As a career coach, nurses reach out to me because they're engaged in the job search process and feel they can't effectively counter the objections that potential employers may raise during an interview. They may have had many short stints at various positions, been laid off or fired, or don't have the particular experience an employer is looking for. No matter what, they need to subdue any objections and keep the conversation moving in a positive direction.
I often tell my clients that one of their main tasks during an interview is to take any negative statements or questions and spin them around. This may sound manipulative, but it's simply an aspect of the conversational judo that's often called for in such scenarios.
If you know that there are aspects of your career history that are going to potentially raise questions or objections, it's best to prepare in advance. And if you're already seeing such a pattern during interviews, all the more reason to sharpen up your plan of counter-attack.
Some common triggers for objections during job interviews are:
- Not having the right experience
- Lacking specific clinical experience required (or preferred) for a position
- Short stints at many jobs
- Not seeming like a good fit
- Having been fired from a previous position
- Having a negative mark on your nursing license (probation, etc)
- Being away from the nursing workforce for an extended period of time
- Being perceived as too young or too old
"You don't seem to stay at jobs very long."
If you've held a number of positions over a relatively brief period of time, your interviewer may certainly raise this objection. Since onboarding a new nurse is expensive (in the tens of thousands of dollars in many cases), this is a prudent question for the potential employer to raise. Here are some ideas about countering this statement and spinning it in a positive direction.
"Yes, that's been true, and I'll explain why. My first job as a nurse turned out to not be a very good fit, and I decided to seek a better situation where I would receive the support I needed to succeed. The next position was a great fit, but then I needed to go home to care for my father once he went on hospice.
"Following that, I worked several part-time and per diem positions in order to determine what I really wanted from my career and an employer. Your organization's mission and vision are very aligned with why I became a nurse, and your reputation as an excellent place to work is well-known.
"I'm looking for a position where my loyalty and collaborative nature can shine, and I believe your hospital can allow me to grow as a professional. I'm looking for a new home for my career, and I believe I've found it."
In this example, the nurse interviewee explains how life circumstances impacted her career path. She then goes on to explain that she worked several short-term gigs in order to learn more about herself and her professional journey. Finally, she brings it around to a positive finish by praising the organization and making it clear that she's chosen this institution and employer as the perfect next step in her career.
Not all situations are the same, but the secret is always turning the conversation and being authentic and truthful, while also using the power of spin to bring the conversation back to why you're so awesome and a perfect fit.
"You lack the kind of clinical experience we're looking for."
When faced with an objection about your clinical experience, it's time to discuss the relevant experience that you already have under your belt, your love of learning, and how teachable and coachable you are. Make it clear that you're a real go-getter who's ready for the challenge.
"I'm well aware of the areas where I need to grow as a clinician, and I see this position and your facility as the perfect place for me to do just that. I'm a fast learner, and I pay great attention to detail. I also believe that my experience in ____________ is very translatable to what you're looking for. I'll make your investment very worthwhile in terms of my loyalty, work ethic, and skill."
When you lack a specific skill set, there's an aspect of needing to talk your way into a position in which the learning curve may be somewhat steep. Rock solid self-confidence is essential here!
"We like you but we're not sure you're a good fit for our workplace culture."
If they precede this type of objection with "we like you, but", you're in decent shape, even though this is a tough one to answer since you're not yet a part of the culture and can't speak from experience. If they make it clear that they do indeed see your inherent value, turn the conversation towards that aspect.
Ask them what qualities make a good fit for an employee in their culture. Once you elicit more information, you can speak to the ways in which you're flexible, outgoing, observant, collaborative, and cooperative by nature, and how you actually are a closer fit than they may realize. This will require thinking on your feet and countering this objection on the fly based on the feedback you receive.
"We see that you have a blemish on your nursing license, so we're not sure we can take a chance on you."
If, for example, you have a mark on your license due to a medication error, be prepared to respond honestly while putting a positive spin on your answer.
"I was let go due to a medication error in which the patient wasn't harmed and I learned a very valuable lesson. My license was put on probation while I took several required CEU courses on safe medication administration. Since that time, my license has been 100% clean and I feel I've really turned a corner from this experience. This was my first error, and I'm grateful for a wake-up call that has resulted in my being even more vigilant in my practice."
"You've been away from the workforce for some time, and we see that as a liability."
If you've taken time off from the workforce, this is often seen as a negative. Women who take time off to care for family or raise children should not be professionally punished for doing so, but we all know it happens.
If you've been caring for children or a disabled or elderly family member, think about the nursing skills you used during that period. You may have served as an advocate, managed medications, facilitated communication between various providers, etc. Make it clear how your nursing knowledge and skill was in use the entire time, and simply being applied to a loved one.
When Faced With Objections
When faced with objections, you need to maintain your composure and not show that your feathers have been ruffled. The interviewer may raise objections in order to see how you'll respond, so be on your toes. Don't allow yourself to get rattled -- be entirely unflappable in your self-confidence and bright demeanor.
Body language speaks volumes at these pivotal times during an interview, so be sure not to show defensiveness or combativeness by crossing your arms. Crossing legs can also be perceived negatively, but not always.
Be aware of how your facial expressions may betray feelings you may not want perceived. Looking down or to the side before or after responding to a question can often signal a lack of trustworthiness.
Responding to an interviewer's objections means that you need to be verbally skillful in convincing them that their uneasiness can be overcome by the force of your personality and what you bring to the table. Remember that you can also follow up in your thank you letter regarding your response to objections were raised during the interview.
Self-confidence is paramount during job interviews, especially in the face of objections. The power of personal poise cannot be overstated -- how you carry yourself is incredibly crucial.
Asking the question, "What else can I share to convince you that I'm your ideal candidate?" is a bold move, and it could backfire in some situations for seeming too assertive, but you can use your intuition to know whether it's the right time to play this particular card.
Be Ready for Objections
Overcoming objections and turning the tables in an interview aren't necessarily always easy, and knowing how to do it skillfully will serve you well throughout your career. Understand in advance what objections may be raised, and be ready with your responses so that it's smoother sailing during the interview process.
Being ready for objections should be a significant focus of your interview prep. Preparation will always increase your comfort level and your potential for success.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is the Board Certified Nurse Coach behind NurseKeith.com and the well-known nursing blog, Digital Doorway. Please visit his online platforms and reach out for his support when you need it most.
Keith is the host of The Nurse Keith Show, his solo podcast focused on career advice and inspiration for nurses. From 2012 until its sunset in 2017, Keith co-hosted RNFMRadio, a groundbreaking nursing podcast.
A widely published nurse writer, Keith is the author of Savvy Networking For Nurses: Getting Connected and Staying Connected in the 21st Century and Aspire to be Inspired: Creating a Nursing Career That Matters. He has contributed chapters to a number of books related to the nursing profession. Keith has written for Nurse.com, Nurse.org,, MultiBriefs News Service, LPNtoBSNOnline, StaffGarden, AUSMed, American Sentinel University, Black Doctor, Diabetes Lifestyle, the ANA blog, American Nurse Today, NursingCE.com, Working Nurse Magazine, and other online and print publications.
Mr. Carlson brings a plethora of experience as a nurse thought leader, keynote speaker, online nurse personality, social media influencer, podcaster, holistic career coach, writer, and well-known nurse entrepreneur. He lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico with his lovely and talented wife, Mary Rives, and their adorable and remarkably intelligent cat, George. (You can find George on Instagram by using the hashtag #georgethecatsantafe.)