Interviewing Tips

Before you have that interview, take a look at tips provided by nurses.

Recent Grads

Before The Interview
Before you have that interview, take a look at these practical tips provided by nurses.

 

1. Prepare your credentials and other paperwork
  • Create a professional résumé that profiles important coursework, clinical experience and any early nursing career highlights. List your job positions or clinical rotations, key responsibilities, accomplishments, rewards, recognition, credentials, licensing and education. Ask your nursing advisor or other mentor to review your résumé for content, grammar, format and overall effectiveness. (For tips on preparing your nursing résumé, read more.) Print out multiple copies of your résumé and keep them in a folder with your other documents.
  • Make a list and check off all of your credentials, immunization and identification documents. Make sure to include your nursing license, notice of passing board scores (if you have it), BCLS/ACLS card, additional certificates from any advanced training programs, driver's license, immunization record and social security number. Bring the original documents and two or three copies of each to give to the human resources department and the hiring/interviewing manager.
  • Bring a current copy of your nursing skills checklist(s) for any departments where you have worked. Be thorough but don't exaggerate your abilities; these lists demonstrate your clinical competencies and can help employers match you to the right job and training situation to begin your nursing career. If you are working with a staffing company, they can normally provide you with skills checklists that can be completed for your nursing interview.
  • Have at least two copies of your references available—one to leave with the human resources representative and the other for the hiring manager. Verify and update the names, titles, facility designations, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of clinic managers, nursing faculty and personal references. (If you have reference letters, bring them along. Most employers use them as supplemental material, not as a substitute for references.)
  • Anticipate being asked for permission to conduct a criminal background investigation. The permission form may require you to list all of your prior addresses for the past five to seven years, so keep this information with you.
2. Anticipate the questions you will be asked.
  • Find out as much as you can about the facility where you'll be interviewing by visiting their Web site or picking up literature from your nursing school's career center. If you have any contacts who work at this facility, take the time to ask them about the staff, the corporate culture and general procedures.
  • Prepare answers for standard on-the-job type interview questions:
  1. How would others describe your skills as a team player?
  2. What is your approach for getting along with difficult staff members?
  3. How do you handle problem patients and/or families?
  4. What is your method for dealing with the workload when your unit is short-staffed?
  5. How do you give a treatment that you have never administered before?
  6. How do you handle three emergency admissions at shift change?
  • Develop an answer for one of the most common open-ended questions: "Tell me a little about yourself." This question is designed to evaluate your judgment. This is not the time or the place for a chronological biography or any self-critical remarks. It's your opportunity to reveal key details about yourself that validate why you are the right one for the job. Use this opportunity to point out the unique skills, talents and attitudes you bring to the nursing unit, backed up with specific examples. For instance, if you talk about your teamwork or leadership skills, give an example of when you demonstrated these qualities.
  • Practice answering questions in a way that shows you are a problem-solver. Staff shortages and new employee training can be a source of stress for the manager and the other workers on the unit, so show that you can be part of the solution. Provide examples from your nursing career—no matter how short—that demonstrate how you've picked up the slack, organized workflow and contributed in various ways to make things more efficient.
  • Craft answers to negative situations, but frame them in a positive light. Review your experience and write down pertinent examples that show how you overcame adversity and gained new insights. Even if you faced some difficult situations at your last job, refrain from speaking negatively about a previous employer, department or manager. You don't want to come across as someone who blames his or her situation on others or offend the hiring manager by mistake. Emphasize the positive and highlight how these challenging experiences strengthened and shaped your skills and your nursing career.
3. Practice, practice, practice!
  • Practice answering all of these questions until you feel comfortable and at ease. Don't just say what you think the interviewer wants to hear; be true to yourself. Otherwise you could be hired under the wrong expectations for a position that's not a good match. Your goal is to prepare answers that best reflect your skills and personality. Remember to be sincere, professional and show how you've excelled in your nursing career.
