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Introduction to Nursing Interviews

Charis Anderson, RN
September 4, 2019
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Whether it’s your first interview or your fifteenth, there is always an element of uncertainty. What questions will be asked? What is this employer looking for? What will make me stand out? It likely feels like there is a lot riding on this interview and your ability to express yourself clearly, concisely, warmly. That's why we've got your back - and the deets - with this step-by-step guide to clarify overall interview process. Let's start with the pre-interview preparations.

Before Your Nursing Interview

Make sure you have your interview attire picked out. Many sources for the nursing field recommend wearing a suit with a jacket (women included) and close-toed dress shoes (flats are usually preferable to heels for comfort, stability, and practicality; low heels are also a great option). Necklines (or the number of buttons left open) and skirt lengths should be conservative, as varying views on propriety may influence an interviewer’s impression.

It is appropriate (and tasteful) to consider wearing a tie and/or minimal jewelry (especially avoiding facial jewelry), covering tattoos, applying minimal makeup, and cleaning nails/nail beds. These elements are not make-or-break but may serve as distractors from your words and expressions. Wear your hair in such a way that it is not a temptation for fidgeting and does not become a nuisance by falling into your face.

Ultimately, it is important that you are COMFORTABLE and that whatever you wear helps you to feel confident.

Begin preparing in advance. If possible, begin preparing no less than 1-2 weeks prior to the scheduled interview in order to have enough time to practice and become familiar with a variety of questions and possible answers. In order for your answers to not sound canned, it will be helpful to prepare more loosely. Know generally what you would like to say (and what you don’t want to let slip).

It can be helpful to practice a script, but memorizing sentences may lead to forgetting everything you meant to say when the nerves hit - and we all know they sure do hit. And don't forget to make sure your resume is polished prior to apply and going in for your first interview!

Research the institution and unit as you prepare for your interview. Know specifics about why you want to work there and what you will contribute as an employee there. When you interview, you want to demonstrate that you are knowledgeable and invested (rather than just applying for any job with someone who will interview you). Doing your research beforehand will also show that you have thought through if this is a good fit and have taken the initiative to reach out to the appropriate people (or googled the appropriate resources) to find answers.

My strategy was to contact and interview alumni from my university about their hospitals and units and then request contact information for managers or other staff who could also answer my questions and round out my perspective. 

Consider 5 qualities of yourself as an employee and human that you hope to express, and spend time thinking about verbal and non-verbal ways in which you can highlight these qualities. What makes you proud to be you? These are the characteristics that you hope will stick with your interviewer after you leave.

Consider approximately 10 examples or situations in which you demonstrated:

  • Collaborative practice
  • Critical thinking
  • Teachability/Adaptability (especially if you made a mistake/learned from it or if you experienced a significant learning curve)
  • Family centered care or patient advocacy
  • Gave preference to a patient’s cultural or religious beliefs over provider recommendations or evidence based practice
  • Dealing with varying personalities
  • Conflict resolution (with patients/clients and coworkers)
  • Task prioritization (especially when you were under a lot of pressure or had to complete many tasks)
  • Research involvement or data analysis

Think about how you would discuss (in 3-5 sentences) your:

  • Strengths (with examples of how you demonstrate these)
  • Weaknesses (with examples of how you are growing in these areas)
  • Professional goals
  • Dream Job
  • Desire to work at the particular hospital
  • Interest in the particular unit
  • Experience with a particular patient population
  • Stress management (with an example of how you practice this)
  • Hobbies (aka, who are you beyond your career in nursing?)
  • Five-year plan

Use the acronyms SOAR (Situation, Obstacles, Actions, Results) or STAR (Situation, Task, Action, Result) to organize your answers, and try to keep your answers to a 2-4 minute maximum. Additionally, think of how to frame your answers in the most positive light possible. If you made a mistake, disagreed with someone, or had a negative experience, do not elaborate on the negative, but be concise in setting the scene to get to the lesson learned and the reason that the experience stretched you in a positive way.

Practice delivering your answers and modifying them to respond to a variety of questions.

two woman sit on sofa chairs inside home studying nursing interview

Nurse Interview Practice

Stage mock interviews with friends, friends of friends, or family. Sometimes it is helpful to do mock interviews with strangers - this could be at your university career center or by the arrangement of a friend.

Prepare several questions to ask your interviewer at the end of the interview based on what you have/have not been able to find out from your research (and what information you need to know in order to accept a position).

Schedule time on your calendar post-interview to reflect on anything you may wish to clarify or expound upon in your follow-up thank-you notes. I like to find a cute coffee shop near the location of my interview and sit down with a notebook and paper. Just be sure to do this right away.

Lay out what you will wear the night before your interview and head to bed early.

Get there early! At least 20 min. ahead of time to allow for traffic and to use the bathroom/drink water/calm your nerves beforehand. It can be helpful to drive the route the day before at the time of your day-of drive in order to assess traffic patterns and practice the directions (I almost always get lost on my first time driving to a location *facepalm* so I try to get that out of the way before I’m a ball of nerves).

Take a deep breath – you’ve prepared and you’ve got this!

If you’re still in doubt, here are some more interview tips and tricks for you.

During Your Nursing Interview

Make eye contact with each interviewer and shake their hands firmly (expressing through that handshake the confidence of a professional who is about to deliver an amazing interview – because I know you will!). If given the opportunity, share your enthusiasm to be there and your appreciation of each interviewer’s time.

BREATHE – it may sound crazy, but if you’re anything like me, you mouth will be dry and your hands will be shaking even if you felt confident going in. It’s ok! They expect that and they know that you’re human (anyone who isn’t nervous doesn’t have feelings, ya know?). Demonstrate how you can overcome those nerves for success. Breathe, sip water, listen carefully to each question, and take any time you need to consider your answer.

Try to listen to the question without pondering your answer at the same time. Listen, summarize the question(s) out loud for clarification (to make sure you understand what is being asked), and then pause if you need to think.

You may know immediately what to say from your practice, but you may also be surprised by a question. Stating, “That is a good question – let me think for a moment” and pausing for 10 seconds to think of an answer is not awkward. In fact, it’s far better than fumbling through a mediocre or directionless answer to a question.

Shake each interviewer’s hand upon your exit and ask for business cards if you do not already have emails for each person. This will be important when you go to write your thank-you notes! If you forget, no problem! Email your point of contact at the hospital and request the emails. The key will be remembering names (you may consider writing these down as soon as you leave the site of the interview).

woman in teal t-shirt sitting beside woman in suit jacket nursing interview

After Your Nursing Interview

Within 24 hours, but preferably by the end of the business day, draft and send thank-you notes to your interviewer(s). If you would like to send a physical note, you may do this also, but email tends to be the preferred method (faster, since snail mail may not get there before the decision is made is and easier to keep track of).

Reflect on the interview and any questions that you feel you could have answered better. Consider what each interviewer brought to the conversation or shared about their experience. Ponder your impressions of each person and what it would be like to work with them.

Use these ideas to inform your thank-you notes:

  • Thank them for their time and the opportunity to interview.
  • Share something you learned/took away from the experience.
  • Expound (briefly) on any items you neglected to mention/any brief question you neglected to ask in the interview.
  • Express your continued enthusiasm about the job.

Wait patiently to hear back, but do not be afraid to follow up if do not hear back within the expected timeframe. The interviewers may not reply to your thank-you emails (none of mine did!), and this does not necessarily reflect on your performance. Treat yourself! You worked hard and did your best! There’s nothing more that you could have done, and what will be will be.

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