By Angelina Gibson
After all the hard work of nursing school, cramming for the NCLEX, and sending out countless resumes, you've finally secured an interview. So now what? Just show up and win them over with your charming personality?
Not so fast.
If you've done some research about job interviews, you know there's a ton of information out there. Unfortunately, it's mostly geared towards corporate office jobs.
And interviewing for a nursing job can be very different!
Nursing interviews take a lot of preparation and even more practice. This guide will teach you everything you need to know, step-by-step, about wowing your audience at your next nursing interview!
To get the most out of this guide, download the worksheets, checklists, and sample questions in our free, Career Guide Series Interview Workbook.
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Part OneInterview Basics
First things first, you need to understand the objective of the interview. By the time you’ve been invited to one, employers have already determined that you have most of the qualifications required.
The purpose of the interview is to determine if they like you and whether you’re a good fit for their team. They also want to see if you’re as good as you seem on paper and can help them reach their goals.
This is also an opportunity for you to evaluate the role and employer. You’ll be spending most of your time at work, so it’s important to be somewhere that aligns with you core values, helps you reach your goals, and is actually enjoyable - not just tolerable.
With that said, interviewing styles and processes can vary greatly by employer. Chances are, you’ll encounter most of the interview styles discussed in this guide at some point in your career.
“Do your research on the unit or the floor you are going to be interviewing for. Find out the patient population and what procedures are common on the floor. It’ll be good to already know what to expect and to be able to brush up on your knowledge before you speak to the manager or interviewing nurses.”
Part TwoPrescreen Phone Interviews
This is usually the first step in the hiring process. These short interviews usually take place by phone or at a job fair. They’re not usually conducted by the hiring manager. Instead, you’ll most likely be talking to a recruiter or Human Resources assistant.
The goal is to reduce the number of candidates and invite the best fitting candidates for the next step.
While this interviewer is not usually the person who will hire you, this will be the first person who can reject you if you seem unqualified in any way. They are masterful at asking short-ended, straightforward questions to quickly obtain the information they need.
Make sure you give the right answers that will convince them to send you to the next stage. They’ll ask basic qualifying questions about:
- Employment status
- Clinical experience
Here are some tips to get you through this first round.
What NOT To Do In A Phone Interview
Miss the call. Employers will rarely cold-call you. They’ll likely schedule this call with you in advance via email. This is your first impression!
If the call is missed, they may not leave a voicemail and just disqualify you right away. It just looks bad. Don’t do it unless there’s an absolute emergency.
Take the call in a busy room. Find a quiet place to talk, free of loud noises and distractions. You shouldn’t be talking to others, typing, shopping, driving, eating or chewing.
Never put your interviewer on hold. (Yes, this actually happens!)
Ramble or be silent. Let’s face it, phone interviews are strange. You can’t read body language or get a feel for how the interviewer is reacting to your answers. There’s a lot of awkward laughing.
However, it’s still important to answer questions directly and to the point, without rambling or making things more uncomfortable by being silent.
Follow the interviewer’s lead!
Speak negatively. No one likes a “negative Nancy”. You should never complain or speak negatively about past (or current) employers. Also, slang and curse words are never to be used in an interview.
What You Should Do
Know your availability. The interviewer’s goal is to invite the best candidates to an in-person interview. Many extend an invitation during the screening interview. Have your calendar and availability ready.
Ask about next steps. Have you ever ended a phone interview feeling confused about what’s next? While interviewers should tell you the next steps, they often are in a rush and miss this step.
Make sure to ask about next steps and to clarify them when they tell you. If invited for an in person interview, make sure to know:
- Who will interview you
- Meeting time
- Contact information
Part ThreeIn-Person Interviews
Give yourself a pat on the back! You’ve made it past the phone screen and landed a face-to-face interview!
At this point, you know your qualifications fit some, most, or even all of their needs. Now they need to get to know you as a person to see if you’re as good as you look on paper.
They also want to make sure you have the right personality that will fit in with the rest of the team.
Here are a few types of in-person interviews you may encounter.
This is your first opportunity to meet the hiring manager. There’s no special formula to this interview (though, some may use a score sheet).
