The Nursing Job Interview

With our step-by-step guide and sample practice questions, you’ll be fielding offers in no time

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If you’ve been in your current role for a while, your interviewing skills may be a little rusty. If you’ve recently graduated from nursing school, you may not have interviewed for a nursing job before.

Don’t panic! Nurses are in high demand right now, and recruiters and nurse managers are eager to add new talent to their teams.

The interview process is your chance to show them what you have to offer. This article walks you through how to prepare, what to expect at the interview and what to do afterwards, from someone who has been on both sides of the interview panel in recent years.

Preparing for the Interview  ­

Before beginning the interview process, do some research on the facility and the unit. You can start with the hospital’s website or by reaching out to any personal connections you may have there. Pay particular attention to the typical demographics of the patients the unit treats. That information will help inform your responses to the interview questions.

Next, create a list of your own nursing experiences that you can refer to for scenario-based questions. If you are a new graduate nurse, use examples from clinical rotations for situational responses.

For behavioral questions — like how you dealt with a workplace conflict — you can also refer to your non-nursing jobs. Hiring managers are more interested in knowing that you can manage challenging situations than in the circumstances of the story itself.

Another important step is reviewing your own resume. If you submitted your resume when you applied for the job and never looked back, now is the time to revisit it. You will want to be able to speak fluently about any work experience listed and be prepared to address any gaps in employment.

Next, it’s time to practice interview questions. Each of the following sections provides some sample questions you can use as a starting point.

Remember you’re a STAR

When answering interview questions, it’s important to stay on track. Using a framework like the “STAR” (Situation, Task, Action, Result) method will help you keep your thoughts organized so you don’t wander off-topic.

It’s also helpful to practice your answers with another person. You can run through your sample questions with a friend, but many schools also offer free practice interviews with a virtual interviewer. Having access to this type of virtual interview was one of the most valuable tools I used when I prepared for a recent multi-round interview.

What to Expect in Your Interview

It is common for the interview process to span multiple conversations, with the first being a relatively informal screening and the last phase being the more traditional interview. Let’s discuss what each phase means for you.

Phase 1: Informal Call

First up is typically a screening call to see if you are a good fit for the facility. The best way to prepare is by reviewing your resume and identifying your intentions and priorities. Do this as soon as you hit “send” on your application, in case you get a call back right away.

Here are a few sample questions that are common during a first interview:

“Tell me about yourself.”

When an interviewer asks this question, they’re looking for insights about whether you would be a good addition to their team. While your answer should focus on your work history and experience, you can also talk about special hobbies or personal details that highlight attributes that are useful in a professional setting.

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Sample answer: “I have been a nurse for three years on an ortho/surgical unit. We specialize in total hip and knee replacements, but I am comfortable caring for just about any postop patient. I am also a marathon runner, and having a race to look forward to helps me get through a stressful workweek.”

“Why do you want to work here?”

In answering this question, you should discuss why you’re interested in this particular role and unit, and what skills you can contribute.

Sample answer: “I’m interested in joining the surgical ICU because I am ready for a new challenge in my nursing career. Working on an ortho floor, I have developed strong assessment skills that will be important in the ICU.”

“What are your professional goals as a nurse, and how will this job help you fulfill them?”

You should prepare for this question by thinking about where you see yourself in five years and what milestones you will need to achieve to get there. Don’t be afraid to share that you’re not planning to work on this unit forever. Good hiring managers want to know that you’re goal-driven and motivated.

Sample answer: “Eventually, I would like to go back to school to become an acute care nurse practitioner. I’m interested in working with the surgical team, so this unit will be a great learning experience, enabling me to participate in caring for surgical and trauma patients.”

Phase 2: Discussion with the Manager

Once you’ve had an initial screening call, you can begin preparing for Round 2, which typically involves an in-depth follow-up conversation with the hiring manager.

Even if you do well in your initial interview, it may be a few days to a week before you hear back. Take advantage of that time to practice some more complex questions and answers.

For your second conversation, you should be ready to discuss the nursing work and experiences that have prepared you for the position. Even if this is your first nursing job, you will still need to explain why you’re a strong candidate.

Here are some sample questions you might get at this stage:

“Why should we hire you?”

