How to Ace Your Nursing Job Interview: Questions, Answers & Tips
Job hunting in the nursing field can be quite stressful whether you’re a seasoned nurse or a new graduate. You have completed your education, you’ve polished your nursing resume, and you’ve sent in your application to the positions that have caught your interest. And now you wait.
When you get the call telling you you’ve moved to the next step of the process and are expected to come in for an interview, at first, you are beyond excited. You’re one step closer to your dream job! And then you start getting a little nervous because – let’s face it – nursing interviews can be the make-it-or-break-it part of the whole job search.
However, you needn’t worry. As daunting as they may first appear, nurse interviews are a lot less challenging if you come prepared. With the right amount of research and preparation, there’s nothing hiring managers can throw at you that will stop you in your tracks.
That’s why we’ve developed this comprehensive guide. We’ve gathered the most common nursing interview questions, some nursing behavioral interview questions, as well as specialty-specific questions. We have also included sample answers and many tips and tricks to ensure you pass the interview with flying colors.
Let’s dive in and help you get your dream nursing job!
Most Common Nursing Interview Questions:
When you go for a nursing interview, you need to demonstrate your skills, knowledge, abilities, and expertise. You ought to let your personality and experience shine. Your answers and your attitude must make it clear to the interviewer why you are the best candidate for the job. Make sure you present yourself in a good light, but at the same time, don’t exaggerate, or worse, lie during the interview. Showcase your strengths, explain what you’ve learned from past mistakes, and base your answers on personal experiences. It will set you apart from the competition.
Generally, during nursing interviews, hiring managers will ask general, behavioral, and situational questions. You can expect questions about your motivations, your ability to work in a team, your patient care expertise, and the soft and hard skills you bring to the table. You might receive questions that deal with hypothetical situations in the future and questions about past work experiences.
Before you panic, let’s explore some of the most common nursing interview questions and answer scenarios.
Why did you choose nursing in the first place?
Your future employers care about the driving force behind your decision to pursue an RN career. In addition to your education and training, your passion is what makes you a great nurse. When you love what you do, it will reflect in your work, your relationships with others, and the care you provide to your patients. So, when asked Why do you want to be a nurse? Healthcare managers are looking for a glimpse of the personal touch that sparked your interest in such a practical field.
How to answer: There are as many ways to answer this question as there are candidates for job postings. Each aspiring nurse bases their career choice on different factors: for some, it’s been a lifelong dream; others became a nurse for pragmatic reasons. Try to come up with an answer that will show why this line of work interests you and how your motivation can make you a better nurse.
Sample answer 1: My goal has always been to find a career that challenges me while also allowing me to make a difference for the better in other people’s lives. Caring for others is one way for me to make that difference. And the diversity and unexpectedness of the nursing profession take care of the “challenging” part. So, I find that nursing gives me the chance to achieve my career goals.
Sample answer 2: My interest in nursing goes way back to my childhood. My mother is a nurse, and I’ve never seen anyone more satisfied and more in love with what they do. It was inspiring to see her unwavering commitment to helping others and the joy she got every day from caring for others. So, from when I was young, I felt motivated to pursue a career in nursing. I am excited about both the challenges and the opportunities this field has to offer. And at the end of the day, it all boils down to me being able to make a difference, and that’s what makes nursing so important to me.
Why are you interested in this position?
This question gives you the chance to prove that you know what you want in a job. Employers take having specific goals as an indication of reliability – you’re less likely to dislike the job or leave it if you know precisely what you want from it. For that, you should review the job description carefully before the interview. Each organization and job may have different requirements, and your answers need to be tailored to each position. The examples you provide need to reflect a proper understanding of the job demands.
How to answer: After having done your background research, choose what you value most about this job. Talk about how this aligns with your goals and interests and what you bring to the table.
Sample answer: I have always enjoyed working with babies. I am most passionate about newborns and have always wanted a job that involves directly caring for the little ones. In my last job, I worked in the Pediatric Intensive Care Unit. I enjoyed it tremendously. I also found that I find no greater satisfaction or reward than providing care to babies. Now I would be very excited to narrow down the focus of my care. While I do love children of all ages, I think that working with newborns is my calling. That’s why I want to specialize as a NICU RN. And the excellent care you provide in this facility’s neonatal intensive care ward seems like the perfect place for me to grow in my career.
