Twelve Job Interview Tips for Nervous Nurses
By Keith Carlson, RN, BSN
While some nurses may be very comfortable with job interviews, there are some in the nursing profession who feel nothing but nervousness on their big day. Nervousness and anxiety can diminish the power of your job interview performance, so elevating your mindset can only help you shine. It’s sometimes impossible to completely get rid of your anxiety altogether, but there are steps you can take to assuage your nerves, calm yourself down, and otherwise decrease the likelihood that your anxiety will show.
Why Are You Nervous?
Something to consider when preparing for a job interview is why you may feel nervous. Some questions to ask yourself include but are not limited to:
Am I nervous because I feel unqualified for the nursing position for which I’m applying?
Does my nervousness stem from a lack of confidence as a nurse?
Are there specific types of interview questions that make me feel anxious? What questions really make me sweat?
Is there something about this position that feels uncomfortable or outside my usual skills or nursing knowledge?
Is the potential employer with whom I’m interviewing known for tough interviews?
Do I know the person or persons who will be interviewing me?
Am I uncertain how to clearly and concisely make a case for my skills, knowledge, and expertise?
Am I interviewing for a new nursing specialty or a form of elevated responsibility?
Writing down your responses to such questions may help you get to the bottom of your job interview jitters.
Here are twelve tips for decreasing job interview anxiety:
1. Know where to go.
There’s nothing like driving to a job interview and realizing you don’t know the exact building where the meeting is being held, or you don’t have enough money for the parking meter. If at all possible, map out the fastest route to the interview site and drive there a day or two before your big day; make notes about where to park, whether you’ll need change for a parking meter, and be sure to ascertain the exact building where you need to be. If possible, check out the inside of the building and learn the very exact location of the office or room you’ll need to report to.
Next, if the timing of your interview means traveling during rush hour, research how long the commute should take at that time of day, and add another 30-45 minutes to your travel time just to be sure. Use the map application on your phone to check out the traffic on the day of your meeting; you can also listen to the traffic reports on local radio and plan accordingly.
2. Get some sleep.
Losing hours of sleep due to pre-interview anxiety is no fun, and it’ll set you back for the day. Practice the best sleep hygiene you can in the several days leading up to your interview. Avoid alcohol and other things that may decrease the quality or quantity of your sleep pattern.
3. Learn about the company/facility/employer.
Do as much advance research as possible about the company or organization to which you are applying; if you understand their mission, values, recent awards or special recognition, and other aspects of the organization, you will be able to speak with more confidence when asked questions probing your understanding of your potential new employer. Being in the dark about the organization will not boost your confidence in the potential outcome of your interview.
4. Practice the hard questions.
If you know that questions about why you left your last two nursing jobs after less than a year are going to make you squirm in your seat, practice your responses to those types of questions as many times as possible. Ask a friend, nurse colleague, or family member to play the role of the interviewer, and practice looking them in the eye and responding to the questions that are hardest for you. Practice really does help nervous interviewees feel less anxious about the tough questions.
5. Consider it a conversation.
If you go into an interview feeling like you’re on trial, you’re going to be nervous; it’s not about facing the firing squad -- it’s a two-way conversation. Remember that you are also interviewing them; be prepared with salient questions for your interviewer.
6. Understand your weaknesses and strengths.
As cliche as it sounds, most interviewers will ask you to talk about both your strengths and your weaknesses. While this question may not reveal all that much about some people, it’s a stock question in many interviews and you need to be prepared. Be sure to review how you’ll respond to such questions until your answers come as naturally as your name, address, and phone number. In all likelihood, they’re going to come up, so be ready.
7. Take your time.
When asked a question, realize that it’s perfectly normal to hesitate, think for a moment, and gather your thoughts before responding. If you need to stall for time, taking a sip of water can give you a few seconds to ponder your forthcoming response, but be sure not to use this tactic more than once or twice or it will seem obvious what you’re doing. If you’re taking notes during the interview (which, by the way, is recommended), you can be doing so as the question is asked, and use your note-taking as a way to buy a few seconds. Just be sure not to bury your face in your notebook and avoid eye contact, and know that you can indeed directly ask for a moment to gather your thoughts.
8. Take notes.
As mentioned above, note-taking can help when trying to stall for time when pondering your response to a difficult question. Having a pen and notebook in your lap also serves other purposes, such as giving you something to do with your hands. (Just be sure not to nervously tap your pen repeatedly on your notebook or unconsciously click the pen’s button over and over again out of anxiety.)
9. Dress comfortably.
You certainly want to look good for your interview, but wearing a shirt that’s too tight or stockings that make your legs itchy is not going to add to your sense of calm and poise. Choose clothes that fit well, feel good against your skin, and help you to feel confident, professional, and attractive. You always want to dress as nicely as possible without being over the top formal.
10. Eat and hydrate well before your interview.
There’s nothing like gnawing hunger or thirst to put you off your game any time; before a job interview, this can be deadly for your sense of well-being and tranquility. If your interview is in the morning, a healthy breakfast will certainly set you up for feeling well-nourished and ready. Avoid becoming overly caffeinated, and be sure to be hydrated well enough so that your mouth isn’t dry and your lips aren’t chapped from thirst. Avoid foods and drinks that are known to cause you stomach upset, polyuria, or gas. Carbonated drinks may cause eructation (belching) at inopportune times, and you certainly want to avoid foods that usually don’t agree with you.
This may sound like something out of a meditation manual or self-help book, but science has shown that calm, diaphragmatic breathing calms the sympathetic nervous system and reduces anxiety. Do you hold your breath when you’re anxious? Are you a shallow breather when nervous? Be aware of your patterns and work to improve or change them.
12. Be aware of body language.
Body language says so much about who you are and how you feel. Practice body language that encourages relaxation and self-confidence. If you have difficulty knowing what to do with your hands during an interview, practice with a friend, colleague, or family member. A well-known TED Talk discusses how certain so-called “power poses” can actually affect levels of testosterone and cortisol in the brain. (Please note that this video with more than 30 million views makes claims about body language that are validated by scientific research of apparently mixed reproducibility, but is still highly valuable information.)
Anxiety Can Be Overcome
Your nursing job interview anxiety can actually propel you towards more assiduous preparation, planning, and strategizing about these important meetings that are so central to moving forward in your career as a professional nurse and healthcare provider.
Whether it’s a new nursing position or an interview for a promotion within your current organization, you need to be highly prepared and ready to face the stressors associated with the interview experience.
Self-care, planning, and thoughtful consideration of what makes you anxious will assist you in decreasing your anxiety and increasing the probability of success. Your nursing career deserves powerful interview skills; apply yourself to overcoming anxiety and mastering the art of the nursing job interview.
Next Up: 5-step Plan to Nurse Self-care
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN is a Board-Certified Nurse Coach (NC-BC), award-winning blogger, nurse podcaster, speaker, and author. Based in Sante Fe, New Mexico, Nurse Keith’s work has appeared in a variety of online and print publications.