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Mastering Your Nursing Interview Questions

Audrey McCollough, RN, BSN
June 2, 2023
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Are you gearing up for your next nursing interview and curious about the questions that might come your way? Well, you're in luck! Here at Trusted Health, we know just how crucial it is to excel in your nursing interview, be it for landing a staff position or your dream travel nurse job. In addition to this article, we've got an awesome YouTube video prepared for you, filled with valuable insights and practical tips from nursing professionals. Our curated list of common nursing interview questions and guidelines on how to answer them effectively will surely help you ace that interview! So, let's dive in and get you ready to shine in your nursing career!

What Can You Expect During a Nursing Interview?

When you step into a nursing interview, beyond having a fresh copy of your nursing resume in hand and being dressed to impress, you need to come prepared for the conversation.  During an interview, there are generally two types of questions you'll encounter: traditional and behavioral-based questions.

Traditional questions tend to focus on your skills, experience, and education. They're the bread and butter of job interviews and can range from "Tell me about yourself" to "Why did you choose nursing as your career?" These questions give interviewers a sense of your background, your journey into nursing, and what you bring to the table.

On the other hand, behavioral-based questions are a bit more complex. They're designed to uncover how you handle specific situations, providing a glimpse into your problem-solving skills, communication style, adaptability, and more. These questions often start with phrases like "Tell me about a time when…" or "Describe a situation where…"

What's the key to answering these types of questions? Enter the S-T-A-R format. We'll delve more into this a little later, but here's a sneak peek: it stands for Situation, Task, Action, and Result.

As a travel nurse, you may also face questions about your flexibility, your ability to adapt to new environments, and your experience or comfort level with traveling. These questions are just as vital, as they help interviewers assess your fit for the unique demands of travel nursing.

Tackling Common Nursing Interview Questions and Answers Like a Pro

Let’s dive into some common nursing interview questions and how to answer them. Let’s review a few common questions you may expect, then dive into behavioral based questions.

"Tell me about yourself."

Seems simple, right? Well, it's not exactly an invitation to share your life story or your love for kittens (although we totally get it, kittens are awesome!). This question is really about your professional journey. Try to highlight your nursing experiences, skills, and why you chose this field. Remember to keep it concise, relevant, and engaging.

"Why did you choose nursing as your career?"

Here's your chance to let your passion for nursing shine! Talk about what drew you to nursing and how you've found fulfillment in your career. Was it a desire to help others? An interest in healthcare? Whatever it is, be yourself and let your genuine love for your profession take center stage.

"What do you find most difficult about being a nurse?"

This question can be tricky. It's important to be honest, but also to show that you see challenges as opportunities for growth. Maybe you find it hard seeing patients suffer, but you also appreciate the chance to provide comfort and care in those difficult moments.

"What do you like most about being a nurse?"

This is your opportunity to highlight the rewards of the job. You might love the feeling of making a difference in patients' lives, the daily challenges that keep you on your toes, or the lifelong learning opportunities in healthcare.

"What are your strengths and weaknesses as a nurse?"

For strengths, think about what sets you apart as a nurse. Maybe it's your ability to stay calm under pressure, your excellent communication skills, or your knack for making patients feel at ease. When it comes to weaknesses, the key is to be honest, but also to show that you're proactive about improving. Maybe you're still working on your time management skills, but you've started using a planner to help keep you on track. Whatever it is, show that you’re open to receiving feedback and active about taking steps to improve.

"Why are you leaving your current position?"

Approach this question with positivity. Whether you're looking for new challenges, growth opportunities, or a change of environment, make sure to convey that you're moving towards something positive rather than running away from something negative. In particular, be sure not to mention something negative about your current situation that may also be true of the new position.

"Why do you want to work here?"

This question requires some homework. Research the facility and understand their values, work culture, and reputation. Align your answer with their vision, emphasizing your desire to contribute to their mission and grow with their team.

In all of your answers, remember to be authentic, positive, and professional. 

The S-T-A-R Format: Your Key to Behavioral Nursing Interview Questions and Answers

It's time to introduce your secret sauce for crafting compelling interview answers: the S-T-A-R format. We’ll go over the method for formulating your responses, then explore a  few common behavioral interview questions. 

This is a well-known format for creating your responses to any interview question, but is particularly useful for behavioral based questions. It’s a little different, but similar to the SBAR format you’re already familiar with! Let's break it down:

S is for Situation

First up, set the stage with a bit of context. Describe a specific situation you were in or a challenge you faced at work. This isn't the time for vague, general statements. Instead, paint a picture that helps your interviewer visualize the circumstances.

T is for Task

Next, explain your role in the situation. What responsibilities did you have? What problem were you tasked with solving? Be clear about what was expected of you.

A is for Action

Here's where you shine! Describe the steps you took to address the situation or complete your task. Remember, interviewers love to see problem-solving in action, so detail your thought process and the actions you took.  How do these actions make you stand out from how a co-worker may have managed the same situation?

R is for Result

Finally, share the outcome of your efforts. Did your actions lead to a positive result? If the result was not positive, did you learn something valuable that you applied in the future to prevent a positive outcome the next time? Don't be shy about sharing your successes! 