  • Give these nurse interview tips a test run and stage a mock interview. Ask a colleague, friend or relative who is a manager or familiar with the interviewing process to do a "mock" interview with you. Have them ask the same thought-provoking questions they would ask their candidates. Even if they don't work in nursing or health care, their interviewing experience is still relevant. Don't let them go easy on you; the tougher their questions the less stumped and more prepared you'll be when it comes time for the real interview.
  • You should also practice greeting your interviewers with a smile and a firm handshake, either with friends or in front of a mirror. Keep at it until you exude the warmth, confidence and professionalism that you want. It may feel strange at first, but it can help you alleviate jitters and appear more polished on the day of the interview.
  • Don't forget to get plenty of sleep the night before your nursing interview to help you look rested and feel more alert.
The Interview Day
1. It is important to make a great first impression.
  • Like the old adage says, "You only get one chance to make a good first impression," and the success of your nursing career may depend on those first few moments of an interview. Studies have shown that managers often make hiring decisions within 30 seconds of meeting a candidate. It's that initial impression that stands out in the interviewer's mind when they are evaluating you vs. another candidate. This is why dress, grooming, a clear speaking voice and a winning smile are important.
2. Dress to get the job.
  • What are you going to wear? If you do not know the personality of the hiring manager or the corporate culture of the hospital, dress in professional business attire. The degree of formality and what's acceptable varies around the country, but it is better to err on the side of being too dressed up than to come across as less-than-professional.
  • Ask your most "image conscious" nursing colleague for advice about what is appropriate to wear, or check with anyone who might have worked at that facility or department in the past.
  • Whatever clothes you choose, make sure they are impeccable; freshly cleaned and pressed. Don't forget to shine your shoes and make sure they are in good shape, as well. Dressing in neat, professional clothes shows respect for the facility and your nursing career. Hiring managers pay attention to these details since they reflect a candidate's diligence.
3. Keep personal accessories to a minimum.
  • Remove or tone down personal accessories that could be considered distracting or distasteful; avoid flashy nail decor, heavy makeup and clunky jewelry. The emphasis during the interview process is to portray a professional and neat appearance, not broadcast your unique style.
  • Style your hair so it is pulled back and off your face, a mirror of how it will be when you are doing patient care.
  • Avoid any scented lotions, perfume or after shave. It could trigger an allergic reaction and make a less than favorable impression.
4. Allow plenty of time to get to the interview.
  • Punctuality at your first meeting with a potential employer is crucial! It is a mark of your dedication and professionalism, and sets the right tone for the next step in your nursing career. So start out early and allow plenty of time to make it through traffic, find the facility, park your car and walk to the interview location. If possible, get directions ahead of time and ask about parking and access to the place where you need to interview.
  • Plan to arrive early just in case an accident or something unforeseen might slow you down. This pre-planning will also allow you to arrive at the interview relaxed and prepared. If you're very early, you can use the time to review the nurse interview tips and rehearse your answers to common questions.
5. Do not smoke before your meeting with the hiring manager.
  • No matter how tense you get, do not give into the urge for a cigarette. The smell of smoke on your clothes and breath can create a very negative first impression.
6. Greet your interviewer warmly.
  • Make eye contact, smile warmly and shake the interviewer's hand. Take a look at their personal décor in the office and find something pleasant to say about an item that draws your attention, or mention something about the facility in general. This "connection" can help set the tone and get the interview started on an upbeat note. Maintain frequent eye contact throughout the interview to show your continued interest.
7. Listen, respond and relax during the interview.
  • It's only natural to be a little nervous, especially during your first nursing interview. So don't worry if you stumble on your first sentence or don't immediately get your full point across. Look for the opportunity to provide more details and demonstrate your strong points.
  • Relax, take a couple of deep breaths and maintain a calm, even conversational tone. Listen carefully to each question and respond to what is being asked, not to what you anticipate will be asked. Ask for clarification if needed and be careful not to rush through your answers.
