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How to Become an Early Years Practitioner

Interested in starting a career in childcare? Our guide is here to help you figure out how!

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Step 1: Learn about an early years practitioner's role and responsibilities

Being an early years practitioner (also known as a nursery nurse) can be a hugely rewarding job as you’ll be working to support all kinds of children in their formative years. As a nursery nurse you’ll be working with babies and young children up to the age of five years old, and as part of the role you’ll be undertaking a wide range of responsibilities from childcare to administrative duties. 

Here are some of the key responsibilities you’ll likely deal with as an early years practitioner:

  • Supervising and monitoring the children under your care. More than just health and safety, you’ll have safeguarding obligations to help ensure children are safe both at your workplace and in their home life.
  • Reading stories to the children you work with to help develop their language skills as well as helping them to learn number skills through the use of games and other activities. You’ll be preparing all kinds of activities throughout the day to keep children engaged.
  • Observe children’s progress and how they’re developing, looking out for any issues that might arise. It will be part of your job to ensure children are progressing in the best ways they can, and you’ll be working with parents to help achieve this. 
  • You’ll be responsible for caring for children by preparing their food and ensuring a clean environment, as well as helping babies and younger children when they need changing.

When you'll be working

As an early years practitioner when you’ll work might vary. Most nurseries don’t follow typical school term times but there are some exceptions, so you might only be working in term time.

What does an early years practitioner earn?

The average salary for an early years practitioner is £19,001 but depending on your region and experience you could be earning more or less, with nursery nursesalaries ranging up to around £23,785. Less experienced early years practitioners might be paid around £17,004.

If you want to learn more about what an early years practitioner earns then check out our early years practitioner salary page where you can find our breakdown!

How can you progress as an early years practitioner?

Early years practitioner career progression

If you want to know how you could progress, take a look at some of our other career advice pages and find out what you’ll need to get where you want to be!

Step 2: Improve your chances of getting a position as an early years practitioner

If you’re comfortable with the responsibilities of being an early years practitioner, then you’ll need to ensure that you have all of the necessary skills and qualifications for the position and understand what exactly you can do to help yourself get started in a nursery setting.

You’ll need to meet the requirements for the job role you apply for, including any employer specific requirements. Pay attention to whether the job you’re applying for has any unique requirements compared to similar jobs and make sure you fulfil them before applying. There are a few things that you can do to improve your chances of landing the job when you’re looking to enter a career in childcare.

Which qualifications do you need to become an early years practitioner?

In order to qualify as a nursery nurse, you’ll need to have a recognised level 3 qualification in childcare. As part of the qualification, you’ll understand the requirements of a childcare setting and gain a better understanding of the skills you’ll need to care for babies and young children, as well as the responsibilities that might entail.

You could also need an A* to C grade at GCSE level in English and Maths or equivalent, depending on the workplaces you apply for. If you don’t have either one or both of these you should look at taking either a Level 2 Functional Skills English course or Level 2 Functional Skills Maths course. A functional skills qualification is equivalent to having your GCSE qualification at this level, and can help you get into a wide range of jobs, not just in childcare. 

To prepare for a Level 3 Childcare course, taking our Level 2 Childcare course is an ideal way to increase your chance of being enrolled. If you already have your level 3 qualification then you can move onto the next steps!

Check Out Our Level 2 Childcare Course Now!

Need a little something extra for your CV? Our Level 2 Childcare Course will be perfect for you! Get the knowledge you need to excel in a childcare setting.

Get some supporting qualifications valuable to the job

Though not essential, having supporting qualifications can really improve your chances of getting the position that you want and help you to stand out among other applicants. Getting your supporting qualifications will let you demonstrate additional knowledge that other candidates might not have.

For an early years practitioner there are a number of supporting qualifications that could be helpful. A safeguarding and prevent course is going to equip you with the knowledge you need to help safeguard the young children you’ll be caring for which is a hugely important part of the job. Employers, as well as parents, are going to feel confident knowing you have the knowledge you need to support the organisation’s safeguarding responsibilities to a higher level.

In early years work it’s important that you have a first aid qualification in case of minor injuries that the children might end up with. Depending on the employer you might be given the option to receive this training before starting work but having the qualification beforehand can help put you ahead.

You could also look into a qualification in understanding autism. Having a greater understanding of autism and how it affects children could be very beneficial depending on the children you’ll be working with. Even if you’re not working in a specialised setting, having the knowledge is likely going to help in your position as autism affects 1 in 100 people in the UK, which could include some of the children you’re going to be caring for.