Ultimately, they are determining if they personally like you. This includes a number of things:
- How they feel about you
- How you’ll fit within their unit
- Your level of enthusiasm
- How your strengths can help them reach their goals
Use this as a chance to match yourself to the role through your personal experiences, stories and charming personality.
This is one of those situations where you’ll be interviewed, individually, by multiple people back-to-back. Series interviews are usually utilized for management-level roles.
It is actually a combination of a pre-screen and a selection interview because you are meeting each person for the first time. Each interviewer is also involved in the decision-making process.
Make sure to treat each new interviewer with eagerness and answer the questions thoroughly while engaging in meaningful conversation.
Keep in mind that each interviewer will compare notes after the interview. Be consistent when answering the same question several times. Nothing looks worse to a hiring manager than different answers to the same question.
Has this ever happened to you? You head into an interview prepared to meet with one person only to find three other people staring back at you. Awkward.
If that’s never happened to you, you’re lucky because it’s fairly common. This is why you should come to your interview prepared to meet several people. That’s why it’s always good to bring at least five copies of your resume.
The panel interview can leave interviewees feeling vulnerable and reactive. While employers gain valuable insight from multiple department leads, candidates can feel rushed and overwhelmed.
Ample preparation is a sure way to boost your confidence. Our best advice is to maintain eye contact with all participants, engage in conversation with the entire group, share personal stories, and smile!
Chances are, you’ll encounter a peer interview at some point in your nursing job search. Most facilities utilize them.
In this situation, the candidate is interviewed by their potential co-workers. It provides an opportunity to ask the staff-specific questions and gain insider feedback. It also gives the staff the opportunity to be involved in the selection process.
They want to know that you can do the job and also that you’ll fit in well with their team and unit culture. Be prepared with stories to share regarding specific clinical and behavioral based questions.
Common structure of an in-person interview
- Introduction is made within the first 5-10 minutes. It may include casual conversation to break the ice and build rapport.
- Information gathering and questions/answers generally span about 20-45 minutes. This is the interviewer’s time to determine your match for the role and for you to express your qualifications.
- Closing remarks will take place during the last 5 minutes or so. This is your opportunity to ask any unanswered questions. Make sure to have at least 2-3 prepared questions to ask (in case you can’t think of any on the spot.)
Monique Doughty BSN-RN, is a Critical Care travel nurse and entrepreneur providing advice, inspiration, and support for future and current nurses through her blog The Resilient Nurse. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.
“Before your interview, research the company’s mission and purpose and feel comfortable enough to discuss their core values. Dress professionally for business, perform a mock interview with a friend, and make eye contact. Finally, believe in your talents and know you are fully deserving of this position.”
Part FourInterview Preparation
Now that you know what type of interview situations to expect, it’s time to get ready for your actual interview.
Failure to prepare is preparing to fail.
As you can guess, when it comes to interviewing, preparation is everything. There are some important things you should do before your first interview.
Write it All Down
This guide will take you through some exercises that call for self-assessment and employer research. It’s recommended that you go through them by writing your answers down.
That’s right, write it down using actual pen and paper. Though handwritten notes are quickly becoming a thing of the past, studies have shown that those who hand write notes comprehend and retain more than those who type them out.
To make this process easier, download our free interview prep workbook to begin your research process.
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Analyze and Compare
The first thing you’ll want to do is analyze the job posting and compare your qualifications. So read the job posting thoroughly. Then read it again. Break it all down by making a comparative list.
On one side, list the qualifications the employer is seeking. On the other side, list your skills (hard and soft), accomplishments, stories and examples that directly meet the employer’s needs.
Know your personal goals and what you can contribute.
Research the facility!
In the age of information, everything you need to know is simply a click away. While reading the job posting is important, there’s much left unsaid.
You need to know your audience. They’ll ask specific questions about their hospital and if you haven’t done your research, they’ll know. It is also a great way for you to learn more about the role you’re actually applying for.
Start by checking out their website and answering the following questions:
- What are the facility’s mission, vision, and values?
- What is the facility’s designation?
- What population do they serve?
- What have they been awarded or recognized for?
Review Social Media Sites
Find your potential employer on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Linkedin and answer the following questions:
- How are they interacting?
