A Guide to Travel Nursing Interviews
Interviews, regardless of when they occur and what they’re for, can be nerve-racking. This is true for travel nurses, too. And you’d be wrong to assume that all travel nursing interviews are created equal... in fact, they’re quite different!
Whether you’ve done this a million times before or fresh out of school, here’s a look at what to expect, which questions to prepare for, and how to ace your next (or first) travel nurse interview.
Why Do We Need to Interview?
Contrary to popular belief, interviews are more of an opportunity than they are a test.
Yes, travel nurse interviews are largely considered an opportunity for an employer to determine whether you’re a good fit for a role. The employer will want to double check that you have the experience and expertise necessary for top-notch patient care. They’ll also want to guarantee that you’ll be a good culture fit -- that your personality and working style meshes well with the current team’s -- and that they’ll be able to provide the arrangements or accommodations that you need.
But that’s only half the equation. Travel nurse interviews are also your opportunity to determine if that employer is a good fit for you. It's your chance to get a detailed sense of the on-the-ground working conditions in that facility, possibly straight from the mouth of someone working there!
Travel nurse interviews are also your opportunity to determine if an employer is a good fit for you.
Obviously, the employer has the final say on whether you’ll get an offer. But it’s just as important that you do your research to get an idea of whether you’d like to pursue the opportunity (or would feel comfortable doing so) if an offer is extended.
What to Expect When Interviewing?
There are few constants when it comes to travel nurse applications, but we’ve found that the travel nurse interview process is typically conducted via phone call. The reasoning behind this is pretty straightforward―applicants and the interviewer are rarely, if ever, in the same place, and with the fast-paced nature of the application process, things need to move as quickly as possible.
Pre-Interviews and Setup
When it comes to setting up a travel nurse interview, you’ll either be given a heads up from your recruiter or be contacted by a staff member involved in the interview process to set up a time.
Sometimes, someone might call and conduct what’s called a “pre-interview.” Don’t worry! Pre-interviews are simply informal chats to quickly double check your skillset and experience before scheduling you for a formal interview. Think of them as a back-up resume screen: they’ll usually ask or confirm basic details about your license, certifications, and procedures that you’re proficient in.
Don’t worry about peppering the pre-interviewer with questions unless you can confirm that they’re from the hospital unit you’re applying to work on―they probably won’t know details like the unit’s floating policy or patient loads.
The Travel Nursing Interview
If you pass the pre-interview with flying colors (or if your facility doesn’t do pre-interviews at all―totally possible!), then the next thing to expect is the actual interview itself.
While interviews for travel nurses will usually be conducted via phone call, the call itself can be anything from a five-minute chat to an hour-long barrage of behavioral interview questions. The length of a travel nurse interview isn’t all that varies. There are three types of interviews that a travel nurse candidate can run into when they’re interviewing for assignments: interviews done by unit managers/supervisors, interviews done by Managed Service Provider (MSP) representatives, and automated interviews.
Interviews by Unit Managers or Other Authority Figures Linked Directly to the Hospital
If you’re interviewed by someone from the hospital unit or the hiring manager, they’ll likely be able to answer any questions you have related to specific on-the-ground conditions. Feel free to pepper them with questions about the patient population, scrub color, floating, you name it. On the flip side, their interview topics are far less predictable. They may go over more typical questions, but be aware that they may dig deeper into your experience or surprise you with more specific questions. These people do walk the walk, after all.
Facilities whose staff are unable to interview candidates themselves can opt to have a representative from the MSP interview travel nurse candidates in their place. This representative will usually have some nursing experience but won’t have the same understanding of conditions and rules specific to that unit. For that reason, you’ll likely receive very standard interview questions.
Upside? Probably a bit easier to prepare for. Downside? You won’t have the ability to receive answers directly from someone on the unit, meaning that you’ll need to pass a list of questions to your travel nurse recruiter (or advocate), who’ll help you get them answered from someone at the hospital.
Automated Interviews (i.e. interactive voice recording questionnaires)
The least commonly encountered type of interview is the automated interview. This interview is also administered through MSPs, but instead of speaking with a human interviewer, you answer a list of pre-loaded interview questions for travel nurses generated by a machine on the other end of the line. Your answers are recorded, and you may also need to supplement them with written answers. The pros and cons are similar to those of the interviews conducted by MSP representatives: you’ll get fairly standard/predictable questions, but you won’t get your questions answered from someone working at the facility right away.