8. Your turn to ask questions.
  • Most interviewers will give you a chance to ask questions, so use this opportunity to show your interest in the position and find out key details about the workflow. Feel free to check your notes, but avoid asking questions about items that are already spelled out in the hospital's literature.
  • You might ask questions about the unit, current developmental projects, orientation and getting acclimated into the existing work group. It is also helpful to ask the hiring manager what skills they think are most important to succeed at this job, and then be sure to point out how you have demonstrated those skills in previous situations.
9. Extra things to bring to the interviewer's attention.
  • Discuss your professional association memberships and any committee positions which you've held. Mention research you've helped with, volunteer projects, published articles and continuing education.
  • Let the hiring manager know if you're interested in extra responsibilities such as committee or task force memberships. Express your willingness to take advanced training in subjects needed to fill in clinical competencies in the unit.
  • Ask for a tour of the facility and to meet some of your peers. Use this experience to get a feel for the unit.
Follow Up
1. Send a thank you note after the interview.
  • Letter writing may be a lost art, but a simple thank you note shows your interest and thoughtfulness, which reinforces a favorable impression. So, if you want the job....say thank you.
  • Thank the interviewers for their time and consideration. Keep the tone business-like, focused and warm. It should be a reflection of your personality, your professionalism and how you approach your nursing career. Mention a specific contribution you can make to address their current challenges and then wrap up the note by asking for the job.
  • Proofread the letter and make sure there are no typos or inaccuracies. E-mail, mail, hand-deliver or fax your letter so that it arrives within 24 hours after your interview.
2. What if the job’s not for you?
  • Send a thank you note anyway. It shows good manners and thoughtfulness on your part. Hiring managers will appreciate your courtesy and might even suggest another position at their facility or at another location.
3. What if you don’t hear anything from the hiring manager?
  • If it has been a few days, call to convey your continued interest and check the status of the interviewing process. Find out when the decision will be made and ask if there is anything else you can provide. This could be an opportunity to supply additional references, paperwork or information.
  • Follow up the day before the decision is supposed to be made. Be considerate of the hiring manager’s time and pressures associated with the pending decision. This warmth and graciousness shows compassion on your part and could turn things in your favor.

Experienced Nurses

Before the Interview
1. Prepare your credentials and other paperwork.
  • Create a professional résumé that profiles your experience and any nursing career highlights. List your job positions, key responsibilities, accomplishments, rewards, recognition, credentials, licensing and education. Ask a colleague or mentor to review your résumé for content, grammar, format and overall effectiveness. (For tips on preparing your nursing résumé, read more.) Print out multiple copies of your résumé and keep them in a folder with your other documents.
  • Make a list and check off all of your credentials, immunization and identification documents. Make sure to include your nursing license, BCLS/ACLS card, additional certificates from any advanced training programs, driver's license, immunization record and social security number. Bring the original documents and two or three copies of each to give to the human resources department and the hiring/interviewing manager.
  • Bring a current copy of your nursing skills checklist(s). Be thorough and honest about your answers; this list demonstrates your clinical competencies, a key component in your nursing career. If you are working with a staffing company, they can normally provide you with skills checklists that can be completed for your nursing interview.
  • Have at least two copies of your references available-one to leave with the human resources representative and the other for the hiring manager. Verify and update the names, titles, facility designations, addresses, telephone numbers and email addresses of clinic managers, nursing faculty and personal references. (If you have reference letters, bring them along. Most employers use them as supplemental material, not as a substitute for references.
  • Anticipate being asked for permission to conduct a criminal background investigation. The permission form may require you to list all of your prior addresses for the past five to seven years, so keep this information with you.
2. Anticipate the questions you will be asked.
  • Find out as much as you can about the facility where you'll be interviewing by visiting their Web site or picking up literature from your nursing school's career center. If you have any contacts who work at this facility, take the time to ask them about the staff, the corporate culture and general procedures.