Why do you believe you are suitable for this role?
This question, or variants of it, such as Why should we hire you? What skills do you bring to the job? What makes you the best candidate for this position? is a favorite among interviewers. It gives you the chance to display your strengths, show that you’ve done your research about the role and the organization itself. It’s an opportunity for you to show clearly that you understand what the job entails and that you possess the skills to succeed at it.
How to answer: The response to this question should be rooted in your experiences. Still, you can use our sample answer as a springboard to draft your response.
Sample answer: In my last position, I had the opportunity to lead a small team of ICU nurses, and I enjoyed the chance to act as a team leader. I was often the liaison between the ICU nurses and other healthcare team members in our facility. This helped me develop my listening, communication, and interpersonal skills. So, when I came across the posting for this position, I realized that my training and experience match perfectly the job requirements and expectations you advertised. So, I do believe that I have what it takes to be a Shift Leader in your institution.
Describe a difficult situation and how you handled it?
How did you handle a difficult situation? is a question bound to appear during a nursing interview. Being a Registered Nurse is a notoriously difficult job. You’ll often have to deal with pressure and demanding situations. Crises are a part of the everyday routine. That’s why hiring managers want to see how you deal under pressure and whether you let tough situations get the best of you.
How to answer: When they ask this question, interviewers usually look for more than standard, trite responses such as “I can handle stress.” You’ll make a much better impression if you give examples from your career to date and share the lessons learned as a result.
Sample answer: By now, I know that nursing comes with its share of challenges and challenging situations, and I have learned to use the pressure to my advantage. One difficult situation in which I found myself was caused by a problematic patient. He was aggressive, raising his voice and getting angry. Instead of avoiding him, I tried to connect with him on a human level and find out the root of his behavior. I learned that only a couple of days ago, he had experienced some severe personal problems. This came at a time when his disease was worsening, and that led to his erratic outbursts. So, I tried to be empathetic and validate his feelings: “I understand why you may feel this way.” “Let me know if there is anything I can do to help make you feel better.” Once I connected with him and listened to him, he changed this attitude and became easier to work with. So, I realized once more that it’s usually pain and fear that cause the anger. Being patient, listening, and communicating well can make a significant difference.
Tell me about yourself.
One of the standard questions that might pop up during your nursing interview is Tell me about yourself. This is such an open-ended query, that you might wonder what employers expect to get from it. As easy as it may seem, this question is fundamental to interviewers creating an opinion of you.
Because nurses spend so much time at work, managers need to ensure a positive, efficient, and amicable work environment. One bad apple can spoil the barrel, and one negative coworker can negatively influence the entire staff. So, hiring managers use this question to get a glance at what kind of person you are. They want to see what you consider to be the most critical and pertinent information about yourself.
How to answer: Make sure you don’t simply give an overview of your resume. Also, don’t get too personal – examiners don’t need to know how many kids you have, your religion, or your personal opinions on political matters. Stick to being professional and mentioning things that are relevant to the job.
While there isn’t just one correct way of answering this question, you can potentially go with the past, present, and future strategy. You mention your past experiences, your current accomplishments and qualifications, and your hopes for the future.
Sample answer: I have worked as an Oncology Nurse for five years, providing compassionate care to many patients of all ages battling cancer. Still, I have always been drawn to younger patients. Fighting cancer is heartbreaking for everyone, but it’s tough for kids to understand and deal with the disease. I never want to stop becoming a better nurse, so I recently got my Pediatric Oncology Nurse Certification. Your facility is at the top among pediatric chemotherapeutic treatment centers in the country. And I want to be part of an institution whose mission I share so deeply: providing the highest quality care to sick children. I’m interested in establishing a career here and providing nursing care to the best of my ability.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
This question can be pivotal in the interviewing process. There’s a fine line between coming off as arrogant and braggy or insecure and weak. You need to learn how to walk this line so that you’re neither singing yourself too much praise nor criticizing yourself unnecessarily.
