Updated 02/01/2021 | Reviewed by: Andrea Hipolito, R.N. and Kiley Griffin, R.N.
Even with a 15% projected growth rate in U.S. nursing jobs, it still takes a high degree of skill, experience, and preparation to interview well for a nursing position.
Going into a nursing interview can feel daunting. This is true for the most seasoned nursing veterans. Not many people enjoy the process of interviewing. However, it doesn’t have to give you an ulcer just thinking about it.
We’ve provided a guide to help you feel at ease going into the interview.
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Read on for the top nursing interview questions and answers, tips, and more to help ace your next nurse interview.
In this guide we will cover
- Nursing interview questions and answers
- General nurse interview tips
- How to prepare for a phone interview
- How to prepare for an in-person nurse interview
Nursing interview questions and answers
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 work well with others, even in stressful situations
1. “Describe a situation where you had to work with a difficult coworker. How did you handle it?“
With this question, make sure you don’t throw anybody under the bus. You want to include a resolution and what you learned anything from the situation.
“I worked the night shift with a nurse who consistently showed up late for their shift. This would impact the whole team and put us behind. I took time to talk with the nurse and asked them if switching shifts would help them arrive to work on time. My co-worker said it would help them since the particular hour they were scheduled was difficult for them. We switched, and that solved the problem. I learned that taking initiative goes a long way.”
Spot on! This shows an ability to adapt and problem-solve. Hiring managers want to find someone who can overcome a tough situation and find a resolution. Moreover, it shows character since you were willing to sacrifice for the team. Kudos.
2. “Tell us about a time that you were in a leadership position. Were you pleased with the results?“
Hiring managers seek people they can promote. They want to find someone who has experience as a leader. Recent graduates can talk about leadership experience with volunteering or academic project.
“As a licensed RN, I have gravitated toward leadership positions. In one of my roles, I led a group of LVN’s. I developed a team that dedicated itself to patient-centered care and efficiency. We made sure to involve families in the care and specialize treatment plans to individual patient’s needs. One of my proudest moments was seeing one of the LVN’s earn their RN certification. In that sense, I felt more than pleased with the results.”
Solid. You identified that you have experience in leadership roles and also your care standards. Additionally, you showed how much of a team player you are.
3. “Do you like working with a team?“
Nurses don’t work in silos. A lot of their work depends on other people. Cooperation and flexibility are important traits to facilitate a healthy team.
“I thrive while working as a part of a team because of my ability to adapt. I find that working on a team allows for the best outcomes for patients. Everyone has a different way of looking at a problem and multiple perspectives can bring about creative solutions to issues. Also, working on a team motivates me because I enjoy celebrating the successes of others. Last, I feel confident in my abilities to work along as well.”
Score! You explained how valuable working on a team is to you. Also, you showed that you can work alone. You killed two birds with one stone. Excellent.
4. “Describe a time there was a miscommunication between you and a teammate. How did you handle it?“
Miscommunications are bound to happen in a team setting. Knowing how to work through conflict is crucial in a nursing setting. Try and present a conflict that or miscommunication that you didn’t cause, yet you played a pivotal role in solving.
“One of my co-workers struggled to communicate during the hand-off period to begin her shift. She would often tell me partial information about a patient’s status. This leads to confusion and chaos. Eventually, I told her politely that they weren’t giving me proper information at the shift change. She corrected her ways and even began writing notes for the hand-off. I learned the importance of speaking up and being direct at that moment.”
Bingo! Here you conveyed initiative by speaking up. You also articulated that you can work with other well and provide honest, considerate feedback.
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 a central 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.
5. “Describe a problematic patient you have had in the past. How did you handle the situation?“
Nurses have their fair share of problematic patients. The key is knowing how to deal with troublesome patients in constructive ways.
“Trying to get children to take their meds is challenging. I had one kid who cried and threw a fit every time we wanted to give them medication. So, one day I asked the kid a simple question, “ What’s your favorite kind of ice cream?” The child said chocolate, and I brought them chocolate pudding to take with their medication. It did the trick. The child stopped screaming and crying at medication time, and I earned a friend on the floor.”
Wow. Awesome answer. You really went above and beyond to help remedy the situation. The response proved that you can problem-solve well and adjust on the fly.
6. “How do you address questions from a patient’s family and friends?“
Family and friends often ask a lot of questions. Sometimes you aren’t able to answer all their questions in a timely matter. Having an ability to balance answering questions and take care of the patient is crucial.
“I lead with empathy. I know that I need to give them the best information that I can. However, I try to make sure that I’m answering them in kind ways, and I imagine myself in their shoes. Now, I know that I can’t answer all of their questions, so I try to set boundaries and make sure I’m not enabling, either.”
Perfection. You displayed an earnest attempt to meet the patient where they are. You also talked about setting boundaries, which is key.
7. “Can you explain situations without using a lot of medical jargon? Give an example.“
Medical information can seem unintelligible to some patients. The nurse has to effectively translate information from the doctor to a patient. In this example, emphasize how you go out of your way to make sure that the patient understands.
“I have various patients with different educational backgrounds and ages, so I must break medical jargon down into understandable ways. For example, whenever a doctor orders radiology for a patient, I make sure that I explain to the patient they are getting an X-ray. Also, I try to make sure the patient understands by asking them to repeat what they think they heard. That way, everybody is on the same page.”
Here, you explained the effort you put into describing complex medical jargon. What’s key is that you make the patient repeat back what they heard. Great job!
