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Step 5

Preparing for Your Interview

We know how exciting and intimidating (did we mention exciting?) the hiring process can be as a new grad. You're one step closer to that first job and starting your career as a nurse. Interviews are your opportunity to convey your experience, competencies, and interests in a clear and professional manner. 

The ability to do this requires an understanding of the process, proper preparation and following best practices. That's why we created this guide to clarify the overall interview process. 

Let's start with covering what the process might look like and who is involved.

Interview Process Overview

The Purpose of the Interview

We don’t need to reiterate how important and impactful interviews can be - for both future employment but also professional and personal development. But it’s worth deeply considering the purpose of the process. 

It’s a formal, but often brief, opportunity for potential employers and co-workers to understand who you are, what motivates you, how you operate, what your strengths/values are, how they manifest, and why you’re passionate about pursuing that particular opportunity. 

As a new grad, they’re less interested in your clinical exposure and experience (or lack thereof) and more looking to understand your critical thinking and professionalism, what you’ll bring to the organization, how quickly you’ll be able to learn and adapt, what growth within the organization can and will look like for you, and how you’ll amplify strengths and fill gaps.

The other purpose of the interview is an often under-acknowledged one - the opportunity for you to understand if it’s an environment and position where you can learn in a supported environment, grow in a way that aligns with your goals, operates along values that align with your own, and requires competencies and responsibilities that are within your qualifications but still challenge you to grow as a professional and individual.

people having an interview discussing nurse resume new grad nurse interviews

When You Can Expect to Start Interviewing

It’s likely that you won’t be interviewing until after you’ve graduated and passed the NCLEX. The rationale for this is that most new grad programs or facilities aren’t willing to start the hiring process until you’re licensed and to ensure that you're qualified to work at the time they're ready to start the process. If you have the opportunity to interview earlier, it's definitely something to pursue.

(If you read the previous part of our new grad series, you'll remember that some residency programs interview up to six months prior to the hiring date.)

Who's Involved in the Interview Process

Most interviewing processes involve several people, either throughout the various stages or all at once in the form of a panel. 

For formal new grad programs, most hospitals conduct panel interviews often comprised of a:

  • Charge nurse
  • Nurse manager
  • Unit or department educators
  • Representative from a family council committee (this person may or may not be involved in the interview process depending on the hospital)

Alternative hiring processes typically contain various stages, beginning in Human Resources with a pre-screen, a more formal interview, and ultimately a final in-person interview.

Preparing For Your Interview

If possible, begin preparing at least one to two weeks prior to the scheduled interview. This will give you enough time to do some formal research and become comfortable with the organization as well as enough time to practice a variety of questions and possible answers. 

Don’t fret about memorizing or knowing how you’re going to answer any one question word for word. It’s most important that you are prepared to speak knowledgeably and confidently about what you anticipate being asked. This way, it also comes across as more genuine and relatable rather than scripted or forced.

1. Do Your Research

Research the institution, specialty, and patient population. 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 that will hire you). Doing your research beforehand will also demonstrate your competency of diligence - an especially important one for nurses. This can show that you’ve ensured it's a good fit for you and opportunity to convey that you have taken the initiative to reach out to the appropriate people or resources to find answers. 

A highly recommended strategy is to leverage your alumni network to conduct informal interviews about their experiences, career trajectories, places of employment, and advice. It may also be an opportunity to shadow them or have them connect you to a manager or other staff who could also answer questions and round out your perspective.

2. Think About Your Personality & Traits

Whether it’s understanding your Myers-Briggs, True Colors, or StrengthsFinders coupled with candid feedback from mentors, family, friends and colleagues, utilize various resources to help you get up close and personal with your strengths and areas where you’re not naturally as strong.

Consider five qualities 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. Be sure to consider the following:

  • Personal strengths
  • Weaknesses and areas for improvement you're actively working on
  • Professional goals
  • Passion and interest for that specific opportunity
  • Experience and interest with a particular patient population
  • Passions and hobbies and how you are involved and grow these
  • Near and long-term professional and personal goals

3. Think of Specific Examples to Potential Questions

Recall experiences to be prepared to provide specific examples for the competencies or situations below:

  • Collaboration
  • Critical thinking
  • Adaptability
  • Ability to learn quickly
  • Family-centered care or patient advocacy
  • Inclusivity and cultural or religious considerations in healthcare delivery
  • Communication and conflict resolution
  • Research involvement or data analysis

Pare down how you describe these scenarios to keep them clear and concise:

  • 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 two-four minute maximum. 
  • 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. Stage mock interviews with friends, friends of friends, or family. Sometimes it's helpful to do mock interviews with strangers - this could be at your university career center or by the arrangement of a friend.