- What are they reposting?
- How are their employees commenting?
- What do patients say in their ratings?
This all helps you to get a feel for their values and culture.
Find First-hand Information
There are many websites that allow customers, patients, and employees to leave reviews about hospitals. Finding nurse-specific information can be a little more difficult.
Read reviews from other nurses on our hospitals page or check out other online nursing forums to see what your colleagues are saying.
Find Salary Information
Be prepared for the somewhat awkward conversation of salary by doing your research about the pay at the facility and in your location in general.
There are websites that list employee compensation. Ask around in online nursing forums or to friends. You can also check our article that breaks down average Registered Nursing pay by state.
Clean up your own social media accounts
Social media is often a potential employer’s first impression of a candidate. Clean up your accounts and make sure that it is the best reflection of you. It’s best to do so before you submit your resume, but if you haven’t, do it now.
Here are a few tips:
- Have appropriate profile photos on all accounts.
- For LinkedIn post a professional style photo to your profile.
- Edit the biographies, headings and descriptions on all accounts to reflect who you are professionally. Or, leave it blank.
- Run a Google search of your first and last name. Make sure all photos of you are tasteful and appropriate. If you find any inappropriate photos remove them.
- Change your privacy settings to private if you do not want potential employers to view your social media profiles and photos. If you choose to leave your settings public, we recommend deleting any compromising photos and updates.
- Review all accounts: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Google+, and Linkedin. You never know what platforms they’ll look at.
Social media and online activity can also be positive! For example, if you run a blog, Instagram or YouTube channel related to your career, employers may view that as a testament to your dedication. Be sure to talk about those side projects during your interview!
Part FiveTry A Mock Interview
We’ve all been there. You know, when you think of the perfect answer to a question after the opportunity to answer is long gone?
Don’t let this happen to you during an interview. Think of the perfect answers, stories, and examples before the interview. That way, you can wow them with your thoughtful, specific replies.
Ask a friend, mentor, or even another recruiter to help you prepare for your interview. They should ask a few common (behavioral and clinical) nursing questions and provide you with real feedback. Tell them to be brutally honest!
To be clear, we’re not telling you to prepare and rehearse scripted answers. Please don’t do that. Use the ideas you come up with during practice to guide your answers when it’s show time.
Pull the questions out randomly and it will train your mind to pivot quickly between questions.
Part SixControl Your Body language
Body language can portray our true emotions and feelings before we ever open our mouths.
Watch yourself answering questions in a mirror. If you watch while you’re talking on the phone, chances are you’ll make the same expressions while interviewing.
There are few things you should take note of while you practice.
- Do you furrow your eyebrows? That could be a sign of anger.
- Avoid eye contact? That could portray a lack of confidence and/or dishonesty.
- Do you talk with your hands a lot? Or, not enough?
- Try observing your hands while you talk. Are they a distraction?
- Are they awkwardly placed?
- Do you touch your hair? Others could read that as being nervous.
- Nail biter? Distraction. We recommend keeping your hands in your lap and using them occasionally to emphasize points.
- If you have a nervous habit that involves your hands, consider holding a paper clip to keep your habit under control.
Strong posture portrays confidence while bad posture can send the opposite message. Sit up straight with both feet on the floor, eyes forward, and shoulders squared towards your interviewer.
As previously mentioned, interviewers are paying just as much attention to your non-verbal cues as they are to what you say. Follow these tips for success:
- Greet everyone you meet with kindness. Word travels fast in the little world of hospitals. Smile at the Janitor, thank the Receptionist.
- Offer a firm, confident handshake. While soft handshakes may seem welcoming, it’s actually incredibly awkward for the interviewer.
- Cell phone etiquette - turn it OFF. Don’t even look at your phone while you’re waiting in the lobby. Scrolling through your phone while you wait can give off negative non-verbal cues such as intimidation, defeat, distraction or boredom. Never text or answer your phone during an interview.
- Exude confidence. Maintain good eye contact, strong posture, intentional hand placement.
- Refrain from fidgeting. No tapping your toes or fingers. No nail biting. No hair touching. No pen-clicking. Hold a paperclip if you tend to fidget.