8. “What is your idea of effective patient and family education?“
Every patient has their own learning style. Emphasizing that you can work with a variety of patients to provide quality patient and family education is important.
“Effective patient education centers around the patient and family’s needs. You have to understand their learning style and adapt accordingly. For example, some patients prefer reading medical instructions versus watching a DVD. You also need to figure out what each patient needs. Some want detailed information; others just want the necessary information. Including the family in the treatment process is crucial because they may end up serving as primary caretakers for the patient going forward. Show them how vital they are to the process and key them in on how they can help.”
Excellent. You portrayed flexibility and a willingness to tailor your care to a patient’s needs.
9. How you handled a family or patient who was displeased with your care? How did you handle it?
Unfortunately, not every patient will feel satisfied with your care. The important thing is finding a resolution and that’s what this question is looking for.
“I strive to provide high-quality care to each patient. However, sometimes the patient doesn’t agree with my methods. For example, I once had a patient who complained about how I administered his insulin. He told my administrator that I stuck the needle in too quickly and not gentle enough. From that point, I decided to go especially slow with that patient to accommodate their needs and provide patient-centered care.”
You hit the spot. Literally. This is a great example of adjusting to a patient’s needs.
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.
10. “Tell me about yourself.“
This question gives you an opportunity to share. However, they aren’t looking for your life story. They are trying to ascertain how you could fit on their team. Sprinkle in a few of the job qualifications and you’re golden.
“I’m a driven nurse who enjoys providing patient-centered care. I have spent eight years working as a pediatrics nurse. During that time, I learned that quality care involves empathy first, which helps you determine your treatment. Every patient is different. I am proud of my ability to juggle different patient loads. Helping my patients recover and regain health motivates me every day. Your company’s determination to ensure patient-centered and quality care fits my skill set and goals as a nurse.”
Great job! You provided a great synopsis of your skills and passion.
11. “Why did you decide to be a nurse?“
Here, the employer wants a nurse whose ambitions match the principles of the facility.
“My family had a pervasive medical background. I had a grandfather and uncle that were doctors. Many aunts and cousins are nurses, and it seemed like a natural progression. I was always intrigued by the medical field since I was a kid. Helping people in practical yet compassionate ways comes naturally to me.”
Here, you broadcast something essential about your character: care and compassion. Having compassion and an urge to care for others will go a long way as a nurse.
12. “What are your strengths and weaknesses?“
Every nurse has unique strengths and weaknesses. Honesty is important when answering this question. That said, you don’t want to express a weakness that makes you seem incompetent.
“My greatest strength comes from my ability to educate and empathize with patients. I can speak in their terms and help them understand what’s going on with their bodies. I strive to enter into their shoes and treat them as people first, not just patients. There was this one older woman who dearly missed her garden. I decided to bring in a small potted garden to the patient. She loved this gesture, and it made her feel better about her diagnosis. My greatest weakness is over-committing. I am so passionate about the job that I try and do too much at times. I need to slow down and trust my team.
Wow! Touching. You definitely showed how much patients mean to you. Also, your weakness doesn’t paint you in a negative light. Rather, it shows your passion.
13. “Why do you want to work here (at this hospital/health system)? What interests you the most?“
Don’t say because you want to make more money. Describe the health system and what you feel drawn toward.
“I’m inspired to work in a facility that champions patient-centered care. Your facility has received countless awards for its care including the Vizient 2019 Bernard A. Birnbaum, M.D., Quality Leadership Award for high-quality patient care. I am excited to work for such an institution. I find that I thrive in facilities dedicated to this goal.”
Well done. You definitely did your research about the facility. And your goals align with aims of hte company.
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.
Adaptability and flexibility
Life as a nurse is often about adjusting quickly to changing environments. Demonstrating that you can be agile when necessary is a great way to get your foot in the door.
14. “Describe a situation where you were under a lot of pressure. How did you deal with it? What methods worked well for you?“
Nursing is a stressful position. Sometimes nurses burnout. The hiring manager wants to find a nurse who can handle the stress in a healthy and practical way.
“I experienced pressure every day as an ICU nurse. On one occasion, I had to cover more patients than usual because of a co-worker calling out sick. I decided to create a list and prioritize care. By organizing and paying attention to detail, I was able to manage my increased workload successfully. After work, I often practice yoga so that I don’t take any of the stress with me.”
Bravo. You showed an ability to prioritize and you also conveyed that you’re proactive in taking measures to mitigate stress in your free time.
15. “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?”
Every nurse will experience a time where they don’t know the answer to a question. The key is finding the resource and quickly. The hiring manager wants to hear about how you resolved this issue quickly.
“When I don’t understand something at work, I seek out help. I don’t let my pride get in the way of quality patient care. I generally ask someone who has more experience than me to help out and do it in a timely manner.”
Superb. You showed humility and a need to help the patient first beyond any need to appease ego.
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.
Nurses needed nationwide
Join Incredible Health for free to get interview requests from top U.S. hospitals.
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!
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
Preparation is key for any interview
Adequate prep time will help you feel confident and comfortable heading into the interview room. 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!
Nurses needed nationwide
Join Incredible Health for free to get interview requests from top U.S. hospitals.
Reviewed by nurses:
Andrea Hipolito, R.N.
Talent Advocate Leader at Incredible Health
Kiley Griffin, R.N.
Talent Advocate Leader at Incredible Health