Agile Work

agile work v,

to bring together people, processes, connectivity and technology in order to find the most appropriate and effective way of carrying out a particular task; used here to denote the adaptability of public health professionals in working in partnership and applying their expertise in different areas or fields

Tips for Applying and Interviewing for Public Health Jobs

How to nail that application

Some jobs you'll apply for (e.g. in local authority) will require your CV and a covering letter. Others (e.g. UKHSA or NHS) will need you to fill out an application form. I've been involved in recruiting public health staff for years now and I have seen too many good people fail to showcase their achievements and equally seen others list everything they've done but none of it showing me why they want to work in public health and why they want to work with me.  The sad thing is that if you are not short listed for interview, you don't get feedback on your application so I'm hoping to share with you some tips now that will enable you to get to the next stage, the interview.  

Making your application form stand out 

Typically application forms (e.g. on Trac for NHS or UKHSA posts) cover your personal details, your qualifications and relevant courses (usually the last 5 done in the last few years), current and past jobs (plus description of your duties and responsibilities) and your supporting information (i.e. your personal statement on why you are the right fit for the job).  There may be other questions to do with project work experience, leadership or research, examples of teamwork.  It will depend on what job you are applying for.   It is worth knowing that all applications are viewed blind - that is recruiters cannot see your name or personal details and so do not know who you are.   

Each section has a pre-agreed marking system.  This system contains categories and you need to aim to achieve as many marks as possible in each category in order to be in the top scoring candidates, so you can get called for interview.  There are hints to what these categories are in the person specification at the back of the job description.   For example, if a masters is required for the post then there will be points allocated to this in the scoring scheme.   It is important to make sure you do this as the recruiters are checking if you are a good match for the job.   Also make sure you complete all sections of the form.   

When filling out the current and past jobs, some people do not provide much detail in the free text box at the end of each job.  This is a mistake as here is your chance to show the recruiter what responsibilities you had and your capabilities.   Phrases like "I am responsible for.." , "I oversee..." and "my workload covers..."  are good to use.   This is a good place to point out your transferable skills.  I cannot stress how important these are.  I have seen so many people think they need a public health qualification to work in public health when public health is a mix of disciplines working together.   I've had some amazing team members who came from financial backgrounds, communications, private sector and they brought with them skills that made a huge difference to how the teams performed.   Think about what you have done so far and they how this experience or skillset can

be applied to the public health job you are applying for.  

Remember for public health, outcomes and impact on population health is really important.  If you delivered a project, for example, on increasing uptake of weight management services, you need to say  what the outcome was.  For example, "I oversaw the delivery of local weight management services which increased the reach to underserved populations and increased proportion of participants who achieved the required 5% weight loss from 10% to 40%." It's not enough to say your duties, you need to advertise the benefit your work produced.  

For your personal statement/supporting information, the recruiter really needs to see why you want this job.  Too often I see a rehearsed script on how good the person is at work but nothing about their passion for public health or why they want this job.   As a recruiter, I need to know why you want to work with my team, at my workplace and what you can bring that will help us achieve our goals.   And when you are listing your personal qualities (e.g. "excellent at data analysis"), please back this up with some evidence.  For example, "I am excellent at data analysis.  In my last post, I set up the first local surveillance system for emerging sexual health issues and my quarterly reports has meant that the Sexual Health Board can horizon scan and plan interventions accordingly."   Often the advert will give you pointers about what they want to see in your supporting information  - there may be headings of 'knowledge and experience',  'skills and capabilities' and 'equality and diversity'.   Again the person specification will be organised around these headings and you can use that to structure your personal statement and demonstrate how you meet each requirement.  You need to convince the recruiter that you have the required skills, knowledge and experience and that they should be inviting you for an interview.

One last pointer.  The application form takes hours to complete so do give yourself plenty of time.   Do save a copy for yourself as this will form the basis of all future applications.   I have kept a copy for every job I've applied for and it is a really good history of what I have done and certainly makes the application process easier as I have all information at my fingertips.   It is also worth knowing that sometimes posts close early if they have more than enough candidates so don't leave it to the last day to submit. 


Acing the CV and cover letter

There are plenty of websites out there to hep you devise a CV - e.g.  National Careers Service.  Many people will tell you to keep it as short as possible - 2 pages.   Personally, I find that difficult for public health jobs as often, you'll be listing publications or presentations you have given so maybe it's more like 4 A4 pages maximum.   I tend to have two CVs - a long one and a short one.  The short one is the one I use to apply for posts whilst the long one lists everything I done so I have a work history to draw from.   I update my CV all the time and it's a good habit to do so you're always ready to apply a job.   

