Your job search may include both phone interviews and face-to-face meetings. Be sure to schedule these at a time when you are well rested and at your best. Spend some time thinking about what you want the interviewer to know about you as an entry-level nurse. Your preparation should include formulating answers to the most commonly asked interview questions:
- Clinical challenge: Tell about a challenging patient that you cared for during one of your clinical experiences.
- Problem solving: Give an example of your ability to use critical thinking skills.
- Teamwork: Give an example of your experience in working as a part of a team.
- Conflict resolution: Tell about a time you had to resolve a conflict with a peer or someone else.
- Cultural differences: Tell about a time when you cared for a patient with a cultural background different from yours.
Note that these questions are all open-ended, which is meant to encourage the candidate to express a full and complete anecdote for each answer. Detailed, accurate and clinically correct answers will translate into high scores during the interview. A complete answer includes five elements: problem identification, data collection, plan for improvement, plan implementation, results/evaluation.
When I help my clients prepare for an interview, I ask them to write down “scenarios” to answer each of five frequently asked questions. A scenario is a complete answer that includes all five elements usually presented as a beginning, middle and an end to the story. Example (not a true story):
- I took care of a pediatric burn patient who was terrified every time we had to change his dressings. Pain medicine was given before the dressing change but it didn’t seem to help. I looked up the dosage and it was correct for his weight. But we were giving it 10 minutes before the dressing change and the drug really needed 20 minutes to take full effect. So we adjusted our plan of care and the result was that the patient was much more comfortable when we waited the full 20 minutes. This was documented on his MAR and plan of care so that all caretakers were informed.
You can see that a patient care “scenario” like that could be used to answer a variety of interview questions such as how you dealt with a clinical challenge or solved a problem. Having several real-life scenarios that you can easily speak about will help you feel confident with a variety topics that may come up during the interview. The best scenarios involve a complex clinical challenge; a detailed discussion of the diagnosis, signs/symptoms, medications and therapies; and a thorough description of the patient’s outcome.
Finally, if you are scheduled for a face-to-face interview, you should review these reminders about what to wear and personal appearance:
- First of all, “wear” your good manners.
- Choose clothes that help the interviewer envision you as a professional nurse. You don’t need to wear scrubs or a nurse uniform, but you should wear conservative clothing that meets the dress codes in most organizations. This means no denim.
- Wear solid colors such as navy blue or gray, which connote trust and loyalty. Collared shirts in solid blues or white are preferable.
- Closed toe shoes with low quiet heels will help you appear stable and secure.
- Limited accessories are a wise choice. One earring per ear and no dangles.
- Style your hair so that it is away from your face just as you would wear it on the job.
- Make sure your nails are trimmed and clean.
- No perfume or cologne.
These small suggestions add up to an overall trustworthy and professional first impression. Your well-groomed conservative appearance will allow the interviewer to focus on what you’re saying without being distracted by what you’re wearing.
In addition, be punctual when meeting with the interviewer. Actually, this means you should arrive about five minutes early because on time is considered late. Punctuality connotes that you are prepared and organized, as well as respectful of the other person’s time. These are highly valued traits in nursing.
Try to keep your hands free of clutter and accessories other than a purse. Your phone should be turned off and put away. Do not carry a water bottle or other refreshment. If offered a cup of water or coffee, I usually decline. It’s just one more thing I might knock over if I’m nervous!
Finally, when you walk into the office or conference room, you should stand as introductions are made, use a firm handshake if one is offered to you, and be seated when you are told where to sit. Keep your hands lightly on the table or in your lap if you are not at a table. Sit up straight and keep both feet on the floor. Make good eye contact and get ready to wow your interviewer with the wonderful story of you!
About the author:
Peggy Adams received her BSN at The University of Texas at Austin School of Nursing in 1978 and her MSN at Texas Womens University in the Texas Medical Center in Houston in 1987.
She worked for 10 years in pediatrics at Hermann Hospital (now Memorial Hermann) in Houston. She currently has a consulting business (Adams Consulting) that specializes in individual and group training for those in nursing leadership and management positions. She also coaches new graduates who are seeking their first professional nursing position. Her interview preparation strategies are based on:
- firsthand experience interviewing and hiring nurses as a supervisor,
- personal knowledge of the professional nursing culture of many health care institutions, and
- carefully honed writing and speaking skills.