Nail the Nursing Interview

Nail the Nursing Interview

Ahh the nursing interview. I don’t know why these interviews have to be so intimidating but here you are, prepping for a panel of people to ask you questions that make you contemplate your adequacy as a nurse. I’m here to help you prepare for your interview, as well as provide some comedic relief by telling you horror stories from my past interviews. And let me just say that even with those terrible experiences, I have received a job offer from every company I’ve interviewed with. It must be my charm or something.

Nah, I have zero charm. I just know what hospitals are looking for. But let’s start with some funny interview stories starring myself to perhaps help you relax a little bit before your interview.

So my interview for my current job. This was a new grad ICU position, only 3 positions available in the SICU with thousands of applicants. I’m wearing this mint green shirt and my armpits are visibly sweating. I’m called back to the room, and the second I step foot through the door my nose literally drips snot down to my lip. I wasn’t sick and took my allergy medicine that day like, really?? I’m like oh my god I have to wipe this off it’s completely visible. I awkwardly wipe the snot off my lip and then proceed to shake everyone’s hand around the table….uh….That sure shows my nursing knowledge of hand hygiene.

My first question was “Tell me about yourself.” Yikes, wasn’t prepared for that one. I accidentally was like “uhhhhhhhhh” while I thought. Like it was a long out-loud uh. Great start. I managed to gather my thoughts and finished the interview. I never expected to be called back but here we are.

I also showed up a day early to my UCLA interview all ready to go. When I went to check in they were like yeah… you’re interviewing tomorrow. Greeeeeat lady be sure to pass on my impeccable organizational skills when you let them know I showed up a day early.

So with that, give yourself a little bit of a break, take a deep breath, and read on. You can make dumb mistakes like I did and still get the job offer.

Here’s what I usually do to prepare beforehand.

Research the hospital.

Chances are they’re gonna ask you why you want to work there. So research the hospital and also specifically the unit you’re interviewing for. What awards has that hospital received, are they a magnet hospital? They are proud of those awards, and will be impressed when you acknowledge them. Are you aware of any unit projects they’re working on? Bring it up and express your interest. Bonus points.

So when they ask you why you want to work there sure, you can say how passionate you are for that patient population – just like all your competitors interviewing as well. “I love trauma…” “oh I just love kids…” Expand on that. For ICU, I would give examples of that passion by talking about my involvements that contribute to bettering our ICU. I would discuss research projects I’m working on (or want to implement), my board involvement with the local AACN chapter, and how I attend NTI (AACN’s national critical care conference) annually. (Post on that coming soon). Managers want to see you do more than just show up to work and clock out. They want people that are driven and initiate change for the better. They want leadership. Show them this with examples.

Have different work scenario examples in your head.

They’re going to ask you clinical questions. Have examples ready so you don’t have to think on the spot and under pressure. I would have a good example of:

  • A busy patient assignment in which you had to prioritize care and how you did that (delegation). I had a question where they gave me 3 patients and asked me which one I would see first and why.
  • A visitor/patient situation in which they were unhappy with the care and what you did about it.
  • A situation with a coworker whether you saw them do something out of practice and what you did, or a conflict with a coworker and how you worked through it.
  • Any example of good/bad interaction with a physician
  • A situation where you advocated for a patient
  • A critical situation and how you managed it

Don’t freak out about clinical questions, this can be scary especially if you’re a new nurse. They’re looking at knowledge, but they care more about safety. They can teach knowledge. So if you don’t know a condition they’re talking about or are uncomfortable with an emergent situation scenario, just tell them honestly. For example, “I’ve never had exposure to that kind of situation, but I would make sure I talked with the charge nurse or my preceptor to keep the patient safe. If you emphasize how safe you are as a nurse, they probably won’t care that you didn’t know the specific treatment for their question. That’s all teachable. Safety isn’t.

Things not to bring up

They might ask what your 5-year plan is, or “long-term goals.” Don’t bring up schooling (CRNA, NP) or relocating. While your dreams of being a CRNA are great, this means a loss for the unit after you get your 1-2 years required ICU experience. Instead, bring up wanting to stay in that particular unit and grow there. Talk about how you want to be a preceptor or mentor, possibly be a charge nurse, be involved in unit improvement projects, get your certification…

Nurse interview outfit

Dress to impress

This is obvious. I’m not going to go into detail on specifics cause you know what’s appropriate and what’s not. I’ll always wear dress pants with a dress shirt and a blazer. I like to wear some color so I don’t blend in with the blandness of all the other interviewees. That’s why I wore that green shirt with cheetah print cuffs (HA). It shows I have somewhat of a fun personality too. I like to bring a folder with extra resumes and a notepad in case i need to write anything down in the interview.

Sometimes I’m a stalker.

I maaaay or may not research the interview panel before my interview. See what projects they’ve worked on, what hospitals they’ve worked at, etc. I usually use LinkedIn. This may sound creepy but hey, if you’re able to bond with someone over a mutual connection, they’re going to remember that. Like if they ask you to tell you about yourself in the beginning, you could throw a connection in there. If you see that they’ve done a lot with homeless outreach for example, you could bring up your volunteer hours working with the homeless. Or if you see that they’ve lived in a certain city that you’ve lived in. Bring it up casually. That person is going to remember you.

Now I’m not saying to make anything up. Cause if you get hired you’ll be stuck in a lie. But see if there’s anything you and the interviewers have in common.

At the end of your interview

ALWAYS have a question at the end when they ask if you have any. It shows preparation, interest, and allows more time to talk with the panel. Examples I like are:

  • What does the orientation process look like?
  • When will a hiring decision be made? (So you don’t freak out for a week straight wondering why they haven’t called).
  • What are you looking for in the ideal candidate? (and hopefully they list off everything you just bragged about and they realize this as they talk about it).
  • Is there anything I said in my interview you needed more clarification on? (This allows them a chance to ask you about any hesitations they may have regarding any of your answers, so there’s no questioning your application).

Be sure to thank them for the opportunity and to contact you with any further questions they might have. Then, I write a hand-written thank you note and deliver it that day or the following day.

The take-home is..

Exude confidence and honesty. Don’t act too cocky but do be sure to brag about what makes you the perfect candidate. Really build your resume to make yourself stand out. WHY would they pick you over anyone else? Know the answer to this before your interview.

In the end, I TRULY believe you end up with the job you’re meant for. So if this means you don’t get a job offer after an interview, something even BETTER is waiting for you. If this means you need to relocate or think about another patient population, I like to believe there is reason behind that, and it will all make sense once you get there. Trust the timing of your life and the process – and accept it with patience and gratitude as if you would have chosen the path yourself.



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