CVs typically cover your qualifications, any other relevant courses, work experience, hobbies and interests, skills and references.  Nowadays, you don't need to put your age or gender on the CV, just your contact details.  Some people put a brief profile/short statement at the start.  It is a good way to summarise who you are and your unique selling point (USP).  Don't underestimate hobbies and interests.  Recruiters do scan it to see how it reveals other characteristics - e.g. playing on a football team demonstrates teamwork, tactical and strategical thinking - and shows you have a good life/work balance.  Including any charity work or volunteering you have done is good too as that demonstrates some of the skills needed in public health work. 

In relation to the cover letter, my advice here follows what I have said in the previous section on personal statement.  You need to show the recruiter why you want this job and why you want to work with their team.   You need to show your passion for public health.   Too often people just state why they think they are the best candidate and the recruiter is left thinking but why work with me, why this job?  This is your opportunity to sell yourself so use it to your advantage.  Demonstrate why you would be suitable and how you meet the person specification.  When you are writing why you are the best for the job, don't forget to back it up with evidence.  Otherwise the recruiter only has your word for it.   Useful headings are: 
  • your duties and responsibilities
  • your skills, knowledge and/or experience which is relevant to the post
  • identify any employment gaps
  • voluntary work you have accomplished
  • research, publication and/or presentation experience
Again don't forget your transferable skills.   You don't need to have a public health qualification or experience to get a job in public health.  Indeed, we welcome people from all areas of work.  Just think about what you have done in the past and how this could be applied to the job you are applying for.  

Preparing for the interview

Look over your CV and see where your projects or work experience could be repackaged as public health.  For example, you may have worked on a project on improving communication about cancer.  Think about how the results of that piece of work were used.  Were they fed into a health promotion campaign or was your work presented at a meeting that influenced decision makers to make changes to how they supported prevention and/or treatment of cancer.  

Questions will be based around the job description that accompanied the job advert so go through the person specification and make up questions on each named desirable/essential criteria.   

Do also take some time to read up about the organisation you are applying to.  What is their vision or purpose?  How would this post contribute to the organisation's policies and aims?  What makes it different from others and how those differences will have an impact on your work?

Prepare some questions to ask the panel.  Asking questions show that you are keen about this job. Be careful not to ask for information that has already been provided or discussed during the interview.

As this is a public health job, you should know about the population you will be helping.   Check out  Health Profiles and  Fingertips.

Often in interviews questions are divided into competency and behavioural questions:
  • Motivational (why this job? Why this organisation? What challenges would you face?)
  • Competencies – use STAR (examples of past work)
  • Strengths
  • Judgement based (hypothetical) – what would you do?
  • Unexpected questions (if you were on a desert island, which three things would you take with you?)
Further help on interview preparation can be found here:  Modern Interview Guide - YouTube and  How to Succeed in an Interview.

Common questions that are asked

  • "Talk me through your CV" (i.e. what transferable skills and public health experience have you got, why are you interested in public health and this post and what can you bring to this post?) 
  • What do you think are the biggest challenges/health challenges facing the local population? 
  • "Have you ever done an audit?" (i.e. do you understand the importance of evaluation and outcomes, about improving population health and not just process?)
  • "Give me an example of when you led a project." (this question gages your leadership and negotiation skills)
  • "Give me an example of a project you led that didn't work out."  (this question is looking to see what you learned and how you applied this going forward) 
  • "Give me an example of where you were faced with conflict."
  • "Why is X (e.g. mental health) a public health issue."
  • "What do you think I should do to improve/lower incidence of X (e.g. obesity) in my area?"

During the interview

  • Be clear and concise in your responses.
  • Do not assume that the panel know the detail of what is in your application form or CV.
  • Sell yourself - give real examples of 'how' you have achieved a positive outcome, specify what these were and the benefits. Be clear about what your personal contribution was.
  • Remember to use 'I' rather than 'we'.
  • Structure your answers with a headline followed by 3 or 4 main points of examples from your own experience.   This pretty much equates to answering the question and followed by why.  Eg. " I think HIV is big public health issue facing this population. but there are ways to reduce that.  From my experience..." 
  • Consider use of the STAR model.  This stands for Situation (what was happening?), Task (what was needed to happen?), Action (what did you do?) and Result (how was your action successful?)  

Applying from Overseas

You will need the right to work in the UK when applying for posts.  To find out more about the system for assessing immigration applications for the UK, see the Health Careers website and