How to answer: You can do better than going for the overused line “my biggest weakness is I work too much.” It also helps if you back up your strengths and weaknesses with examples from your previous experiences.
Sample answer: I would say my biggest strength is my ability to work well under pressure. My three years as an Emergency Room Registered Nurse have taught me how to manage the stress of the workplace efficiently, how to think clearly, and keep my cool even when it seems that nothing is going according to plan. Maintaining efficacy while under stressful conditions is one of my strongest suits as a nurse.
Regarding weaknesses, I would mention that I sometimes get wrapped up in caring for my patients and spending so much time with them that I put on second-place the job-related administrative tasks. On occasion, I have postponed completing the paperwork as much as I could. But I understand how central to patient care is to have accurate records of the care we provide, so I am doing my best to break this habit. Instead of leaving all the paperwork for the end of the shift, I try to schedule a few minutes throughout the day when I update the paperwork. I had to learn to manage my time and tasks better, but I am a lot more efficient now.
How do you deal with a difficult coworker?
As a Registered Nurse, you’ll have to display an excellent capability to communicate well and productively with all healthcare team members. Miscommunications are bound to happen. Or maybe your coworkers will show a level of interest in the job that doesn’t match yours. Some colleagues may prove slightly tricky to work with. You need to handle difficult situations even if they aren’t the result of your actions. Your ability to do so is exactly what interests hiring managers when asking this question.
How to answer: When answering this nursing interview question, you need to highlight your interpersonal skills, your communication abilities, as well as your conflict resolution skills. Don’t forget to support your answers with examples.
Sample answer: I once worked with a nurse who didn’t have the best work ethic. She was often late for her shifts and seemed distracted at work. It made it quite tricky to work with her because we couldn’t rely on her 100% to be on time or top of her game. So, the first thing I did was talk to the nurse, explain my concerns about the quality of her work, and describe how her behavior affected the rest of the team. I asked her about what was causing her problems. That’s how I found out that she didn’t realize her personal life was affecting her work so much. It turns out when she was late, it was because she had to take her kids to school. She wasn’t offering the best performance at work because she was exhausted from all the responsibilities of being a single mother. When that information was out in the open, we could work together to change her shift schedule a bit to better fit her other responsibilities. That helped the entire team in the long run.
Do you prefer to work independently or on a team?
Nursing is a team sport. You share a working space with other nurses, and you must cooperate for the wellbeing of your patients. Collaboration is key for good patient outcomes, effective safety procedures, and increased job satisfaction. So, you shouldn’t be surprised when a question about the value of teamwork comes up during your interview.
How to answer: Interviewers are looking for collaborative skills for people who know the value of working together with other nurses, physicians, and other members of the healthcare team. Emphasize these skills when answering questions related to teamwork.
Sample answer: I know that working as a nurse means working as part of a team, and I enjoy being part of a team. I find that we can motivate each other to stay focused and to become better nurses. I also know the value of proper teamwork and effective communication with members of the nursing staff. Once, a patient asked me to give him his medication, saying that his nurse forgot to. I knew the right thing to do was to check with my colleague first, which I did. She did not forget to give the medication to the patient; he was trying to fool me into giving him more. Working as a team, trusting the nurse, and communicating with her ensured the patient’s safety.
How do you deal with work stress?
Nursing is a very stressful line of work. Many nurses end up burnt out, hating their jobs, and wanting to quit – and that is not a desirable outcome for patients or the hospitals. Hence, hiring managers want to know that you are equipped to handle stress and have strategies in place to help you deal with the pressures of the workplace.
How to answer: Your answer must make it clear you know how to manage stress and that no challenging situation at work can get the better of you.
Sample answer: I know that stressful situations are bound to arise in nursing. In the Emergency Department, you never really know what the next moment will bring. That can be pretty taxing. But I think that accepting stress as part of the job allows me to get past it easier. When I find myself in a stressful situation, the first thing I do is take three deep breaths. It may seem like little, but it gives me the exact right amount of time to refocus my energy, gather my thoughts and concentrate all my attention on the task at hand. Stressful situations are less alarming when you tackle them directly.