Regardless of who (or what) conducts the interview, be sure to make note of your interviewer’s name and their job title so that your recruiter can follow up accordingly once you’ve finished speaking with them!
Travel Nursing Interview Preparation
Doing a nursing phone interview is very different from doing an interview for a nursing position in-person. There are tons of facial expressions and hand gestures that you may subconsciously use in face-to-face communication that you can no longer rely on. Ultimately, this means that you need to focus not just on what you’re saying, but also how you’re saying it. The key to acing a travel nurse interview over the phone is to come off as capable, confident, and comfortable―even if it’s just in your voice.
Speak slowly and deliberately, and don’t be afraid to take pauses. It gives you time to collect and organize your thoughts, minimizing any speech blunders or other mistakes that might throw your answers off track. It also makes it easier for the party on the other line to hear and process what you’re saying.
Avoid "up-speak" unless you're posing a question. Up-speak happens when the tone of your voice rises toward the end of a sentence, similar to how it would at the end of a question. It’s often taken to imply that you’re unsure of yourself or the point you’re trying to make. Instead, make sure that you’re using the deeper, more demonstrative, end of your natural voice―this helps you sound more confident and competent.
Smile (and even laugh!) when you speak. Believe it or not, a University of Portsmouth study found evidence to suggest that people can “hear” smiles over the phone. Smiling as you speak changes the tone and pattern of your voice to make you sound friendlier and more approachable―both huge pluses as a candidate. Inserting a little humor or lighthearted laugh within your interview is also helpful because it allows you to establish a more human, memorable, and less distanced connection with the entity on the other end.
Making A Strong Impression over the Phone
Like we mentioned before, phone interviews and in-person interviews are two very different experiences. While you may have interviewed in-person before, you’ll want to prepare ahead of your phone interview so your call goes smoothly. Here's what you can do:
- Practice delivering your answers over the phone ahead of time, with another person on the line, if possible. They can give you feedback on areas such as your pacing (if you’re speaking too quickly or slowly), volume, and whether your answers are concise and easy to follow.
- Practice your answers themselves. While you may not know ahead of time what they’re asking, there are definitely types of questions that you should be prepared to answer. (For a list of common nursing interview questions, keep reading―we’ve got your back!)
Travel Nurse Interview Questions
Below, you’ll find lists of common interview questions relevant to travel nurses. The first set is a sample of interview questions that you may need to answer as a travel nurse candidate. The second set is a sample of questions that any travel nurse should ask of a potential employer. Finally, we’ve also included a couple questions that you need not bother with during the interview call. This list is non-exhaustive (meaning we don’t cover all the scenarios), but it should be a solid jumping-off point for your interview preparation.
Questions You May Need to Answer
Interviewers are usually looking for four qualities in a travel nurse: experience/capability, flexibility, a positive can-do attitude, and a team-player mentality. Be prepared to discuss topics and past experiences you’ve had that touch on one (or more) of these points!
- What’s your specialty? What certifications do you have?
- Where were you trained in nursing?
- What type of hospital(s) have you worked for―teaching or trauma?
- How many beds were there?
- What unit(s) have you worked in?
- Why would you like to work at this medical facility?
- How does your experience match the needs of the facility you’re applying to?
- Why are you leaving your current job? What did you like and dislike about the position?
- Discuss your most significant professional accomplishment. (Have a backup, too!)
- Discuss your strengths and weaknesses as a nurse.
- What are your future career plans?
- How do you handle difficult patients? Provide an example from your experience.
- Provide an example of a time that required you to quickly make a decision on care management of a patient.
- Have you ever disagreed with a colleague over the management of a patient? How was this resolved?
- Discuss your approach to handling stressful or frustrating situations. Provide an example from your experience.
Questions You May Want to Ask
Don’t pass up this opportunity to figure out all you possibly can about the hospital and unit! Remember that the best interviews are two-way streets.
- What are the main responsibilities and needs of this position?
- What are the most common challenges that nurses in this unit encounter?
- What is the nurse-to-patient ratio?
