As nursing school graduation season continues, I wanted to continue the theme of providing brand new nurses with the tools they need to land and succeed at their first nursing job! The next big thing to tackle is your first nursing job interview.
Alright, I hope your loved ones spoiled you at a least a little bit for the HUGE accomplishment of graduating nursing school! If you are still looking to get some tools of the nursing trade, check out my post with the best nursing school graduation gifts.
So you finished nursing school, but dang, the struggle continues! You will get through the NCLEX just like you got through nursing school. If you’ve gotten this far, you are definitely one tough cookie! Be proud.
After graduation and then the NCLEX, the next step is landing that first nursing job. This involves writing an amazing resume and getting invited for an interview. If you need a little help with that resume, check out my last post with tips for writing a great new nurse resume – you can download a nursing resume template, too!
Any job interview can be a little intimidating, but especially your first nursing job interview! Uncertainty is always scary, so if you are anything like me, you are going to be searching the internet to be as prepared as possible! I hope you find my post and that it helps you feel confident and ready!
Burnout is a real thing, and it can happen to any nurse. It can happen at any point in your career – even for new nurses! So get started early in preventing burnout.
Read one of my other posts with a new tool from renowned psychiatrist, Dr. Heim, to prevent burnout.
Continue reading to learn more about what to expect during the interview and then a few sample interview questions and example answers.
What to Wear
I have seen a lot of discussion about whether you should wear scrubs to a nursing interview. In short, my answer is no.
I have heard and read that, in general, it wouldn’t necessarily be frowned upon if you wore scrubs to the nursing interview. Just make sure they look good – clean, wrinkle-free, and preferably black or navy blue.
The overwhelming consensus, though, is to find a sweet spot somewhere between business professional and business casual for a nursing interview – much like you would to any interview. Dress to impress!
Generally stick to more conservative colors like black, dark blue, and neutral colors. Avoid anything too bright or patterned. Avoid excess jewelry or too much makeup. Avoid strong perfumes and colognes.
Women: Girl, you rock that power suit if you want to! I am all down for a strong power suit look. If that isn’t exactly your thing, you can definitely opt for a nice knee length-ish dress or skirt with a professional blouse or button-down shirt. You can always add a blazer for an extra level. Throw on some professional looking flats or a pair of heels.
Men: Nice, wrinkle-free button-down shirt. Avoid patterns – simple lined patterns can be ok. Make sure to tuck in that shirt! Wear a pair of ironed slacks and finish it off with a pair of dress shoes. Avoid sneakers or tennis shoes. Tie and jacket/blazer are optional, but can be a nice addition to complete the look.
Who Will Be There?
Don’t be surprised or intimidated if you are interviewed by multiple people. All of my nursing interviews have been conducted by a panel of people.
I actually find this a little less intimidating, because it allows you to address multiple people and there isn’t so much pressure on just one person.
For me, panel interviews have taken on two forms.
My new grad nurse interview included one person from human resources, and then either an educator or nurse manager of three different units. The way my first hospital worked for their new grad nurse residency program was by indicating all of the units you have an interest in. Those unit managers would then select which candidates they want to interview. Then they would all interview the candidate together!
The other interviews I have had included a nurse manager, and various other members of the team – for example staff nurses, unit receptionist, case manager, educators.
The interviewers will go around and each ask you questions. Focus primarily on the person asking the question, but also glance around to make eye contact with everyone throughout.
How to Prepare
Research the company that you want to work for. What are the mission and values of the facility? These can easily be found on their website.
Figure out what about the company specifically resonates with you and why you want to work there. For example, if it is a faith based organization, maybe that really fits with who you are.
At my new grad nurse interview, when the nurse interviewers asked me why I wanted to work for that hospital, I told them that it was the best hospital in the area and I wanted to work for and learn from the best.
Remember, the interview is actually about the interviewers… not you. Make sure that you are really speaking to them and tailoring their answers to why you are the best candidate for them to choose.
The other best way to prepare for your interview is to practice and formulate answers ahead of time, so it’s great that you are reading this article.
