Job interviews can be a source of stress for both novice and seasoned nurses, and being prepared for some of the most common questions can give you the confidence to ace your next nursing interview.
You obviously can't rehearse for every possible question, but practice boosts your readiness and creates a positive mindset that will increase your comfort level preparing for what's ahead.
One frame of reference for any interview question is to ask yourself why you’re being asked this particular question. What is it that they want to know? What’s the question beneath the question? Are they showing you through their questions what qualities, characteristics, or skills are important to them? How can you speak their language and nail the interview?
Here are five common interview questions to rehearse while keeping these various contexts in mind.
Question #1: Tell us about yourself.
When this question is asked, it can feel confusing in terms of understanding what they actually want, so here’s the thing: they want to know what makes you tick. You definitely don’t want to tell your life story, or even the story of your entire career. Instead, think about the job you’re applying for and what core personal characteristics might be most important. You can also highlight the skills and experience that differentiate you from others.
For example, if the job is in oncology, focus on skills related to oncology nursing. If you’re coming from another specialty, you’ve hopefully done your research and know what makes oncology nursing unique and what you have under your belt that’s transferrable.
There’s an emphasis in oncology on communication, and being compassionately present with patients and families experiencing anticipatory grief and loss. Emphasize your emotional and relational intelligence and how you would bring that to the table. And if you have a personal experience with cancer — either your own or that of a loved one — briefly tell that story and how it inspires you.
Respond to this question by painting a picture of the kind of nurse an oncology hiring manager would be thrilled to have on their team, and if you don’t know what that is, find out beforehand and use that knowledge to your advantage.
Question #2: Why do you want to work for this organization?
With this question, the more specific you can be, the better, so do your homework. They don’t just want to know what they can do for you — they also want to know if you’re a good fit and will make a positive contribution. For example:
“Well, Linda, I’m glad you asked. You see, Central Hospital has a reputation as a Magnet hospital that truly supports nurses and develops them as leaders, which is very much in line with my career goals.
“I’m a natural intrapreneur, and I like to be a positive part of the fabric of a workplace. I’m a collaborator, and I enjoy finding ways to work with others for the good of the whole.
“I also admire Central’s commitment to the surrounding community. I love how employees are encouraged to volunteer for the downtown free clinic and mentor local high school students interested in healthcare careers.
“Central seems like a workplace where I could put down roots, grow as a leader, and serve the community in meaningful ways.”
Question #3: What are your strengths and weaknesses?
This is an extremely common question you should definitely be prepared for. If you have strengths that can be easily leveraged, consider the position and the type of facility, and verbalize strengths that will reassure them of how you’ll contribute (see #2 above).
When speaking about your weaknesses, this is an opportunity to turn something that’s “negative” into something about which you’re already aware and are working on changing. This demonstrates self-awareness and tells your interviewer that you’re consciously focused on improving yourself. For example:
“I’m so glad you asked, Alice. Over the last year, I’ve been focused on learning to delegate more and place more trust in our nursing assistants. Like many nurses, I tend towards perfectionism, and I can often think, ‘I might as well do it myself since I’ll know it’ll be done right.’ So, over the last year I’ve taken the nursing assistants under my wing, mentoring and empowering them. I’ve developed trusting, collaborative relationships with all of the assistants, and frequently thank them for their hard work. Now I’m more apt to delegate the tasks I know they do well. This is a developing strength that I’ll bring to Central.”
As you can see, the interviewee divulged a weakness, described the proactive steps they’ve taken to correct it, and described a “developing strength”, which is 100% gold to an employer.
Question #4: Tell us about a time you had a conflict with a colleague and how you handled the situation.
Any employer wants to know if you can negotiate conflict independently. When responding to this question, illustrate your emotional and relational intelligence, your ability to compromise, and your comfort with being assertive. For example:
“I was working with a nurse who was very critical and negative. She would frequently criticize my work, usually by complaining about me to other people while I was within earshot.
“When I had had enough of her behavior, I asked her to meet for coffee. I told her that I’m very open to constructive criticism, but when I’m constantly criticized — especially indirectly — it undermines my confidence and makes me anxious.
“Then I asked her if there was anything she needed to tell me directly. She began to cry and said that she’d been feeling very badly about herself and unconsciously covered up those feelings by being hard on others. She then added that she had some helpful feedback for me; we talked it over and I saw that she had many good points. Now we get along well, are open in our communication, and she’s kinder and gentler with everyone.”
Ace Your Next Interview
Interviews don’t need to be scary, and there’s nothing like practice and preparation to help you feel more confident. You can’t prepare for every possible question, but you can rehearse for the most common ones and boost your confidence for hitting any curve-balls out of the park.
As a nursing professional, you have highly marketable skills that are in demand, so get your interview ducks in a row and be ready to ace your next job interview with poise and humble self-assurance.
Keith Carlson, RN, BSN, NC-BC, is a Board Certified Nurse Coach offering holistic career development for nurses and healthcare professionals. All things Nurse Keith can be found at NurseKeith.com.
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