training.  I am in a completely different world to what I spent the previous 6 months working in, nevertheless I am enjoying myself and learning an incredible amount, which will all be helpful to my future practice.

I recently gave a lecture about my pre-reg to some undergraduate students and thankfully the feedback was positive.  There seemed a vibe of intrigue regarding an industry/hospital split and I was pleased with the response and questions which were asked.  Whilst I may not be the most qualified person to talk about recruitment, I believe my experiences of going through the process and the pre-reg may be invaluable, or at least a little bit helpful to someone.

I guess it would be helpful to have a little bit of my background and the steps I have taken to reach this point in my career (so you can judge if my advice is worth you listening to).  Having started my pharmacy degree at the University of Nottingham, I quickly realised that the pharmaceutical industry was something I was interested in.  For the first two years, I worked mainly in community pharmacies as summer placements and in third year was lucky enough to be selected to be part of the AstraZeneca pharmacy summer placement scheme.  I received multiple industry/hospital pre-reg offers and decided to accept the offer from Merck Sharp and Dohme (MSD)/ Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust.

Whilst at MSD, I was fortunate enough to be part of the recruitment process for my successors.  I was extremely pleased at this opportunity, as it was something I was keen to do and my input was valued.  I must admit, I enjoyed every single minute of screening through the pile of applications, looking for those candidates with the potential to excel in the position.

Personally it is my opinion that the application is the most difficult/critical part to getting a position, as the decision is totally in the hands of the person behind the desk, scrutinising your words on the page in a maximum of 1 minute.

As competition for places increases, selection criteria become stricter and the importance of standing out from the crowd is essential.  It becomes clear after only looking at a few applications that it is extremely easy to spot one which stands out.  There are a few myths about applications and industry in general, however the minimum criteria generally is: currently achieving at least an upper second class and some pharmacy/industry/research experience.

This leads me onto my first ‘tip’: the more experience the better.  Students with industry experience are advantaged at the application stage – as it shows commitment to the cause.  It is however generally well known that industry experience is often very difficult to come by and so is not an absolute requirement.  This therefore means that your other pharmacy/research experience is crucial to help get past the screening process.  I would recommend trying to find work in the summer holidays after each year of university.  Each year you have experience, the easier the next year will be to secure a placement.  Start from first year and apply to everything you can, I would especially aim for independent pharmacies early on in your pharmacy degree as they may be more willing to let you have some experience.  Also, at this stage, it isn’t all about getting paid – maybe ask if they will take you on as a trial basis.  If you impress, who knows, they may employ you for the whole summer (it worked for me!).  Another good way to get some research experience is to ask your lecturers if they would be willing to take you on over the summer.  Application writing may be a difficult, time consuming, frustrating experience at first, however the more you write, the easier it becomes, hence writing your pre-reg application and beyond should be a lot less daunting.

Extra-curricular activities do count towards your application!  These are a really good way to stand out from others; however you must be able to phrase them in a way which adds value to your application.  It’s a good idea to say what skills you gained from it rather than just stating that you do this.  These not only make you stand out, they show you are able to manage your time as well as providing information on your personality.

One of my pet hates is poor spelling and grammar (my apologies if there are mistakes in this post!).  An application needs to be free from errors in spelling and grammar to avoid a one way trip to the shredder.  If these are not your strong point, get someone else to read through your work.  Errors indicate a serious lack of attention to detail, which I guess is sacrilege if you are training to be a pharmacist!

Another important aspect of an application for an industry/hospital split is that it is exactly that – a split between two different sectors.  To succeed you have to appeal to both sectors, maybe even more so to the hospital than the industry.  At the end of the day, the pre-reg is a year which should enable you to become a competent pharmacist (at the very least) and if the hospital is not comfortable that you will be able to learn the clinical aspects in 6 months, you are unlikely to be offered a place.  The cover letter that you write must therefore entice both sectors and make them believe you are the perfect fit.

Also, a quick way for your application to be binned is if you do not answer the question, or not fully enough.  You have to read the question carefully and answer it appropriately – if you cannot do this, it is safe to say, you are not deserving of the position.  It is vital to answer the question that is put in front of you and not what you want the question to be.  Word/character limits are also a big clue as to how much they would want you to write – if you can’t fill the allocated space with good material, are you a worthy candidate?

Whilst I am specifically writing from an industry split perspective, these can be transferred to any application, as the advice is quite applicable!  A cover letter should be kept to one page and your CV to two pages.  It is all about being concise and only having the most relevant things on each of these, which show you in the best light.  Most likely, anything longer than this, you are going to bore the reader senseless, as well as showing you cannot write concisely or illustrate your strongest aspects.  You must make sure that you make the key information stand out – how you do this is up to you, just remember it needs to remain professional!

Many people will tell you to take your time with your applications, working on them a little at a time and coming back to them frequently.  I sometimes may agree with this sentiment, however believe you should do what comes most naturally to you (the following may be controversial).  If you work best at 3am, typing flat out for 5 hours, I see no harm in taking the same approach to applications.  If this is how you work and what works best for you, why should you take a different approach to application writing?

When it comes to supplying contact details, give your mobile number and a professional sounding, non-university email address.  I suggest your mobile number, rather than a landline, as you never know when you are going to receive a call to an interview, or even an impromptu telephone interview!  Don’t waste your chance by giving a telephone number you are never can be contacted on – patience wears thin for those who don’t answer their telephone interviews!  Also, whilst this may seem to defy all logic, I would suggest not using your university email address on your pre-reg applications.  One point to bear in mind is that you may find access to your university email address ceases pretty quickly after graduating.  Keeping a good trail of your pre-reg application emails and correspondences may come in handy, so using your university email may turn out to be a good way to lose all of this.

Of course, all of what is written in this blog post is just my opinion and what I found from my applications and screening process.  I am no recruitment expert, just someone who is passionate about seeing others succeed.  I hope that this blog/rant will be helpful to some of you out there who are thinking of an industry split pre-reg or anyone really.

 

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