- What is the patient population? The average census? The average length of stay?
- What other medical professionals do nurses collaborate with on a day-to-day basis? (i.e. doctors, physicians, physician assistants, IV team, secretary, CNA’s, etc)
- How many other travel nurses are working / have worked at this facility? In this unit? Have any travelers extended?
- What is the orientation process for travelers? How many days of orientation do I receive? How many precepted shifts?
- Is floating required? Will travelers always float first? Which units could a nurse float between when census is low?
- Is on-call required? How often?
- Is overtime available to pick up on a volunteer basis?
- Can nurses get shifts back to back? How far in advance is the schedule available? How much notice is given for scheduling changes?
- What is the policy for breaks/lunch?
- What type of charting system is used?
- Will this assignment include requirements to act as a charge nurse?
- Does this assignment carry the possibility for an extension?
Questions You Shouldn’t Ask
Pending the exact situation, there are usually a couple questions you simply shouldn't ask during an interview (these questions fit better once an offer is extended).
- Can we change [x, y, and z] about my pay package?
- What health/vision/dental insurance do you offer?
While getting answers to these questions is important, we advise against asking them in your travel nurse interview because factors like compensation and benefits will be handled by your nurse staffing agency, not the folks at your medical facility. Save these negotiation points for your recruiter!
Negotiating Your Day-to-Day
Finally, if you have certain conditions that you want to guarantee the medical facility can and will abide by (think approved time off, start and end dates, how much floating you do, what shifts you’ll be working), the travel nurse interview is your time to speak up and secure them! These changes should be added (in writing!) to a document called a “Confirmation,” which helps ensure that you, your agency, and the medical facility are on the same page when it comes to your working conditions.
Be sure to follow up with your recruiter to make sure that your contract and confirmation reflect any agreements between you and the facility you're speaking with.
Taking Your Interview Call
Where should you take the call? This is up to you! We’d recommend a relatively quiet spot―that way, you reduce background noise which can:
- Come off as unprofessional (remember, what your employer hears on the other line is all they have to go on in terms of first impressions)
- Distract you when you’re listening or speaking
- Make it difficult for both sides to hear exactly what the other is saying
...none of which will help with your career goals!
Once you determine your location, make sure that you prep the area with items you may need. Remember to keep water nearby―the last thing you need is a dry throat mid-interview! Having a way to take down notes or organize your thoughts before speaking will be helpful, too.
After you’ve nailed down your location, preparations, and the time (based on your chat with either your recruiter or the pre-interviewer), it’s showtime! Keep your phone nearby and be sure to answer any calls from numbers you’re not familiar with―even if the call is slightly before or after the interview time. Depending on their schedule, the interviewer may be running slightly early or slightly late. (We can't stress this enough! Sometimes the calls will be completely out of the blue.)
If you miss a call that could be from your interviewer, be sure to call the number back ASAP. Depending on how urgent the need is, the interviewer may quickly move on to the next candidate if you don’t answer their call the first time. Inconvenient, we know, but better safe than sorry.
Occasionally, the interviewer will offer you the job on the spot. Don’t feel pressured! While it’s important to be timely and responsive, you should take the time to really assess all the details of the offer, make sure you’re satisfied with the day-to-day responsibilities, and are on the same page with BOTH your recruiter and the medical facility.
Don’t feel pressured to take a job offer on the spot! Take the time to really assess all details of the offer and make sure you’re satisfied with the day-to-day responsibilities.
You can always kindly thank the interviewer for his/her time and ask that the details of the offer be passed along to the recruiter while you think over the opportunity.
You’ve finished your travel nursing interview, now what? The next steps are simple:
- If possible, follow up with a thoughtful, but concise "thank-you" email to the interviewer. They’ve taken time out of their day and (hopefully!) answered your questions; it’s the least you can do! This practice is surprisingly uncommon, but it’s an easy way to leave a great impression.
- Follow up with your recruiter to confirm that you’ve interviewed with the facility and ensure that any details/changes discussed in the interview make their way to your contract/confirmation.
- Sit back and await the results! Remember, you’ve done all the preparation you can, and if it’s meant to be, you’ll know soon enough!
Once you accept an offer (yay!), there’s a whole new set of preparations to do, so enjoy some well-earned downtime!
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