4. Anticipate Follow-Up Questions

Hiring and training a new grad nurse can be an expensive (yet extremely important) endeavor. Consider how you can demonstrate a commitment to learning, how you will optimize your participation in the program, and how you can and will contribute back to the organization (the facility is investing in you, so how are you going to invest in them?).

5. Prepare Your Own Questions

They will be expected. Ensure they’re thoughtful, specific to those interviewing you, and are the ones you’re genuinely curious about. They should be 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). If more pertinent questions come up during the interview, those are great to ask and follow up on.

6. Practice

Practice answering questions, asking questions, introducing yourself, shaking hands, giving an overview of your resume. All of it! You don’t want the interview to be the first time you’re going through it all top to bottom.

What To Wear

Plan your outfit ahead of time! There are enough variables out of your control but this is one you can have ticked and tied and not have to give a second thought to once decided on. Ultimately, it's important that you are comfortable and whatever you wear helps you to feel confident.

Here are some helpful guidelines:

  • It is recommended to wear a suit with a jacket (women included) and closed-toed dress shoes (flats or low heels are usually preferable to heels for comfort, stability, and practicality), especially in a healthcare facility.  
  • Necklines (or the number of buttons left open) and skirt lengths should be professional. 
  • 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. 
  • 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.

What to Bring

  • Multiple copies of your resume
  • A notepad or notebook
  • Water

Plan Your Day

  • Plan the route and mode of transportation well in advance. No matter how awesome you are, showing up late for an interview is a bad look and difficult to recover from. And we all know that there are things out of our control when it comes to transportation and commuting. Plan to give yourself more than enough time. Arriving early gives you the opportunity to post up in a coffee shop or cafe and review notes and calm your nerves.
  • Go to bed early, even if your interview isn’t in the morning. You’ll look and feel your best with sufficient sleep.
  • Use the restroom beforehand. Take a couple deep breaths and smile while looking in the mirror. Science shows that the body responds mentally and emotionally to what it does physically.

During the Interview

It's natural to feel nervous in your first interview, but don't stress. Here are some best practices and things to keep in mind as you head into the interview room.

  • Smile. Remember that first impressions are important, and smiling will also help to calm and instill confidence.
  • Make eye contact with each interviewer and shake their hands firmly, expressing both confidence and warmth. Share your enthusiasm to be there and your appreciation of their time.
  • Focus on listening. Try to listen to the questions without getting distracted trying to think of answers at the same time. If needed, 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. Don’t be afraid to say, “That is a good question – let me think for a moment” and pause for a few seconds to formulate your thoughts. In fact, it’s far better than fumbling through a mediocre or directionless answer to a question.
  • Keep it concise. Avoid rambling or feeling like you need to over-answer or explain. 
  • Shake each interviewer’s hand upon your exit and ask for business cards or contact information if you do not already have emails for each person. This will be important for following up. 

After the Interview

So, you made it through the interview, but that doesn't mean you're done just yet. There are still a few things left to do to make sure you've made as great an impression as possible with your interviewers.

  • Write down your notes, takeaways, and thoughts. Especially any specifics that you will want to refer to in your follow-up notes. 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.
  • Within 24 hours, but preferably by the end of the business day, draft and send thank-you notes to your interviewer(s). 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). Thank them for their time and the opportunity to interview. Share something you learned/took away from the experience. 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! 
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Sarah Gray, RN
Sarah is a Pediatric Clinical Nurse III at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital and a UCSF 2017 Evidence Based Practice Fellow. A New Jersey native, Sarah graduated from Penn Nursing and has been living in San Francisco ever since. She's been an athlete her whole life and continues to be passionate about health, fitness, and making the most of all opportunities. She continues to harness her passion for innovation and process improvement in her role as Founding Clinician at Trusted Health.

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