  • Prepare answers for standard on-the-job type interview questions:
  1. How would others describe your skills as a team player?
  2. What is your approach for getting along with difficult staff members?
  3. How do you handle problem patients and/or families?
  4. What is your method for dealing with the workload when your unit is short-staffed?
  5. How do you give a treatment that you have never administered before?
  6. How do you handle three emergency admissions at shift change?
  • Develop an answer for one of the most common open-ended questions: "Tell me a little about yourself." This question is designed to evaluate your judgment. This is not the time or the place for a chronological biography or any self-critical remarks. It's your opportunity to reveal key details about yourself that validate why you are the right one for the job. Use this opportunity to point out the unique skills, talents and attitudes you bring to the nursing unit, backed up with specific examples. For instance, if you talk about your teamwork or leadership skills, give an example of when you demonstrated these qualities.
  • Practice answering questions in a way that shows you are a problem-solver. Staff shortages and new employee training can be a source of stress for the manager and the other workers on the unit, so show that you can be part of the solution. Provide examples from your nursing career that demonstrate how you've picked up the slack, organized workflow and contributed in various ways to make things more efficient.
  • Craft answers to negative situations, but frame them in a positive light. Review your nursing experience and write down pertinent examples that show how you overcame adversity and gained new insights. Even if you faced some difficult situations at your last facility, refrain from speaking negatively about a previous employer, department or manager. You don't want to come across as someone who blames his or her situation on others or offend the hiring manager by mistake. Emphasize the positive and highlight how these challenging experiences strengthened and shaped your skills and your nursing career.
3. Practice, practice, practice!
  • Practice answering all of these questions until you feel comfortable and at ease. Don't just say what you think the interviewer wants to hear; be true to yourself. Otherwise you could be hired under the wrong expectations for a position that's not a good match. Your goal is to prepare answers that best reflect your skills and personality. Remember to be sincere, professional and show how you've excelled in your nursing career.
  • Give these nurse interview tips a test run and stage a mock interview. Ask a colleague, friend or relative who is a manager or familiar with the interviewing process to do a "mock" interview with you. Have them ask the same thought-provoking questions they would ask their candidates. Even if they don't work in nursing or health care, their interviewing experience is still relevant. Don't let them go easy on you; the tougher their questions the less stumped and more prepared you'll be when it comes time for the real interview.
  • You should also practice greeting your interviewers with a smile and a firm handshake, either with friends or in front of a mirror. Keep at it until you exude the warmth, confidence and professionalism that you want. It may feel strange at first, but it can help you alleviate jitters and appear more polished on the day of the interview.
  • Don't forget to get plenty of sleep the night before your nursing interview to help you look rested and feel more alert.
The Interview Day
1. It is important to make a great first impression.
  • Like the old adage says, "You only get one chance to make a good first impression," and the success of your nursing career may depend on those first few moments of an interview. Studies have shown that managers often make hiring decisions within 30 seconds of meeting a candidate. It's that initial impression that stands out in the interviewer's mind when they are evaluating you vs. another candidate. This is why dress, grooming, a clear speaking voice and a winning smile are important.
2. Dress to get the job.
  • What are you going to wear? If you do not know the personality of the hiring manager or the corporate culture of the hospital, dress in professional business attire. The degree of formality and what's acceptable varies around the country, but it is better to err on the side of being too dressed up than to come across as less-than-professional.
  • Ask your most "image conscious" nursing colleague for advice about what is appropriate to wear, or check with anyone who might have worked at that facility or department in the past.
  • Whatever clothes you choose, make sure they are impeccable; freshly cleaned and pressed. Don't forget to shine your shoes and make sure they are in good shape, as well. Dressing in neat, professional clothes shows respect for the facility and your nursing career. Hiring managers pay attention to these details since they reflect a candidate's diligence.
3. Keep personal accessories to a minimum.
  • Remove or tone down personal accessories that could be considered distracting or distasteful; avoid flashy nail decor, heavy makeup and clunky jewelry. The emphasis during the interview process is to portray a professional and neat appearance, not broadcast your unique style.