Interview Questions Specific for Specialization:
In addition to the common and generic nurse interview questions, you will get questions that relate directly to your specialization and the job you’re applying for. An excellent strategy for answering these questions is to use the STAR format. What exactly is it, and how can it help you get through an interview question successfully? Let’s find out.
STAR is an acronym for Situation, Task, Action Steps, and Results. Using this method, you can outline a comprehensive and structured answer to any behavioral question.
- Situation: The first step is to think of a situation that relates to the question at hand.
- Task: Here, you can mention your tasks and responsibilities in handling the above-mentioned situation.
- Action: In this step, you get to highlight the actions you took, the skills you employed, the qualities you used to perform the task successfully.
- Result: Detail the results and consequences of your actions. What lessons did you learn from it? How did you contribute to the success of the situation?
Using this method to answer nursing interview questions is a sure way to convey your experience and expertise in real-life nursing situations. You can employ this strategy regardless of the position you apply for or your nursing level.
Interview Question for Nurse Manager Candidates
When applying for a high management position, such as a Nurse Manager, you will undoubtedly receive questions about your leadership potential. One possible example is this: Tell us about a time that you were in a leadership position. Were you pleased with the results?
This question allows you to share an experience in which your leadership skills shone through. It will enable the interviewer to learn more about your leadership style and your interpersonal skills.
Interview Question for Nurse Practitioners
Nurse Practitioners generally act with much greater levels of autonomy than other RNs. Providing independent care within the scope of their practice is a huge responsibility, so future employers want to know that the quality of the care they offer is up to the highest standards. Thus, a potential nurse practitioner interview question would be: Tell me about a time you went above and beyond to help a patient and provide excellent patient care.
The way you answer this question will make evident what “exceptional care” means in your opinion. Going above and beyond for a patient will pinpoint your commitment and dedication. This question is a great way to highlight your skills and your passion for nursing.
Interview Question for ICU Nurses
Being a patient advocate is a central part of an RN’s job description. However, this skill is particularly important in the Intensive Care Unit environment. In the ICU, patients can communicate very little or not at all. They may be intubated and unable to communicate their wishes or needs. So, it’s up to the ICU nurse to act as a patient advocate in critical care situations. Hence, a behavioral question such as How have you been a patient advocate in previous positions? can be expected during the interview.
Make sure you give examples from your previous experiences but don’t include any details that would make it possible to identify the patient.
Interview Question for ER Nurses
Working in the ER is a complex position. The job is dynamic and often unexpected. But in addition to patients who are suffering and in pain, ER nurses must be experts at dealing with and educating the patients’ family members. A common nursing question for ER nurses would be: Have you ever had to deal with distressed, uncooperative family members? How did you handle this situation?
It’s tough for families to stand by and keep their cool while their loved ones are suffering. So, an additional layer of responsibility for the nurse is to communicate with the family, to offer them honest, clear, and straightforward updates. This interview question is a chance to show that you can take care of the family just as much as the patient.
Interview Question for Mental Health Nurses
Nurses who work in mental health areas must deal with a lot of distressed or problematic patients. Hiring managers want to see if you have the attitude and caregiving skills to succeed at this demanding job. What is the best approach to dealing with difficult patients? this is a question that can help them find that out.
When answering, describe a case from your career in which you handled a particularly difficult patient. Talk about the process of dealing with them, about the skills you used, such as compassion, fairness, active listening, and so on.
Interview Question for NICU Nurses
The Neonatal Intensive Care Unit is a coveted spot for nurses who love working with newborns. At the same time, the NICU can be a very emotional and delicate work environment. An essential part of a NICU Nurse’s job is dealing with distressed, overwhelmed parents who are extremely worried about their child’s condition. A situational question you may be asked during the interview is How do you deal with a parent who’s in emotional agony over their child’s conditions and keeps breaking hospital regulations to be close to their baby?
Answering this question lets the interviewer know you have respect for hospital regulations, empathy for the parents, and still, your focus is unwaveringly on the wellbeing of the baby.