How to get experience as an early years practitioner

Any experience working in a childcare setting will be invaluable to you when you’re looking at getting a position as an early years practitioner. This experience could range from anything from babysitting to work as a nanny. 

The most valuable position you could work in before starting as a nursery nurse is as a nursery assistant. Nursery assistants have less responsibility than a fully qualified early years practitioner but it’s a position that will give you an idea of the work environment that you can expect, as well as experience in some of the responsibilities that you’ll be dealing with as an early years practitioner. 

If you don’t have any prior experience in a childcare environment then it’s good to highlight the transferable skills you’ve got from other work that will help you transition into a childcare environment. If you’re looking to work with children with special educational needs or in a more specialised setting it’s a good idea to look for relevant work or volunteering opportunities. Checking out our jobs board is a great way to start searching for the experience you need!

Typical weekly hours

As an early years practitioner you could be working around 38-40 hours a week depending on your nursery and responsibilities.

Step 3: Make sure your CV is up-to-date

You should make sure your CV includes your most up-to-date information, including any relevant qualifications and work experience you might’ve gained since you last updated it. It’s important to present yourself as best you can, since we all know first impressions are important, and your CV is more often than not going to be the first thing potential employers will see. It’s essential that they’re done right.

To make the best impression you can, you’ll need to convey the right information and present it well. Given how important your CV is, we’ve created a short guide to help give you the best chance of landing an interview and starting your career in early years!

Top early years practitioner CV writing tips

When you’re looking at a position as an early years practitioner, it’s crucial that your CV is high quality and reflects your passion for the role. An effective CV is well presented, displays relevant skills and experience, and gives your potential employers an insight into who you are. 

It’s important that you use grammar correctly, that your writing is concise but informative, and any non-relevant information is left out. Not following these rules could mean your application is rejected, since employers could see it as too unprofessional. Our nursery nurse CV writing tips are here to help you to land that position you’ve been waiting for!

1. Grab their attention with a personal profile

Your personal profile is the first section of your CV that employers will read to find out more about you. This is your chance to introduce yourself, sell your skills and outline your characteristics. Personal profiles are a perfect way to persuade recruiters, as it tells them straight off why they should hire you. 

This section can include relevant experience and achievements, but it’s important to tailor this to the job description and what’s prioritised there to show your enthusiasm for the role and that you’re a serious candidate for the position who has what they’re looking for. 

There are no set rules on the length of this section but you should aim for a few short sentences and no longer than 100 words. This way you can keep it concise and effectively highlight who you are to employers without giving them too much information, increasing the chances of them reading through the rest of your CV and considering you for the job. Make sure you’re putting your best foot forward and presenting the things that you think make yourself stand out.

Talk about yourself (when it's relevant)

Though your CV should be more focused on your skills and work experience rather than your personality, it can be good to include some relevant personal information such as your hobbies in your CV, but what counts as relevant will vary from job to job. 

2. Sell your skills

There should be a section in your CV that outlines your relevant skills. This makes it easy for the employer to read and more easily determine if you meet the requirements of the role. You should format this section using bullet points so that it’s simple and easy for employers to read. Make sure to include relevant skills that you think make you a good candidate for the position. Such as:

  • Maintaining a child-friendly, clean, and tidy environment for both children and co-workers.
  • Managing children and teaching important life skills, including social skills and food hygiene
  • Leading and organising daily activities for children
  • Ensuring that the children are engaged and happy, and that all their needs are being met

If you’re struggling to think of skills that are relevant to the job then it’s a good idea to check vacancy advertisements for some ideas. Start off by rereading the job you’re applying for and what might be useful to mention, but if you’re still stuck then take a look at other similar job postings. You should also think about which of your skills have been helpful in any of your past work or study. 

It’s important when talking about your skills to try and include both hard and soft skills, so that you can show some variety. Hard skills are the skills you gain through experience, knowledge, or learning such as through a qualification or after undertaking training. Soft skills refer to your personal traits and habits that determine how you work, like being an effective communicator, able to work in a team, or organisational skills.

3. Outline your experience

You should outline any past experiences in either work or volunteer positions that are relevant to becoming a forest school leader and can best show your potential employer the value that you’d be bringing to the position. 

The most valuable experience you can have as an early years practitioner is working in either the same position before or as a nursery assistant, you should present this work experience front and centre. Give details of where you worked, including the dates you started and finished your employment (these don’t have to be specific, usually the month and year are fine), alongside your key responsibilities within the role. If you have a lot of relevant experience then list it from most to least recent. Employers will want to know more of what you’ve been doing recently rather than years ago, as it’s more relevant to the jobs you’ll be applying for now.