- Don’t chew gum.
Hopefully, once the interview kicks off you’ll feel really comfortable and welcomed. If not, here are some more tips to help you successfully make it through:
- Think of the interview as a conversation. How would you talk with someone you first met? Would you awkwardly state rehearsed textbook answers? Probably not. You’d likely tell stories and ask questions, you know, engage in conversation.Let your personality shine! Laugh a little, it’s ok!
- Mirror your interviewer. We’re not telling you to copy their every move. However, communication 101 teaches that people feel most comfortable around other people with whom they relate through non-verbal communication including body placement and voice-tone.
For example, if your interviewer leans to the right, you lean slightly to the right as well. If your interviewer is enthusiastic, be enthusiastic, too. Don’t go overboard, or make it noticeable but, do try it.
- Silence is golden. We tend to fear silence and attempt to replace it with filler words that can often take us off focus. We suggest taking a slight (2-3 second) pauses after every question to retain the question and offer the most meaningful response.
- You don’t have to know everything. Actually, the goal of the interview is not to find the candidate who knows the most. Managers want employees who are teachable and trainable not, “know-it-alls.” Many employers will appreciate someone who is honest and says, “I don’t know but, here’s how I’d find the answer”. As opposed to making something up or reciting a Google response.
Take note of the following questions because they are illegal for employers to ask:
- Where were you born?
- Where are your parents from?
- How old are you?
- When are you getting married?
- When are you having children?
- What is your religion?
- What is your native language?
- When were you born?
- Are you a United States Citizen?
- What is your ethnicity?
If you are asked any of these questions or a variation of the question, you are not required to answer. We’d encourage you to consider ending the interview. Would you want to work for someone who asks illegal and discriminatory questions?
Part SevenBe A Storyteller
It’s extremely difficult to get a glimpse of who someone really is if they are simply spewing off textbook, generic, scripted answers. This is why most health care employers have resorted to asking behavioral questions.
While some may still ask basic NCLEX, resume, and case-based questions; being prepared to answer behavioral questions will take your interview to the next level.
Storytelling is powerful and memorable. Most importantly, it provides evidence to support the assertions made in your resume. It gives the employer a glimpse at the type of nurse (and human being) you are.
They get a better idea of how you think, how you react, how you solve problems, and what you value.
As a rule of thumb, if you are ever stuck by a question, tell a story.
When thinking of stories to share, write down times when you:
- Felt proud
- Felt appreciated
- Felt challenged
- Felt defeated
Then, for each of these situations answer the following:
- What was the exact situation?
- How did you react?
- What specific steps did you take? If it was a negative situation, did anything positive result from it?
- What did you learn from the situation?
Storytelling during interviews does have some rules that we’d suggest following. We don’t want the story to get drawn out and spun off into oblivion.
The key to storytelling is to remain concise, describe the specific steps you took, and talk about what you learned from the situation.
There’s a secret formula to answering nursing interview questions and it will make you a STAR!
The type of storytelling we recommend during an interview is referred to as the STAR format. For interviewing purposes, the acronym STAR represents the four components of a good answer:
Does that sound familiar? The nursing profession uses a similar communication process referred to as SBAR. The acronym SBAR represents the four components of effective communication in nursing:
For interviewing purposes, the STAR format is similar to the SBAR process. However, it does vary slightly.
The point to answering questions in this manner is to prove to the interviewer, undoubtedly, that you know your stuff. Here’s a step-by-step method to telling a story with the STAR process:
- Describe the circumstances
- Explain the challenges and/or provide background details
- Use a step-by-step approach to reflect on the resolution
- Explain the outcome
- Share key takeaways: positive outcomes, what you learned, how you’ve changed.
Here’s how to understand the STAR format:
Begin your story by painting a specific picture of the situation you faced. Then, answer the following:
- What was the exact situation?
- Who was involved (address them by name)?
- Why did the situation happen?
“I love to get to know my patients. It was my first day of my second travel nursing assignment. I met my first patient, Elizabeth, and she was doing well managing her labor and was in good spirits awaiting the birth of her son, Cedric. Her husband laughed at the way I pronounced the name of their hometown, Puyallup.”
