Whether you’re still a nursing student, a recent graduate, or an experienced nurse who’s been practicing for years, you can benefit from knowing how best to prepare for a nursing job interview. Doing your research, making the right first impression, and knowing what nursing interview questions to ask and answer can help set you up for success.
Another, often-overlooked, nursing interview tip is that an interview works both ways. These hiring conversations are also your chance to decide if the institution or job opportunity is right for you.
Choosing the right job is just as important as choosing the right education—and in many cases, you need the right education to be competitive for the job you feel is right for you, especially if the job is in an advanced nursing specialization.
If you are weighing a future in nursing, you would do well to explore Hawai’i Pacific University’s online Master of Science in Nursing. See how the program can help you prepare for a career in nursing and reach your professional goals.
Why Is the Interview Process Important?
The interview process is an opportunity for both the organization and the nurse to make first impressions, ask questions, and demonstrate their respective expertise. The interview is also when each party considers the pros and cons of the opportunity to make a determination regarding whether the position—and the hospital or facility—is a good match for the nurse.
Interviews Help Nurses Evaluate If the Position Is a Fit
Nurses should ask questions during the interview to determine whether the job is a fit for their skill set and career goals. This is especially true if the role is within a specific nursing specialization.
Different specializations sometimes require vastly contrasting skills and experience. The specialization also determines the specific challenges the nurse may be called on to solve.
For example, critical care registered nurses are required to administer complex care to patients suffering from severe injury or illness, where a nurse case manager facilitates communication between patients, medical staff, and insurance providers to determine an effective care plan.
Interviews Help Nurses Determine If the Environment Is Right
Nursing specialization also determines the type of institution in which the nurse will practice. If the nurse wants to assume more responsibility and feels they would thrive in a fast-paced environment, they may want to explore, for example, perioperative—or surgical—nursing positions. Perioperative nurses can work in a number of subspecialties, but they all practice primarily in hospital operating rooms or outpatient surgical facilities.
If the nurse is looking for patient care in a more low-key workplace, they may be more interested in home care, where their primary responsibilities include administering medications, changing dressings, and monitoring the overall condition of a patient in a domestic setting.
The job interview—especially if it’s onsite—can help the nurse determine if the environment meets their expectations. The interview is important because it can confirm for the nurse that the position is what they’re looking for. Additionally, it can offer them the opportunity to make their case to the hiring institution that they’re the right nurse for the job.
The Right First Impression: Nursing Interview Outfits and Etiquette
Similar to other job applicants, nurses may only have one chance to make the right first impression. The following tips can help ensure nurses establish their professionalism and make a strong initial case for being the best fit for the position.
Dress to Succeed
Dressing properly for an interview can go a long way in demonstrating a level of professionalism and respect for both the role and the interview process. It’s also a good confidence boost for the job candidate.
Below are some steps nurses can take to look their best for their interview.
Wear Business Professional Attire
Unless the hiring manager or interviewer has instructed the applicant to wear scrubs, nurses should typically dress in business professional attire for their in-person interview. For applicants identifying as male, this may mean a suit and tie, or a sport coat and slacks or dress pants. Applicants identifying as female might pair a dress skirt or slacks with a blouse or button-down Oxford shirt.
Wearing business professional attire still applies to Zoom or other video interviews. And if their business professional clothes need to be dry-cleaned, nurses should plan on dropping off the clothes at the cleaners well in advance of their interview.
Make Sure Clothes Fit Correctly
Before the interview, nurses should try on their clothes and stand in front of a mirror to ensure they match and fit properly. If they’re being interviewed on camera, the applicant should also do a test run on Zoom, FaceTime, Microsoft Teams, or another relevant video app to see how they—and their outfit—appear on camera.
Mind the Small Details
Nurses should also take the time to iron their clothes, polish their shoes, and—if applicable—match their belt with the shoes they’ll be wearing. To look and feel their best, nurses should also attend to their personal grooming (hair, fingernails, etc.) before their interview.
Covering all the small details will help ensure the job candidate feels confident and focused leading up to and during their interview—and will minimize any post-interview second-guessing.
Practice Good Etiquette
To make the right first impression, nurses also need to make sure to practice the following tips for good etiquette.