Remember, this format is all about storytelling. Your stories should be genuine, engaging, and, most importantly, they should showcase your skills, values, and experiences as a nurse. 

Let's dive into some common interview questions you might face and how to tackle them with the S-T-A-R method:

Can you describe a time when you had to handle a difficult patient or their family?

The Response: Using the S-T-A-R method, begin by painting the picture of the situation. For instance, you might talk about a time when a patient's family member was upset about their loved one's prognosis. Describe your task, which could have been to calm the family member down and provide them with accurate information. Then, talk about the actions you took, such as empathetic listening, clear communication, and providing reassurance. Finally, share the result of your efforts – perhaps you were able to console the family member, and they expressed gratitude for your support.

Can you recall a situation where you had to make a critical decision under pressure?

The Response: Again, kick things off with a relevant situation. It could be a time when a patient's condition suddenly deteriorated, and you had to react quickly. Describe your task - maybe you needed to call a rapid response while you remained at the bedside to apply oxygen or suction. Share the actions you took, such as applying your clinical knowledge, initiating emergency protocols, and directing other team members. Then, wrap up with the results, like stabilizing the patient's condition before the doctor arrived.

How have you dealt with a conflict in your team?

The Response: Begin with a specific situation where there was a disagreement or misunderstanding within your team. Your task could have been to mediate the conflict or contribute to a resolution. Discuss the actions you took, such as encouraging open communication, offering a compromise, or bringing the issue to a supervisor if necessary. Finally, reveal the result - maybe the conflict was resolved, relationships were mended, and the team became more united or learned a valuable lesson about communication.

These are just a few examples, but remember, the key is to showcase your problem-solving skills, empathy, ability to work under pressure, and teamwork abilities. In the next section, we'll put the spotlight on you - with some great questions you can ask your interviewer.

Shifting Gears: Questions You Should Ask Your Interviewer

Remember, an interview is a two-way street. It's not just about you answering their questions; it's also an opportunity for you to learn more about the role and the organization. Asking questions shows your interest in the position and can help you determine if the job and the workplace culture align with your career goals and values.

General Questions for Nurses to Ask

Let's start with some questions that any nurse, whether a staff nurse or a travel nurse, might want to ask their interviewer:

Can you describe the culture of the unit or department?

This question can help you understand the team and work environment to decide whether it's a good fit for you and how you like to work.

What is the nurse-to-patient ratio?

This question gives you an idea about the workload you can expect and the organization's commitment to patient safety and quality of care.

What are the opportunities for professional development and continuing education?

This shows your interest in professional growth and could also provide insights into how the organization supports the development of its nurses.

What is the process for performance reviews?

This question can help you understand how feedback is given and how often you can expect it.  It also shows that you’re coachable and always seeking improvement! 

What is the policy for shift rotations and scheduling?

Knowing this can help you understand the expectations for flexibility and your work-life balance.  If you’re taking a night shift position, for example, how long may it be until you have the opportunity to swap to days?

Questions Specific for Travel Nurses

If you're a travel nurse, there are some additional questions that you might want to consider. After all, your role comes with its unique set of circumstances, and you want to make sure you have all your bases covered.  You can also check out this interview guide for travel nurses for more specific information! 

What is the onboarding process like for travel nurses?

This will give you an idea of how well the facility supports travel nurses as they transition into their new roles.

How much input will I have in my schedule?

Some facilities allow travelers to schedule along with their staff nurses, but others use travelers to fill in gaps once the schedule is made.  Understanding this is important to know what sort of flexibility you should expect. 

What is the floating policy for travelers?

Are travelers first to float or rotate with staff?  What types of units can you expect to be floated to?  These questions will give you an idea of how flexible you’ll need to be going into the assignment. 

Is there OT available and are travelers approved to work OT?

If you’re someone who likes to pick up extra shifts to boost your paycheck, be sure to confirm that this will be allowed at the facility.  

What sort of ancillary staff or other resources are available on the unit?

You’ll want to consider this in conjunction with the acuity of the unit and expected ratios to make sure that it sounds like an environment that you’ll feel safe practicing in.  

Remember, asking questions can provide you with valuable insights, showing that you're proactive, prepared, and interested in the role. So don't shy away from it - get curious and get asking!

Pursuing Your Future in Nursing Together

So there you have it! We’ve explored the world of nursing interviews, the types of questions you might be asked, and even flipped the script to uncover the questions you should ask your interviewer. Armed with this knowledge, you're ready to tackle your next nursing interview with confidence and charisma!

Remember, at Trusted, we're always here to help you navigate your nursing career. Sign up for a profile with us today so that if you need more interview tips, job opportunities, or just a friendly chat about all things nursing, you can reach out! We’d love to hear from you! 

Audrey McCollough, RN, BSN

Audrey McCollough, RN, BSN, is a pediatric critical care nurse who traded her scrubs for a laptop to come work internally at Trusted two years ago. With eight years of critical care experience and four years of travel nursing under her belt, Audrey now uses her experience and expertise to support others in the healthcare industry, particularly her fellow nurses. When she's not at work, Audrey loves to explore the great outdoors! Hiking, skiing, or just soaking up nature's beauty - Audrey is all about it.

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