This question is your chance to pitch yourself to the hiring manager and explain why they need you on their team. Talk about the value you will bring as a nurse and as a team member. Nurse managers want to know that a nurse isn’t looking to join the unit just to get hours, but wants to be a part of the team.

Sample answer: “I am an outcomes-oriented nurse, and this is reflected in the care I provide to patients. If I join this unit, I will be committed to continuous quality improvement for our patients. I plan to join committees focused on improving patient outcomes and satisfaction through evidence-based practice.”

“What kinds of events at work have caused you stress? What did you do to manage those situations?”

Your answer to this question lets your prospective employer know that you’re capable of remaining calm under pressure and working through challenging situations to keep your patients safe.

Sample answer: “I once took care of a patient who was becoming increasingly hypotensive after surgery and needed interventions quickly. In that situation, I remained calm and made sure to have clear lines of communication with the provider about what was going on. We worked together to provide fluid resuscitation so that the patient’s blood pressure did not bottom out.”

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Phase 3: The Big Interview

If you make it through Rounds 1 and 2 (woohoo!), it’s time for the main event. Whether the third  interview is in person or virtual, you will likely be meeting with several stakeholders, so you will need to be prepared to sell yourself to everyone involved.

Here are a few more challenging interview questions of the kind that might come up now:

“Describe a time when your team members disagreed with you. How did you handle the situation, and what was the outcome?”

In answering this question, be careful not to get too caught up in describing the confrontation itself — what managers want to see is that you demonstrate the emotional intelligence to find a resolution in such situations.

Sample answer: “I was working with a physical therapist who wanted to get the patient out of bed right after surgery, which I thought was too soon. We stepped out of the patient’s room and had a conversation. We eventually compromised by allowing the patient to sit at the side of the bed and dangle, with a nurse present to monitor vital signs and pain.”

“Name something you’ve done or supported that brought a positive change to your work area.”

This question is another opportunity to highlight your interest in being involved with a unit and your ability to work with others.

Sample answer: “In nursing school, I worked with my clinical group to create a new pain scale for nonverbal patients on our floor. We presented the pain scale to unit leaders and they allowed us to be part of its implementation. It felt good to see patients have improved comfort scores thanks to our efforts.”

“Describe a time you’ve shown leadership.”

If you’re relatively new to nursing, questions like this can be intimidating because you may not yet have any formal leadership experience. Remember that you don’t have to be a manager or charge nurse to be a leader on your unit. Think of some ways you’ve stepped up among your peers.

Sample answer: “The visiting policies on our unit have changed a lot in the past couple of years, which has been confusing for both patients and staff. I took it upon myself to create a digital version of our visiting policies that staff can easily access and update as things change.”

“Name a time you made a mistake or had a near-miss. What did you learn from it?”

In answering questions like this, you want to show that you’re competent and yet also capable of owning your mistakes. The key is to not get bogged down in details — what the interviewer is really looking to see is how you will handle this type of situation in the future.

Sample answer: “I recently had a busy assignment where all of my patients’ call bells were going off at once. I was pulling pain meds for one patient when my phone went off, and I brought them into the wrong patient’s room. Fortunately, I checked the MAR before I pushed the pain medication into my patient’s IV. Even with all of my experience, this reminded me how important it is to go back to the five rights of medication administration, no matter how busy things get.”

Your third-stage interview may include speaking to a panel of peer interviewers. Don’t let this intimidate you! You can use this as an opportunity to ask practical questions about the unit culture.

Here are questions you can ask your interviewers:

What is a typical patient assignment on the unit?
What is the nurse-to-patient ratio?
Is there usually a free-floating charge nurse?
What is the CNA-to-patient ratio?
Are there committees or other ways for nurses to get involved in the unit or in governance?

After the Interview

Once you’ve reached the end of the big interview, you can exhale! After completing such a nerve-wracking process, take some time to decompress. Once you’ve collected your thoughts, consider sending thank-you notes to everyone involved in the interview.

Next, be prepared for an offer. What compensation, shift or schedule requirements are you willing to accept? Be prepared for how you’ll respond when your future employer calls you with an offer, because it’s time for all of this hard work to pay off.

ALEXA DAVIDSON, RN, MSN, is a freelance health writer and registered nurse with over a decade of experience in neonatal and pediatric cardiac intensive care.

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