If you have no relevant experience then you should include any previous employment you’ve been in and the transferable skills you gained that will be useful in the role. Try and think about any similarities between your previous positions and the one you’re applying for. Is there anything listed on the job advertisement that sounds familiar?

4. List your education and qualifications

Making sure you mention your education clearly on your CV is very important, as it will show that you have the knowledge and qualifications needed for the job. When listing your qualifications you should prioritise two things: the level of the qualification (is it a degree or a GCSE?) and when you received it. Much like your experience, it’s best to list your qualifications from your most to least recent.

When you’re listing your qualifications make sure you include the name of the institution, the dates you attended them from, the subject(s) you studied or name of the qualification, as well as the final grade you received. If there’s a particular aspect of your study that is very relevant to the position you’re applying to then it would be a good idea to briefly mention it at some point.

Include your certificates and other qualifications

Don’t think you just need to include your experiences from school or university, things like standalone courses that award you with a certificate or diploma are more than relevant, especially if they cover a subject that’s relevant to your work. Add your certificates in the same way you’d add your other qualifications, providing any additional information as needed.

5. Remember to include your contact details

It might seem obvious, but having your contact details clearly signposted on your CV is extremely important, without them potential employers may have no way to contact you. You should include your up-to-date email, phone number, and address somewhere near the top of your CV so that they don’t get lost amongst the rest of your information.

Example early years practitioner CV

Early Years Practitioner CV

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Struggling to put your CV together? Download our free CV template and get a head start on making a fantastic CV. Make sure to follow the rest of our tips and learn how to land that job you’ve always wanted!

Step 4: Search for early years practitioner jobs you can apply for

Searching for an early years position should be simple, and shouldn’t be any different from finding other jobs you’ve applied for before. Just make sure that the positions you apply for are a good fit for you and that you have all the necessary qualifications and you should have no trouble! Checking out our job board could be a good start for your search.

Step 5: Write a job-specific early years cover letter

You should write your cover letter using the job description of the vacancy you’re applying for. Your cover letter is an important part of many job applications. 

No matter what kind of job you’re applying for, your cover letter is going to help demonstrate to potential employers the passion that you have for the role and allow you to sell yourself as a valuable candidate that they need to consider hiring. 

Top early years practitioner cover letter writing tips

Cover letters are your chance to really sell yourself to a prospective employer and progress to the next stage of the hiring process. This opportunity isn’t always fully exploited by candidates, and sometimes cover letters just become reworked CVs or are poorly planned and formatted.

1. What should a cover letter look like?

The header of your cover letter should have your up-to-date email, contact number, and the current date, as well as the recipient’s contact information. You should start your cover letter with a greeting such as “Dear [Company] Hiring Manager” or “Dear Mr/Ms Surname”, if you know who you’ll be contacting directly.

When choosing your font you need to make sure it’s not only easy to read but also looks professional, as well as the right size. Try to stick between a size 10pt-12pt font on your cover letter, as making your font size too big could come across unprofessionally, but it should still be clear and legible. Make sure to split the main body of text into multiple paragraphs, this not only makes it easier to read but also easier to plan the structure of your cover letter (each paragraph might have a specific topic, for example). 

It’s a good idea to sign off your cover letter using your name and a complimentary close. Using “Yours Sincerely” or “Your Faithfully” are seen as very formal, but can sometimes appear outdated, try using “Kind Regards” as a formal alternative that is still professionally acceptable.

2. What should I write in my cover letter?

Here are some suggestions for each of the paragraphs in your cover letter and what you might want to mention to your prospective employer: 

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We are interactive boxes, tap us! 

First paragraph


Start by explaining why you're writing the letter, making sure to mention the job you're interested in by its specific title, you could also mention where you saw or heard about the vacancy. Give a brief sentence stating your experience or a relevant qualification. 

Second paragraph

Experience and Qualifications

Highlight your relevant experience or qualifications. Talk about relevant responsibilities you had in previous roles, and go into more detail about how this makes you suitable for the role--is there a particular achievement you're proud of in your previous work or study that is relevant to the job? Mention it here!

Third paragraph


Discuss the skills you have that are relevant to the job and make sure that you mention how they make you well-suited for the role. Always be showing the employer what you have to offer them if they were to hire you. 