Task (or, background)
Use this opportunity to explain your specific role in the task. Then, answer the following:
- Why were you involved in the task?
- What is the background story?
“After about 20 minutes of tracking the baby’s heartbeat, I noticed that is was dropping.”
Discuss, very specifically, the actions you took to resolve the situation. Then answer the following:
- What were the steps you took toward resolving the situation?
- Why did you choose to complete the tasks this way?
“I explained to Elizabeth that her baby may not like her laying on the right side so I helped her onto her left side and asked her to take slow, deep breaths.
I observed for a few minutes without increase and then turned Elizabeth back to her right side.
Her baby’s heartbeat did not increase. I told Elizabeth that she would be just fine and asked her husband to coach her breathing.
I called the Midwife and continued to coach Elizabeth through her breathing. Her Midwife, Audrey, decreased the Pitocin and explained to Elizabeth that if the baby’s heart rate did not increase, she would be sent for an emergency cesarean section.”
Clearly detail the result of your actions and highlight your strengths. Then, answer the following:
- What was the outcome?
- How did you feel about the result?
- What did you learn?
- How did this situation influence who you are today?
“Happily, my close observation and care resulted in the vaginal birth of a beautiful baby boy named, Cedric. I remain in contact with Elizabeth and her family on Facebook. She often sends me photos of Cedric, even now, 2 years later.
I ended up extending my contract at that facility and was offered a Charge Nurse position. I learned that building a strong connection with my patient from the start can have positive lasting results. And, it’s just who I am.”
Managers are not looking for the “right” answer all the time. You don’t have to always talk about the times you were a superhero. They are looking to learn more about you and your abilities, hear about your self-awareness, responsibilities, thought process, and past experiences.
For behavioral questions, keep in mind that most interviewers will ask some variation of the same 30 questions. A good tactic is to think of specific stories in STAR format to match all 30 of these commonly asked behavior-based questions.
You’ll find a list of these questions in our downloadable guide.
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Task Prioritization Questions
There’s a growing trend of interviewers asking interviewees to place random tasks in specific order and explain why the interviewee would complete the tasks in that order.
It would benefit you to review specific clinical duties related to the unit you are interviewing for. Take a few moments to think about how you would complete the following tasks and why?
- Handheld phone is ringing.
- A patient’s wound dressing needs changing.
- Heart monitor in another room is sounding.
- SAT monitor beeping.
Part EightStand Out With A Portfolio
A sure way to stand out from other candidates is to prepare your professional nursing portfolio.
A nurse portfolio provides tangible evidence to the statements made both on your resume and during your interview. It is both a valuable tool to be utilized at career fairs and networking events as well as at interviews.
We suggest creating your portfolio early in your career and adding to it as your career progresses. When providing it at an interview, be sure to bring at least five copies.
The supplies you’ll need to develop your portfolio include:
- 3 ring binder or presentation folder
- Clear divider sheets
- Color printer
Always include the following documents in your portfolio (colored copies are a nice touch):
- Cover page: First Name, Last Name, and nursing credentials.
- Current resume
- Nurse license
- Letters of Recommendation
- Performance reviews
- Nursing credentials (copies of both front and back of the cards)
- Certificates, special training, and awards
It is optional to include the following:
- Patient education plans you wrote
- Your personal statement of nursing
- Protocols and procedures
- College and university transcripts
- Annual skills checklist
- Job descriptions from every role you’ve worked
- Written summaries of patient stories in which you played a key role.
Part NineGive a Strong Close
The end of an interview can feel a little awkward but, it doesn’t have to be. Here’s what you should prepare for.
Questions You Should Ask
Near the close of the interview, you’ll likely be asked if you have questions. Hopefully, you’ll still have unanswered questions. If not, don’t stare silently at your interviewer.
Ask them one of your prepared questions. That’s right, have a few written in your notebook to ask just in case your mind goes blank. Here are a few to jot down:
- How long did the previous nurse hold this role? Why did that nurse leave?
- What is the turnover rate for this unit?
- What would a successful first year in this position look like to you?
- How will a new person in this role be trained?
- How would you describe the culture on this unit?
- What types of nurses thrive on this unit? What types of nurses don’t do well?
