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Nailing the Nurse Interview: How to Answer the Tough Questions

Let’s not beat around the bush. Interviewing for a nursing position is stressful. You want to convey the six Cs of nursing – care, compassion, courage, communication, commitment and competence – but you don’t want to sound rehearsed or scripted. You want to recruiters to believe you’re authentic and genuine.

Preparation is key. If you have an idea of what questions to expect and how to answer them, you’ll be more likely to feel like you nailed the interview. If that’s the case, you’ll be more likely to get called back for the next round or receive a job offer. Here are some of the toughest, most common questions nurses are asked during interviews, as well as recommendations for improving your answers.

Tell us about yourself.

It sounds simple enough, but where do you start? More importantly, where do you finish? Don’t share your entire life story or repeat everything the recruiter already saw on your resume. Focus on your strengths, inspirations, motivations and achievements and how they relate to nursing.

What are the most important qualities in a nurse?

Nurses can be trained to learn certain skills, but they can’t be trained to be kind. Be prepared to tell a story that conveys your compassion.

That said, you should still sell your skills and strengths. Do your research and identify the qualities most valued by the organization and match them with your strengths. Don’t stop at “what.” Discuss why those qualities are important from the patient’s perspective and the organization’s perspective.

Why do you want to work here?

Nursing recruiters aren’t looking for people who memorized the website. They’re more interested in finding out if you have a connection to the organization. Do you believe in their mission? Did you, a family member or a friend have an experience as a patient that you can share? Are you involved in the local community? How can you be an asset, not just in terms of skills, but as someone with a connection to the organization

Tell us about a difficult situation you encountered and how you dealt with it.

With pressure and emotion comes conflict. Every nurse deals with conflict and recruiters want to know how you handle it. Be prepared to talk about a specific experience, whether it involved a doctor, a patient, or another nurse. Identify the source of the problem, how you managed the situation, the steps taken to resolve the problem, the outcome, and what you’ve done to prevent that conflict from happening again.

What is your biggest weakness?

It can be awkward to say something negative about yourself, but it also shows the ability to self-reflect and recognize your imperfections. Avoid the clichés, like “I work too hard” or “I care too much,” but don’t say something that will disqualify you. This is an opportunity to show nursing recruiters that you want to improve yourself. For example, you want to become better at a certain skill or more knowledgeable about a certain topic or condition.

Do you have any questions for us?

Be prepared with a couple questions, even if you just need clarification on one or two topics. This will show you’re truly interested in the position and want to find out as much information as possible. Remember, an interview is a two-way conversation. You need to find out if this organization is the right fit for you, so ask about everything from nurse-patient ratios and continuing education to credentialing and scheduling.

A successful nursing interview requires research, but also an objective, internal assessment of who you are, your strengths and weaknesses, and what you want to accomplish. Interviews are pressure-filled situations, but that’s nothing compared to what nurses deal with each day. Be honest, be authentic and be prepared.

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