Interview Question for Oncology Nurses
In Oncology departments, nurses must handle a lot of confidential information. That’s why it’s imperative for hiring managers to employ nurses who treat ethical guidelines with respect and responsibility. They may ask: How do you maintain your patient’s privacy and get them to trust you with such confidential information?
Your answer needs to reflect your knowledge of the hospital’s policy on sharing information and examples of your trustworthiness and high moral standards as a nurse.
Interview Question for LPN Nurses
One common interview question for LPNs is Where do you see yourself in five years? Through this question, the interviewer wants to see your professional objectives and what actions you are going to take to meet those goals.
An ambitious employee who wants to continue advancing their nursing career and education is a significant asset for healthcare organizations.
Interview Question for New Graduate Nurses
Especially for nurses right from the school benches, the first job interviews can be more stressful. But, if you come in prepared, the interview process will seem less daunting. Because you may not have as much hands-on clinical experience as some seasoned nurses, one question you can expect is related to your education. How have your clinical rotations prepared you for a career in nursing? is one sample question.
Talking about your clinical rotations gives you a chance to talk about the skills you’ve gained and procedures you have learned that you can now bring into the job.
Questions to Ask the Employer
One of the most important parts of the interview process is when the employer asks: Do you have any questions for me? And it would be best if you had a few questions prepared. It’s a chance to learn more about the facility, unit, the job itself, or the workplace culture. Saying you don’t have any questions might make you appear uninterested or unmotivated. Here are some questions that you, as a candidate, can ask in a nursing interview:
- How long does orientation for new employees last, and what does it imply?
- What would a typical day on the job look like?
- What is the nurse-to-patient ratio in your facility?
- How do you measure performance in this institution?
- Do you offer opportunities for continuing education?
- What career growth opportunities do Registered Nurses have in this organization?
- What are the next steps in the interview process?
You should ask at least one question during the interview. It will help you get a better sense of what is expected of you. Also, it shows that you’re willing to go that extra mile to find information about the job and the company.
Tips and Tricks to Ace the Nursing Interview
The importance of preparing for a nursing interview cannot be overstated. You want to put your best foot forward and impress the hiring managers. Here are some tips on how to ensure your success during the interview:
- Get familiar with the role you’re applying for, the job description, and the organization itself. Your answers will indicate if you’ve done your research beforehand and know precisely what you’re signing up for. You don’t want to show up to the interview unsure about the position you’re pursuing.
- A mock interview may help. You can ask your friends or family for help with this. Having a simulated discussion before your actual one can help prepare and relieve some of the stress. Also, practicing your answers aloud is a great way to find out if your answers feel natural.
- Don’t try to memorize your answers. Preparing in advance for some questions and jotting down some talking points is a fantastic idea. But don’t overdo it. You don’t want your answers to sound unnatural and over-rehearsed.
- Show up on time. Or better yet, get to the interview place a few minutes early. Give yourself plenty of time to find the building, the floor, or the interviewing room. You don’t want to keep the interviewer waiting – it’s unprofessional.
- Dress appropriately. Wearing professional attire is a sign that you take the job seriously. Jeans, scrubs, clothing that’s inappropriate or too casual, as well as perfumes that are too overpowering, are not encouraged.
- If you have a phone interview, make sure you choose a place that has a great connection and isn’t too loud. Try to avoid any distractions that could divert your attention during the interview.
- Don’t let stress get the better of you. Make sure you sleep well, eat, and hydrate before your nursing interview. If you feel anxiety creeping in, take a few deep breaths.
- Send a thank-you note after the interview.
Are You Ready for the Job of Your Dreams?
The secret to acing nursing interviews is preparation. Combine your enthusiasm with a little bit of research and effort, and you are bound to impress the interviewer. Make sure you answer truthfully and transparently. Base your answers on examples and lessons learned along the way. Be open. And most importantly, let your love for nursing and your passion for helping others shine through.
You’ve already passed so many hurdles in your nursing career. You finished nursing school, passed the NCLEX, dealt with tough patients, and lived through some challenging work situations. This interview is just one more little thing you must conquer on your way to your dream job! You got this! Good luck!