Final paragraph

Final note

Reiterate your interest in the role. Outline your motivations for not only working this type of job but why you want to work for this employer. It's a good idea to include some relevant knowledge about your potential employer, as it shows you are taking an extra interest.  

3. How can I make my cover letter unique for each role I apply for?

A good way of making your cover letter stand out from other candidates is by tailoring it to the particular role you’re applying for. It’s always easiest to look back through the job posting and pick out relevant information like the job title and employer and making sure to mention them early on. This will show your employer that your cover letter is tailored towards them, rather than being something generic you’re sending around to every employer.

When you’re going through the job posting take note of the specific skills and experience listed as desirable by the employer, you can tailor the skills and experience you mention to what they’re looking for. Try not to follow along too closely and risk looking like you’ve just copied the advertisement, but do enough to show that you’re the ideal candidate. Order your skills, experience, and qualifications in order of relevancy–what’s highlighted or mentioned first in the job posting? Is there something very specific that they’re looking for? Make sure you bring it up!

4. Finishing touches

Now that your cover letter is well-formatted, has the main body of it’s content written, and has been tailored to the job role, it’s time to put the finishing touches to your work.

Proofread what you’ve written a few times over to check for punctuation or grammar errors and how well your writing flows. Try and enlist the help of a friend or relative to give it a read over, they may spot something you missed!

Now you should go back to the job vacancy and re-read all of it. Check if there are any special instructions you should follow when applying for the position, like if they’re asking for the documents to be submitted as a particular file type or maybe want you to add a job reference number to your cover letter. Make any of the changes you need and ensure everything’s in order. Overlooking small things like this could ruin your otherwise perfect cover letter!

Example early years practitioner cover letter

Early years practitioner cover letter

Download our Cover Letter Template and Make Yours Today!

Struggling to put your cover letter together? Download our free cover letter template and get a head start on writing an amazing cover letter. Make sure to follow the rest of our tips and learn how to land that job you’ve always wanted!

Now that you know how you can improve your early years cover letter it’s time to work on your interview technique and go over what could come up in your interview.

Step 6: Prepare for early years interviews

We all know that job interviews can be nerve-wracking, but being well prepared for the interview will help you to appear calmer and more confident. It might seem obvious, but make sure that you always present yourself professionally at interviews, dress well, and always be polite. First impressions can make or break your chances!

Interviews can be daunting and hard to prepare for–especially if you don’t have much experience–but we’re here to help you out. 

We’ve compiled a list of common questions that you might be asked in your interview for an early years job and how you should go about answering them, as well as some questions you can ask your interviewer to help show your interest in the position!

Questions your interviewer might ask

Your motivations

Interviewers will want to hear about your motivations for getting into childcare, it’s good to be honest about why you want the job and to show your potential employer that you genuinely care. Think beforehand about your motivations and what drew you to the work in the first place. Being able to give a concrete example of something that drew you to the job rather than being vague is going to help you out here.

This is a personal question so have a think about what it is that you actually enjoy about the role and be honest about it, interviewers are going to value people who show some passion for nursery work and childcare. Have you enjoyed anything in particular about working in early years before? What do you think you’ll enjoy in nursery work if you haven’t worked in a similar role before?

Think about the role of a nursery worker and how you’ll be impacting the children you’re working with. Try and centre your response around how you’ll be benefiting the children and your new workplace. If you have some experience already, try and think about some of your previous work achievements.

This will differ for everyone but it’s important to let your employer know that you’re highly motivated for the position and won’t struggle with the sometimes challenging scenarios you’ll be dealing with on a regular basis. Talk about what about the job makes you happy or what you’re most looking forward to in the position or in early years work in general. You could also talk about how you have overcome difficult situations in the past and stayed motivated.

Your personal approach to the role

Make sure that you’re aware of best practice for working with misbehaving children in a childcare environment. You can impress the interviewer if you demonstrate the right knowledge for the job and reassure them that they aren’t hiring someone unprofessional or unaware of proper procedure. 

If you have experience with children, bringing up an example of how you have dealt with poor behaviour in the past would be a great idea! Using the STAR method is a good way to keep your answer short and concise. Of course, policies on behaviour can vary so it’s good to read up on your potential employer first.

If you’re asked a question like this you should emphasise how you would act immediately on any complaints that might crop up and, if they involve you, how you would address the complaint and change your behaviour accordingly. 

For complaints not directly about you, you should address them with your manager or higher ranking members of staff and ensure that they are resolved as quickly as possible. Most organisations have their own complaints procedure, so it’s important to try and familiarise yourself with best practice at the nursery you’re applying for. 

