Nurses are in high demand today. The American Nurses Association reports that more registered nurse jobs will be available through 2022 than any other profession in the United States.
But even with a 15% projected growth rate, it still takes a certain degree of skill, experience, and preparation to interview well for a nursing position. Read on for top questions, tips, and more to help nail your next nurse interview.
In this guide
- Nurse interview questions
- General nurse interview tips
- What employers are looking for in nurses
- How to prepare for a phone interview
- How to prepare for an in-person nurse interview
- Questions to ask your interviewer
Nurse interview questions
Here are some of the most commonly-asked questions during nursing interviews so you can prepare your responses ahead of time.
Teamwork and working with others
Relying on your team is critical in any hospital or health facility. Employers want to know that you are a team player and that you can work well with others, even in stressful situations.
- Describe a situation where you had to work with a difficult coworker. How did you handle it?
- Talk about a conflict with your healthcare team and describe how you addressed it.
- Tell us about a time that you were in a leadership position. Were you pleased with the results?
- Are you comfortable working with a variety of nurses and doctors?
- Do you like working with a team?
- Give an example of how you stepped up for someone else on your team.
- Describe a time there was miscommunication between you and a teammate. How did you handle it?
As you think about responses to these questions, keep in mind that you should not speak poorly about others. Choose your words carefully, and focus on explaining what you did well without putting others down.
Patient care questions
Patient care is obviously a huge focal point for nurse candidates. Interviewers (and your supervisors and teammates) want to be sure they can rely on you to have a good relationship with every patient, regardless of circumstances.
- Describe a difficult patient you have had in the past. How did you handle the situation?
- How do you address questions from a patient’s family and friends?
- Can you explain situations without using a lot of medical jargon? Give an example.
- What is your idea of effective patient and family education?
- Tell me a time you went above and beyond for a patient/customer.
- How you handled a family or patient who was displeased with your care? How did you haldle it?
- What does patient-centered care mean to you?
If you are just beginning your nursing career, then you can answer these questions as hypotheticals or by relating to another part of your life. How would you handle these situations? How have you approached difficult customers or clients in previous jobs?
Background and personality
Your personality will play a huge role in how you fit into a healthcare environment. The interview is often the only chance that others have to gauge your personality fit into their team; therefore, general questions about you and your career path are fairly common.
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why did you decide to be a nurse?
- Why are you leaving your current position?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- What is the hardest part of being a nurse for you?
- Where do you see yourself in five years?
- How has your past training prepared you for this role?
- Why do you want to work here (at this hospital / health system)? What interests you the most?
Some of these questions require you to do some soul searching. However, having well-thought-out responses to these questions will help show that you have put thought into your self-development and your career, which is very appealing for virtually any employer. Always be prepared to be questioned on anything on your cover letter, resume, and reference letters.
Adaptability and flexibility
Life as a nurse is often about being able to adjust quickly to changing environments. Showcasing that you can be agile when necessary is a great way to get your foot in the door.
- Describe a situation where you had an institutional change that you had to deal with. What was it? How did you adapt?
- Describe a situation where you were under a lot of pressure. How did you deal with it? What methods worked well for you?
- What do you do when you don’t know the answer to something at work—whether it’s how to address a situation or answer a patient question—how do you go about getting more information?
- Tell me a time when you disagreed with a rule or policy. How did you handle it?
- When was a time you faced a setback at work? What was the result?
Keeping these answers focused on how well you responded to point out your willingness to adapt to get things done can be very helpful in an interview.
When in doubt, remember the acronym “STAR” for your answers: A Situation or Task similar to what they’re asking about, Actions you took, and Results you achieved.
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General nurse interview tips
Here are some steps you can take to make a great impression during interviews so you can find a job that fits.
- Prepare in advance for questions your prospective employer may ask, especially those that test your critical thinking, prioritization, and skills.
- Practice your answers out loud. It may feel silly, but it’s the easiest way to know if an answer feels right or not. You can even record yourself speaking and listen to your responses.
- For phone interviews, select a quiet place where you won’t be distracted during the call.
- Keep some water handy to combat dry mouth
- Smile as you speak, even over the phone, so they can hear your positivity on the other end of the line.
- For in-person interviews, make sure you dress with polish — no jeans or scrubs — and avoid overpowering scents/perfume.
