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The nurse recruitment process in 6 simple steps


The recruitment process for nurses in the UK is straightforward as long as you know what steps are involved.

Whether you’re looking to recruit a nurse for your organisation or you’re a practising health care professional looking to change roles, here’s a useful overview of the nurse recruitment process in the UK:

1. Job adverts and applying for jobs

The first step in the nursing recruitment process are adverts for job vacancies. These online job descriptions will usually include a person specification and outline a list of the experiences and skills required to complete the role.

Job adverts can vary exponentially in detail and can sometimes form a barrier to application for nurses looking for work. The most common barriers are often job posts outlining too many requirements at this early stage in the recruitment process. It’s almost always best to outline the fundamental requirements in order to encourage applications, rather than limit the number of candidates who might apply.

Nursing job adverts will almost always include general skills such as having robust medical knowledge, exceptional patient care or good communication skills. However, if there is a requirement for more specialist skills, these should be clearly outlined, for example, an ER nurse or a specialist in mental health nursing.

Job adverts should also state whether the role is to be in a personal or private setting, and for what type of organisation – working for the NHS, in social care or a care home, for example. 

To fill any nursing vacancy you will need to make sure that the right people are seeing your job advert. The best way to achieve this is by ensuring your advert is displayed in as many relevant places as possible. Nursing job vacancies can be found in hospitals, online job boards, with health and care recruitment agencies, social media and in specialist publications. If the role is with a private health care organisation, they should also share the vacancy to their audience. 

2. Standing out and filtering applications

Whether it’s via a CV or an online application form, what is written on the initial application will determine who gets called to the next-stage interview. This is the place where candidates should highlight any nursing qualifications, specialisms, skills and training that match the job description. It’s important that anyone applying for a vacancy takes the time to cater their application to the job on offer. Including and highlighting key details that match the job description, will help with the approval process and taking the application to the next stage. 

In addition, overseas nurses looking to work in the UK will need to complete an NMC (Nurses and Midwifery Council) application. This is the body that regulates nursing in the UK and is required for all registered nurses in the UK. If training was taken outside the UK, nurses will be required to take an English language test and also a test of competence (ToC) if training was outside the EU. If your training was outside the UK, you will also need to demonstrate your right to work in the UK. More information on international nursing applications can be found on the NHS website.

3. The interview process

This crucial step in the recruitment process will help draw up a final shortlist of candidates. Interviews can be conducted face to face or online and can be with a single member of staff or a panel.

To get this far, a recruiter or hiring manager has already assessed that the applicants skills match the job description sufficiently, so an interview is also about seeing if a candidate is a good fit for the workplace culture. It’s also an opportunity for the nursing recruit to ask questions to see if the role is right for them. Some typical questions might be:

Recruiter questions:

  • Why did you decide to become a nurse?
  • What is the most challenging aspect of nursing?
  • How do you handle difficult patients?
  • How do you deal with stressful situations?
  • What would be your ideal working environment?
  • Why do you want to work in healthcare?

Candidate questions: 

  • What support is there in place for new nurses?
  • How do you ensure staff have a good work/life balance?
  • What support is there for nurses facing challenging patients?
  • What is the staff turnover rate?

4. Obtaining & checking references

If the interview is successful and a job offer is made, the next stage in the process is for the recruiter or hiring manager to contact referees who can give a bit more detail about the candidate. Each candidate should include two or three references on their application, with at least two of these being in a supervisory role. Referees can give a clearer insight into a candidate’s work ethic, skills and abilities and confirm suitability for the role.  

Questions that might be asked of a referee include:

  • What were the candidate’s main role and duties?
  • What are the candidate’s biggest strengths and weaknesses?
  • What advice can you give to someone managing this candidate?
  • Can you confirm the work/tasks carried out by the candidate at your organisation?

5. Undergoing checks & compliance

Once the references have been collected and verified, the next stage is background and compliance checks. Any recruiter will want to know that a potential candidate has the relevant competencies and legal documentation required before taking on a new role. These measures are put in place to ensure the safety of nurses and also the patients they work with. 

Most organisations have a dedicated recruiter who will carry out background checks to make sure the candidate has all the relevant paperwork. This will include validating documents such as (if applicable) MNC registration, Right to Work, DBS, National Insurance and home address documents.

Compliance checks are carried out to make sure nursing recruits are confident and competent before taking on a new role. This will usually include showing evidence of clinical and core nursing skills, or taking an assessment to review these skills and any other key areas of work.

6. Beginning in-house training 

A recruiter may decide that a candidate is a good fit for their organisation but some of the skills are lacking. This can easily be solved by offering pre-work training sessions to candidates before they take on a new role. This enables new nurses to get up to speed with an organisation’s procedures before they start working in that environment. It also guarantees that the nurse’s skills will be of a high quality and similar standard as the rest of the staff.

This also presents a good opportunity for new recruits to meet other members of the team, including line managers and supervisors, as well as potential patients. This can all help to make the new recruit feel supported and welcomed before they take on their new role.  

Looking to hire? Or maybe a new challenge?

Safehands Recruitment are a health and social care recruitment agency with offices across the UK. Our team can help with filling nursing vacancies, offering support and advice on applying for jobs and helping you find the right opportunity or member of staff for your team. If you are looking for a new role in healthcare you can see our latest healthcare jobs here.

If you would like to send details of a vacancy you’re looking to fill to one of our specialist recruiters please submit a vacancy and include any information relevant to the role you are looking to fill. We will pair your enquiry with a consultant who will get back in contact with you and begin contacting relevant applicants from our database of healthcare professionals.

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