You should highlight the strengths and skills that are going to be useful in a childcare environment with an emphasis on what makes you uniquely suited to the position. Can you think of ways that you stand out from similar applicants? 

It’s really important to sell yourself to your interviewer when they ask you something like this, so try to give examples of things you’ve done in past work where you’ve had an impact. How have you improved your past workplaces or their culture? Do you have any particular personal strengths you want to highlight outside of your work accomplishments?

When you’re talking about what you find personally challenging make sure that you emphasise how you’d deal with the challenge rather than the challenge itself, as you don’t want to make it seem like you wouldn’t be able to handle an issue as it comes up when you’re in the job. 

Let your interviewer know that you can deal with whatever comes your way in the job by offering solutions rather than problems–they’ll be more likely to take you on if they think you’ll genuinely benefit the organisation, especially when issues come up.

Nurseries will generally have their own policies to follow if an unauthorised adult arrives to collect a child. Usually there will be a procedure that includes removing the children to a safe area, informing management of the issue, and verifying the identity of the person. 

Legitimate people should be no issue once they’ve been verified, but if a person becomes aggressive or violent it should be handled by management. They will usually call 999 to report the incident and not allow the child to leave. 

It’s good to read up on a nursery’s policy before your interview as part of your research because they might handle things differently or have specific procedures. Being able to demonstrate specific knowledge of their policies is really going to help you stand out, if you can’t find this out beforehand make sure you inquire about it during your interview and show a genuine interest in your safeguarding responsibilities.

Qualifications and experience

Talk about both your qualifications and experience here. It’s important to not just emphasise the knowledge that you have from study, but also any practical experience you might have. If you don’t have any experience then keep the focus on your studies. Emphasise particular strengths you have that will apply to the workplace.

Employers are going to favour those who have been qualified for longer and have more experience but this shouldn’t be an obstacle. Be honest about how long you’ve been qualified but try and emphasise the positives. For example, if you’re newly qualified you can talk about how you’re eager and ready to utilise your learning, as well as the fact that the things you’ve learned are fresh in your mind. If you’ve been qualified for a while you can mention the experience that you have, and how that will help you in the position.

Here would be a great opportunity to mention your prior training and what you’ve gotten out of it that will be helpful in the workplace. Try to keep it focused and relevant to early years work but don’t be afraid to talk about unrelated training you’ve undertaken, since it’ll help to show you as a well-rounded candidate.

If there’s any training you’d be interested in in the future then you should mention it since it will show you’re committed to the role and your field. It’s best to keep it related to your early years work and your career progression within the field since employers might later give you that opportunity to progress through on-the-job training or study. It’s also an excellent opportunity to talk about how you want to grow as a nursery nurse.

If you’re new to early years work it’s a good idea to take a look at getting some supporting qualifications useful in early years work. Having these qualifications means you’ll stand out from unqualified candidates, as well as equipping you with the skills that you’ll need to work well in a nursery environment.

This is important if you’re working in a specialised setting but can also apply to any nursery, as interviewers will want to know if you’ll be able to handle any situation that comes your way.

You might not have any experience working with children with special educational needs but that shouldn’t be a barrier to getting a non-specialist job as long as you highlight your willingness to learn and how any past experiences or study outside of work might help you. If you do have some experience then great! You should talk about the children you’ve worked with in the past and how you’ve helped them, as well as the challenges you’ve faced and, more importantly, overcome.

In an early years environment there is a required amount of adults to children depending on the age of the children. Potential employers will want to make sure that you’re aware of the proper practices and not having the right answers could ruin your chances of getting the job. If you’re unsure, we’ve put together a table going over the information for you to get a refresher.

Age group

Number of adults

Under 2 years

1 adult to 3 children

2 years 

1 adult to 4 children

3 years and over

1 adult to 8 children


Questions for you to ask your interviewer

Reading through some of our common questions should help get you in the right headspace for your early years practitioner or nursery nurse interview, but don’t stop here–have a think about what other kinds of questions you could be facing, as well as how you might answer them on your own (an answer that comes from you will always be better than something generic)!

Now let's recap...

Final note

After reading through our guide, you should be ready to embark on a new career in childcare with the confidence you need to excel. If you follow our tips then you’ll be more than ready to get the job role you’ve been looking for!

If you’re not sure you have the right skills to work in early years or just want to impress with your CV then check out our convenient distance learning courses where you’ll get the knowledge you need on the job from the comfort of your own home.

Good luck, and if you need any more advice on other career options, don’t forget to take a look through our career advice page

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