- Bring a notebook and pen along with a clean folder with copies of your resume and any certifications you have (ACLS, NCLEX, etc).
- Prepare your own questions for the employer – Don’t just leap into asking about salary. Ask about a typical day in the position, patient and staff numbers, and how the organization gathers patient input/feedback.
- Write a thank you note and thank the interviewer for their time. Reiterate your interest in working for their organization and be specific about why. An authentic thank you note makes a difference, especially if they’re considering other nurses for the role.
- Stay positive!
What employers are looking for in nurses
If you are an RN with experience, your interviewer already knows that you can care for patients. They will put more focus on assessing your personality and attitude to make sure you’re a good fit for their organization. How do you make sure they see you at your best?
- Stay positive! Confidence and cheerfulness are persuasive.
- Give clear, structured answers to questions.
- Highlight how you can contribute to the team whenever possible.
- Check your social media sites to remove anything controversial or offensive. You’ll want to be sure you’re presenting the best version of yourself. You should generally use the most private setting possible.
- Highlight experiences showing you have strong customer service skills and can help them improve their customer service scores. (This includes any committees you may have served on, or past work in retail or restaurants.)
- Prepare for questions that test your critical thinking and prioritization skills.
- Prepare for questions about the floor/specialty you are applying to.
- Speak ill of your past employers or coworkers.
- Appear self-centered or overly focused on your own needs and wants.
- Overshare: ask yourself whether what you’re about to say makes you a stronger candidate in your interviewer’s eyes or a weaker one. Land the job first — then you’ll have more options and flexibility.
[More: Nurses on Incredible Health get job offers from multiple employers in under 20 days. Sign up to get started]
How to prepare for a phone interview
- Be ready 10 minutes early, so you don’t sound rushed.
- Eliminate background noise and distractions, for example, from children and pets. (A parked car in a quiet location can be a great place to take a call.)
- Make sure your phone or laptop is fully charged, and use headphones/earphones for optimal sound.
- If you’ll be using your landline, turn your mobile phone off.
- Have some water handy. If your mouth is dry, you’ll sound nervous.
- Use paper and pen for note taking to avoid the noisy clicking of computer keys.
- Do some voice exercises before the call, especially if you haven’t spoken in several hours.
- Posture has an impact on your voice, so stand or make sure you sit up very straight during the call.
- Smile as you speak — it really makes a difference! A good time to smile is when you talk about the work you’ve done, ask questions, or express your enthusiasm about the company.
How to prepare for an in-person nurse interview
What to wear
Looking professional is important. Your interviewer will be looking at how you dress, how you present yourself, eye contact, positive attitude, and a firm handshake — and psychologists say you only have seven seconds for that first impression!
Can you wear scrubs to a nursing interview? Despite the saying, “dress for the job you want,” the simple answer is: no. Your image is your first impression, even before you shake the interviewer’s hand. Dress professionally – this means a suit or business separates, no scrubs or denim.
- Don’t wear jeans, denim, or scrubs.
- Wear a suit or business separates that fit well. You should feel like the superhero you are! Avoid clothes that are either too tight or oversized.
- Avoid strong scents, which may include perfume, cologne, after shave, lotions, and hair products.
- If possible, wear a watch to show that you understand the importance of timing and detail.
[More: Sign up with Incredible Health to get free interview coaching]
What to bring
- A pen or pencil
- Small notepad or notebook in good shape
- A clean, unwrinkled folder with:
- Several copies of your resume
- Any letters of reference you might have
- Nursing License / proof you have passed NCLEX (mainly for new nursing graduates)
- CPR card
- Pertinent certifications
Questions to ask your interviewer
Asking questions during the interview shows that you are interested in working with the hospital and that you want the position being offered. Here are some examples:
- How would you describe a typical week/day in this position?
- How long is orientation?
- What are the prospects for growth and advancement?
- Is it possible to have a look around the unit?
- What are the responsibilities of this post?
- How many staff/patients are there?
- Is overtime expected? How often?
- How does the service audit patient satisfaction?
- How does the service gather patient feedback?
- How will your post fit within the multidisciplinary team?
Final word on nailing your nurse interviews
Preparation is key to feeling confident and comfortable heading into any interview. So make sure to review all the tips above well before your interview, practice answers to common questions, and put your best foot forward. Good luck!