  • Style your hair so it is pulled back and off your face, a mirror of how it will be when you are doing patient care.
  • Avoid any scented lotions, perfume or after shave. It could trigger an allergic reaction and make a less than favorable impression.
4. Allow plenty of time to get to the interview.
  • Punctuality at your first meeting with a potential employer is crucial! It is a mark of your dedication and professionalism, and sets the right tone for the next step in your nursing career. So start out early and allow plenty of time to make it through traffic, find the facility, park your car and walk to the interview location. If possible, get directions ahead of time and ask about parking and access to the place where you need to interview.
  • Plan to arrive early just in case an accident or something unforeseen might slow you down. This pre-planning will also allow you to arrive at the interview relaxed and prepared. If you're very early, you can use the time to review the nurse interview tips and rehearse your answers to common questions.
5. Do not smoke before your meeting with the hiring manager.
  • No matter how tense you get, do not give into the urge for a cigarette. The smell of smoke on your clothes and breath can create a very negative first impression.
6. Greet your interviewer warmly.
  • Make eye contact, smile warmly and shake the interviewer's hand. Take a look at their personal décor in the office and find something pleasant to say about an item that draws your attention, or mention something about the facility in general. This "connection" can help set the tone and get the interview started on an upbeat note. Maintain frequent eye contact throughout the interview to show your continued interest.
7. Listen, respond and relax during the interview.
  • It's only natural to be a little nervous, especially during your first nursing interview. So don't worry if you stumble on your first sentence or don't immediately get your full point across. Look for the opportunity to provide more details and demonstrate your strong points.
  • Relax, take a couple of deep breaths and maintain a calm, even conversational tone. Listen carefully to each question and respond to what is being asked, not to what you anticipate will be asked. Ask for clarification if needed and be careful not to rush through your answers.
8. Your turn to ask questions.
  • Most interviewers will give you a chance to ask questions, so use this opportunity to show your interest in the position and find out key details about the workflow. Feel free to check your notes, but avoid asking questions about items that are already spelled out in the hospital's literature.
  • You might ask questions about the unit, current developmental projects, orientation and getting acclimated into the existing work group. It is also helpful to ask the hiring manager what skills they think are most important to succeed at this job, and then be sure to point out how you have demonstrated those skills in previous situations.
9. Extra things to bring to the interviewer's attention.
  • Discuss your professional association memberships and any committee positions which you've held. Mention research you've helped with, volunteer projects, published articles and continuing education.
  • Let the hiring manager know if you're interested in extra responsibilities such as committee or task force memberships. Express your willingness to take advanced training in subjects needed to fill in clinical competencies in the unit.
  • Ask for a tour of the facility and to meet some of your peers. Use this experience to get a feel for the unit.
Follow up
1. Send a thank you note after the interview.
  • Letter writing may be a lost art, but a simple thank you note shows your interest and thoughtfulness, which reinforces a favorable impression. So, if you want the job....say thank you.
  • Thank the interviewer(s) for their time and consideration. Keep the tone business-like, focused and warm. It should be a reflection of your personality, your professionalism and how you approach your nursing career. Mention a specific contribution you can make to address their current challenges and then wrap up the note by asking for the job.
  • Proofread the letter and make sure there are no typos or inaccuracies. E-mail, mail, hand-deliver or fax your letter so that it arrives within 24 hours after your interview.
2. What if the job's not for you?
  • Send a thank you note anyway. It shows good manners and thoughtfulness on your part. Hiring managers will appreciate your courtesy and might even suggest another position at their facility or at another location.
3. What if you don't hear anything from the hiring manager?
  • If it has been a few days, call to convey your continued interest and check the status of the interviewing process. Find out when the decision will be made and ask if there is anything else you can provide. This could be an opportunity to supply additional references, paperwork or information.
  • Follow up the day before the decision is supposed to be made. Be considerate of the hiring manager's time and pressures associated with the pending decision. This warmth and graciousness shows compassion on your part and could turn things in your favor.