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Career Tips and Tools

Everything You Need To Know About Your Nursing Interview

Common and not-so-common nursing interview questions & answers

By Stefanie Dell’Aringa
eyond the “Tell me about yourself” question that kicks off a nursing interview, you may get asked things that catch you off guard. You want to have the best responses to showcase your skills, experience, and attributes. Here we share insights from a seasoned nursing director on how best to prepare for typical — and surprising — interview questions.

Top Nursing Interview Questions

Rhea Trbojevic, MS, RN, Executive Director of Cancer Services at Northwest Community Healthcare, part of NorthShore, has been a nurse since 1982. Trbojevic explained what she looks for in candidates and how their responses to questions could help or hurt their chances of being hired. For instance, if a candidate shares about a successful project they worked on, Trbojevic will follow up with questions such as:
  1. What was your role?
  2. What issues did you run into?
  3. How did you handle that?
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Nursing Interview Questions: The Surprising Ones

“We just hired a new nurse educator and she had finished a program [similar to one] that we’re just starting on, so we asked questions about obstacles and how she got through them,” she said. The responses to these questions can illustrate how the candidate could contribute to the organization. Behavioral interview questions can also reveal a lot about a you. Trbojevic said standard behavioral nursing interview questions might include, “Tell me about a patient you got really close to,” while a more personal inquiry could be, “What do you like to do when you’re not working?”
You can probably predict a high percentage of the questions you’ll be asked — but not always. And some questions may feel invasive or unexpected such as:
  1. Give an example of a time when a work situation made you upset and explain how you dealt with it in that moment.
  2. Have you ever made a mistake? [The answer is yes. Everyone makes mistakes.]
  3. Have you ever been asked to perform a duty that you were reluctant to do?
  4. Have you ever been asked to care for a certain type of patient, but it wasn’t in your skillset to provide appropriate care? What did you do?
According to Trbojevic, although each hospital has its own policies on these issues — and some hospitals may be more conservative than others — a candidate might be asked questions such as: "Are you willing to conceal tattoos or piercings?" or "Are you okay with keeping your nails short?" Trbojevic said candidates should always be transparent and honest. Show that you’re open to growth, and you want to be aware of new diagnoses and medications. You’re a team player who desires to learn from others. This demonstrates accountability, professionalism, humility, and willingness to grow your scope of practice.

The Open-Ended Nursing Interview Question

Some common open-ended questions in a nursing interview give you a chance to share unique work experiences. These include:
  1. Share a patient experience that was personally rewarding or stands out in your mind.
  2. Tell me about a time when you had to work with a challenging patient.
  3. Tell me about a time when your mood altered or affected your day.
  4. Describe a difficult work challenge.
  5. State your strengths.
  6. Tell me about a problem you solved.
Your answers to these types of nursing interview questions can reveal whether or not you perceive yourself as a solo contributor or a team player. “Sometimes it’s interesting to see if it was an individual challenge or did the whole unit struggle with it?” said Trbojevic. “I’m looking for people to say, ‘We did’ and ‘We said,’ as opposed to ‘I did.’ The most dangerous nurse is the one who says in the nursing interview that they can do everything. That’s humanly impossible.”

Nursing Interview Questions That Test Critical Thinking Skills

Be prepared for specific questions that show you can make decisions and solve problems. They can include:
  1. How do you evaluate your own performance?
  2. You walk into a patient’s room, and you see X, Y, and Z. What’s the first thing you do?
  3. How would you solve [insert problem]?

How Best To Prepare an Interview

Do your research ahead of time, know about the nursing role for which you’re applying, and know about the organization’s culture, mission, and values. And practice answering questions discussed earlier, so you’re ready to respond to a variety of questions. In addition, consider body language, attitude, and more. Try to remember to:
  • Maintain good eye contact.
  • Think before you answer.
  • Be positive, confident, and authentic.
  • Prepare a list of your own questions to show interest in the role and organization.
  • Give well-thought-out answers, not just a few words.
  • Keep the focus on what you can do for the organization.
“People who are one-sided in their interview that say, ‘Here’s what I need’ are an absolute turn-off,” said Trbojevic. “If someone doesn’t show me that they’re a caring person or that the patient really matters to them and the people working with them matter to them, then I don’t want to hire them.”
Stefanie Dell’Aringa is a freelance writer with three decades of editorial, marketing, and media relations experience in health care and other subjects.