- Arrive on time: To demonstrate both professionalism and interest, job candidates should make plans to arrive at their interview on time or—even better—early. Map out directions, bus routes, or other travel arrangements before the day of the interview and leave early enough to account for traffic or other possible delays.
- Be polite: Making the right first impression matters—not just with the hiring manager, but also with any potential future co-workers. Be ready to smile politely, greet everyone amicably and professionally, and practice general courtesy with everyone you meet on the day of the interview.
- Keep communication professional and positive: Maintain a professional level of communication and demonstrate positivity throughout the interview process. Be mindful of body language, practice good posture, and maintain eye contact with the interviewer.
- Express gratitude: Remember to verbally thank the receptionist, the interviewer, and anyone else who helped you during the interview process. It’s also a great idea to follow up with a written or emailed thank-you note within 24-48 hours of the interview. The note should reference a specific point discussed during the interview and reiterate your interest in the position.
Prepare for Your Interview: Nurse Interview Tips
In addition to making the right first impression, nurses should research the role or job opportunity, learn about the hospital or facility, anticipate questions from the interviewer, and prepare questions of their own. This not only helps nurses demonstrate their interest and enthusiasm, but it also better prepares them to decide if this position—and the organization—is the right fit for their current and long-term career goals.
Study Before the Interview
One of the most important first steps nurses can take to prepare for an interview is to research as much as they can about the hospital or facility and the position for which they’re applying.
Here are two ways nurses can focus their study habits prior to their interview.
- Read up on the hiring institution: Studying the prospective employer’s website to understand their history, mission, and priorities demonstrates not only the nurse’s interest in the hiring institution but also their ability to actively stay informed. This also helps the nurse determine first-hand during the interview whether the organization lives up to its own standards and is a good job fit.
- Research the position and—if applicable—the nursing specialization: A nurse should study the job description intently and reflect on specific, relevant skills from their own experience and academic background. During the interview, this due diligence can help the nurse more naturally connect their qualifications to the experience and skill set required of the position.
Rehearse Nursing Interview Questions and Answers
Another interview tip for nurses is to expect both general and nursing-specific questions from the interviewer. Anticipating what questions will be asked and rehearsing responses in mock interviews with a friend, academic advisor, professional coach, or even in the mirror can help ensure the nurse feels more confident and is better prepared to readily and authoritatively speak to their professional strengths.
Job candidates should be cautious, though, about writing out verbatim answers or over-rehearsing to the point they appear too rigid or scripted. Instead, nurses should jot down some key talking points or notes that they can refer to if necessary during the interview.
Practice Breathing Exercises and Calming Strategies
Experiencing some nervousness before an interview is natural and should be expected. However, if tension or panic sets in before an interview, breathing exercises and other calming strategies can help.
For example, you can inhale and exhale through your nose slowly for a few counts to assuage any minor anxiety before an interview. As an added calming strategy, gently place your palm against your diaphragm as you breathe in and out.
Other calming strategies before an interview include:
- Going for a walk
- Getting some fresh air
- Waking up early to work out
- Giving yourself a pep talk
- Phoning a friend for a pep talk
- Preparing a music playlist to listen to before the interview
- Splashing a little cold water on your face
Prepare a List of Nursing Questions to Ask the Interviewer
A crucial interview tip for nurses is to prepare some questions to ask the interviewer. Most hiring managers will conclude their portion of the interview with a final question: “Do you have any questions for us?”
At this point, the nurse definitely will want to have some questions prepared to demonstrate their interest in the position. Perhaps even more importantly, this is a chance for the nurse to interview the hiring manager—and, by default, the hospital or facility itself.
Some of these questions can be general interview questions, but the nurse will want to prepare some questions pertinent to both the position and the hiring institution.
Make the Most Out of Your Interview: 23 Nurse Interview Questions
Having nursing questions to ask the interviewer demonstrates the nurse’s knowledge and interest, and also shows they’re knowledgeable about the position, institution, and nursing profession in general.
While the interviewer may not have enough time to field every question, it’s advisable that nurses have more questions than needed—including backup questions—in case some of their prepared questions are answered earlier during the discussion.