- Could you tell me about a nurse who really excels at their job, what makes their performance so outstanding?
- How will my performance be evaluated?
- What makes this unit a great place to work?
- What are the opportunities for advancement?
- Are there any reservations you still have about my fit for the position that I can address now?
- What is your timeline for getting back to candidates about next steps?
CLARIFY NEXT STEPS
One of the worst feelings is waiting in limbo for an employer to call. Save yourself the stress by asking about or clarifying next steps.
Ask for a business card or contact information (you’ll need this later!). Make sure to thank your interviewer for their time. Reiterate your strengths and remind the interviewer how awesome you are.
Part TenFinal Preparations
Ease your nerves by preparing for the interview at least a full day in advance. The last thing you want is to feel overwhelmed or stressed the day of the interview. To prepare for the interview do the following:
Know the name of your interviewer or who you are meeting with first.
Write down the specifics about the interview: date, time, location.
Get precise directions, in advance. Have the address written (or printed) and even marked in your GPS. If you are interviewing in a hospital and have the time, we suggest driving to the facility a few days before your interview. Find the best route, scope out parking options, learn the directions to your interviewer’s office.
Think about your appearance. Take a peek at the weather and dress appropriately. We suggest business or business casual attire. Keep your hair out of your face and ditch the heavy fragrance.
Try on and lay out your clothes the night before so there are no surprises like missing buttons or hidden stains that you’ll have to deal with the next morning.
Pack an ‘interview kit’ to help you feel comfortable and prepared. Consider including items such as:
- Extra copies of your resume
- A notepad and pen
- Business cards (if you have them)
Your interview starts the night before with final practice and review. Followed by enough sleep (shoot for 8 hours), water, and food. Think positively! Try to stay off social media the night before, if you can.
Plan your transportation. It is never appropriate to be late for an interview. We encourage you to plan accordingly. If you live in a heavy traffic area, give yourself more than enough time to arrive early. Keep in mind, “to be early is to be on-time, to be on-time is to be late and to be late is a waste of time.”
If you know that you will be running late or if you need to reschedule contact your interviewer as soon as possible, we suggest at least 24 hours in advance for rescheduling.
Send a thank you card. We live in a time where actual thank you cards are unexpected and appreciated. Stand out from the others by sending one. If that’s not your style, a simple email will do! This is another time to reiterate your strengths. Say something like:
I enjoyed our conversation and look forward to meeting with your team on June 30th. It sounds like my three years experience in a level 1 trauma center will benefit your unit and I’m excited to learn from you as well! Thank you for your time.
If you do not hear back about the role by the time stated and you are still interested. Follow up with your interviewer via email, here’s a sample email:
I hope that we are still able to connect regarding next steps for your open ICU Registered Nurse role. I am still very interested and feel confident in my previous three years experience at a busy level one trauma center.
Is the role currently available? When should I expect to hear about next steps?
Lastly, if you do not hear back within 24 hours after sending the email, try calling your interviewer. If you need to leave a voicemail, try something like
“Hi Carrie, this is [name]. I met you during my interview on June 24th. I’m following up to check if the role is still open as I am still very interested. I can be reached at [phone number] and have sent you an email as well.”
Networking is worth it!
Technology has changed much about the job search. In some ways, it’s made it easier to meet people, and in others, it’s actually made it more difficult.
Technology sites like LinkedIn make it fairly simple to connect with and continue to network with decision makers. We suggest adding your interviewers on Linkedin and remaining in contact with them. You never know when a new opportunity may open up again.
No one likes rejection
We’ll all face rejection at some point in life. The key to handling rejection gracefully is turning it into an opportunity to learn. If you are not chosen for a role, use it as an opportunity to improve and further your research.
How do you do this? By asking your interviewer for feedback. You might ask:
- Can you share with me why I was not selected?
- Do you have any recommendations for me?
- May I remain in contact with you for professional advice?
We get it. Interviews are awkward and they make everyone nervous. Take these tips to heart and practice, practice, practice!
While it’s not a guarantee you’ll be hired on the spot, these tips will help you to learn a lot more about yourself and how to portray your skills, accomplishments, and stories in the best way possible.