Every month for our student newsletter 'Get Involved!', we’re asking a member of staff at the RPS to give their hints and tips on our topic of the month. For our October edition we’re looking at providing guidance to students when preparing their CV and cover letter to enhance career opportunities in an ever increasing competitive market. We ask Daniel Sutcliffe, Pharmacy Engagement Officer at the RPS and recently qualified pharmacist, his top tips for standing out from the crowd when applying for those all-important Pre-Registration placements.
As a student preparing to apply for their Pre-Registration placements, how important is work experience for their CV?
This is the most important part of your application and often the first part that employers look at. When I worked at St George’s, we had over 200 applicants for our summer placement scheme and one of the main things which differentiated applicants was their previous level of work experience. Put your relevant (pharmacy related work experience) at the top and then your other work experience at the bottom, reference your work experience in your covering letter.
Decide early on whether you want to pursue a career in hospital or community pharmacy and target your work experience towards these sectors. For community work experience, try the major high street chains first (Boots, Lloyds, Well pharmacy etc), they will all have dedicated summer placement sections on their careers websites and they use them as a chance to get to know applicants before offering them interviews for Pre-Reg positions.
Following this, you may have more luck in applying for work at independent pharmacies. Introduce yourself and hand a copy of your CV to the manager , ask if you can work in their pharmacy for a week or so over summer and mention the fact that you won’t expect to be paid as well as any previous experience you may have. I know lots of colleagues who first got experience in this way, it also shows that you are proactive which can help out in your interviews. Hospital work experience placements can be more difficult to find, however a useful link can be found here which outlines the various hospital trusts and relevant contacts across the country.
Prepare a CV and send it out to as many hospitals as you wish, then try calling hospital pharmacy departments expressing your interest in doing a hospital placement. I managed to get work experience in Harrogate and Hillingdon by doing this, so it can work.
How did you make sure you stood out from the crowd to your employer when applying for pre-registration applications and jobs?
If you are applying to a hospital, be sure to take time over your pharmalife application, it really shows when you put a lot of effort in. Find out about the key services and hospital trust values, customising your application to mention them.
Relate everything back to your experience and be very enthusiastic. Express how passionate you are to learn, mention times you’ve demonstrated key skills: prioritisation, time management, organisation, working in teams and compassion. For instance, you may have been busy dispensing a repeat prescription for the next day, but reprioritised to help out at the counter because of a distressed or ill patient which would demonstrate multiple key skills. Remember, everything is about the patient, therefore try and thread this in to your responses to application and interview questions.
What top tips & advice can you give to students when trying to achieve that perfect CV & cover letter?
Take care when choosing the style and formatting of your CV, there are lots of templates available to give you an idea of how to set it out, but it’s a good idea to make your CV your own so that it looks unique, don’t use comic sans when your designing your CV (you’d be surprised how many applicants do, and it leaves a poor first impression). The RPS has great career support guides which I’ve found really useful.
Make sure your covering letter is no longer than a page of A4 with lots of flashy keywords. Try to get across how passionate and enthusiastic you are for pharmacy and why you’re applying to that particular company or hospital, If you have lots of work experience then mention that too. There's no need to write 'CV' at the top, employers will know what it is, but do provide your name, contact details and RPS number. Start your CV with a short paragraph explaining your key skills, and how you have previously demonstrated these. Make your CV concise, after each work experience entry on your CV briefly mention what you did, what you learned, and how much you enjoyed it. Finally, sign off your CV with some contacts for references, your university tutor and any recent employers are a good idea.
Find more support on our careers support section.