Nurses can ask any questions they feel are appropriate and relevant to the position, but they should try to ask at least a few questions about the orientation and onboarding process, the institution’s culture, and any available professional development and career advancement opportunities.
Below are 23 interview questions nurses can use, divided into categories based on topic.
Orientation and Onboarding
- How would you describe the position within this unit?
- What are you looking for in a new team member?
- Do you have any advice for succeeding in this unit?
- What advice do you have for a nurse joining this unit?
- Do you have programs in place to help orient new hires?
- Do you offer relocation reimbursement?
Culture and Work Environment
- What do you like most about working here?
- How would you describe the culture here?
- How would you describe a typical day in this unit?
- What are some of the main challenges you face working here?
- What sort of shifts or schedule can I expect working here?
- Are there overtime or weekend requirements?
- How many nurses would I be working with regularly?
- How many emergent cases do you normally see?
- What type of medical records or programming systems do you utilize?
- How would you describe your company values?
Professional Development and Career Advancement
- Are there mentorship or research opportunities available?
- Is there room for advancement in this position?
- Are there opportunities to specialize?
- Do you offer tuition reimbursement for continuing education, training, and certification?
- Are there opportunities to gain additional training at this facility?
- What is your favorite part of nursing?
- How did this unit respond to the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic?
Preparation Is Key: Career Outlook and Next Steps
The career outlook for nurses is promising. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that, between 2021 and 2031, overall employment for registered nurses will grow 6%.
However, with so many different specializations, levels of practice and workplace settings—including hospitals, outpatient centers, private practices and even patients’ homes—nurses are advised to create a career plan, especially as they gain more experience.
Below are some next steps practicing nurses, recent graduates, and even current and prospective nursing students can use to map their career paths and take advantage of advanced nursing opportunities.
Pursue an Advanced Degree
To become a registered nurse, students typically only need an associate degree in nursing (APN). However, many specializations require a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN), and most advanced specializations—such as nurse practitioners (NPs) or certified registered nurse anesthetists (CRNAs)—require an advanced degree, such as a Master of Science in Nursing (MSN).
When creating their career plan, both practicing nurses and students should identify the specialization and/or level of nursing they’re interested in. Then, they should research the required degree.
Earn Additional Certification
Similar to creating an education plan, nurses also need to determine whether their desired nursing position requires additional certification.
For example, to practice as a family nurse practitioner (FNP), registered nurses need certification as either an FNP-BC or an FNP-C in addition to any educational requirements. The FNP-BC (board certified) is issued by the American Nurses Credentialing Center, and the FNP-C (certified) is issued by the Academy of Nurse Practitioners.
Some certifications require a minimum level of nursing experience before applicants can apply, so it’s important for nurses to actively think about, research, and plan out their career paths.
Maintain Good Professional Relationships
Similar to other career fields, maintaining good relationships with nurses, colleagues, and staff at all levels can help a nurse build a solid professional network. This network can then aid in developing the nurse’s career plan by opening doors that better allow them to realize their goals.
One way to accomplish this is to take advantage of mentoring opportunities while completing a degree or working in entry-level positions. Another strategy is to follow up each interview with a thank-you note. Even if the nurse isn’t ultimately offered the job, they’ll leave a good, lasting impression on the hiring manager, which may increase the chances of them reaching out to the nurse should another position open.
Prepare for a Fulfilling Career in Nursing
Nursing interviews are obviously an important and necessary step in helping you realize your career goals and potential as a nurse. Preparing for these interviews by studying up on the position and researching the hiring institution can set you up for success. And even if the interview doesn’t conclude with a job offer, making the right first—and last—impression can help ensure the hiring manager considers you for future positions.
Choosing the right nursing education is the first step to preparing for nurse interviews and becoming a strong job candidate, especially for advanced nursing roles. A high-quality degree program will also lay the groundwork for acquiring the values, skills, and specialization that will help you define your professional goals and pursue positions that fit them.
Ready to take your nursing education to the next level so you can realize your professional potential? Explore Hawai’i Pacific University’s online Master of Science in Nursing program to help you prepare for a rewarding career.
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Chron, “Career Planning Guide for Nursing”
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