Try to use as specific of examples as you can think of. If this is your first job or you don’t have a lot of experience in healthcare (like you weren’t a nursing assistant or something like that), it might be hard to have specific examples. That’s ok! Just answer the best you can, and you can draw from anywhere in your life if it appropriately answers the question.
Nursing has a huge emphasis on interpersonal skills. The interviewers also want to know that you can learn from mistakes, can work as a team and an individual, and can think critically, and communicate effectively.
Also, the nurse interviewers want to know if you are someone that they actually want to work with. Make sure to show off who you are! Be friendly, gracious, and appreciative!
In all of your answers, always try to provide specific and personal examples. Always be professional in your answers. It is ok to repeat the question to give yourself a second to think.
They know that interviews can be scary, if you pause for a minute to gather your thoughts, it will be ok. Try not to use an excessive amount of “likes” or “uhms.”
Avoid being negative. Never trash talk previous employers, coworkers, or especially patients. If this is something that you think might come up, pre-plan for how you can discuss these things in a positive way. Remember, you are moving onto bigger and better things! You’ve learned from the past and are ready to take on new challenges.
There are two questions that I am pretty sure get asked at every single nurse interview. Make sure to formulate an answer to at least the first two.
Tell us about yourself. Remember, they aren’t asking how many siblings you have or what your favorite color is. This is your chance to tell them why you would fit in so well at their facility.
“I’ve lived in Colorado my whole life. I actually received my first bachelor’s degree in psychology at CU Boulder. I had never really thought about nursing until a friend of mine, who also got her bachelor’s from CU, started an accelerated program. As soon as I started looking into nursing, I was instantly intrigued and felt like nursing was a perfect fit for me. Before I started nursing school, I started working as a qualified medication administration person (QMAP) at an assisted living home. I absolutely loved that work, and was quickly promoted to an assistant manager position overseeing the medications for the residents. I continued working throughout nursing school, and I am so excited to move on to my next chapter as a nurse. I know I have so much to learn and am excited to potentially do that here.”
Why did you want to become a nurse? Or Why Nursing? Notice how I touched on that in the last answer, but that’s ok! You can reiterate and expound on your previous answer. Please don’t say anything along the lines of, “because of the money.” Also, don’t just say, “I want to help people.” That’s great, but definitely a little cliched. You can say that, but definitely go into detail. Especially personal examples like if you were inspired by your mom who is a nurse, or if you have experience as a patient. I have also heard a lot of nurses – especially those who start nursing later in life – say when my father/mother/etc was in the hospital I saw the amazing nurses and it inspired me to become one as well. I have also heard the opposite about having bad nurses and wanting other patients to not go through that.
“Nursing allows me to tangibly help people. There are so many ways to help, but nursing is an evidence-based and measurable science in improving people’s lives. It is a combination of intelligence and compassion. I’ve always loved science and when I first went to college, I thought that I wanted to be a therapist. Once I started taking prerequisite classes like anatomy and physiology, I knew that I wanted to pursue medicine.”
Describe a time when you made a mistake and how you handled it. This is another question that I personally have been asked at a nursing interview. Honestly, it doesn’t matter what the mistake is, because everyone makes mistakes. The biggest takeaways for this question are: do you take responsibility for your actions, can you follow the chain of command, and can you learn from your mistakes.
This is an example of the mistake that I shared at my interview. Honestly, I think it’s pretty lame, but it was the only thing I could think of right off the top of my head. It doesn’t matter what the actual mistake was, just describe what you did about it.
“One example of a mistake I’ve made is when I forgot to unclamp my secondary tubing. I was hanging a bag of IV antibiotics for a patient and the secondary tubing was still clamped. I came back to the room about twenty minutes later and realized that none of the antibiotics had gone through. I quickly fixed the situation by unclamping the tubing and making sure that the pump was reprogrammed. I discussed with the doctor to ensure there wouldn’t be any harm to the patient related to the delayed administration. I then told my charge nurse and filled out a reporting form so that the mistake could be tracked and used to improve processes if possible. After that, I became more diligent about checking to make sure that the secondary tubing was actually dripping.”
Tell me about a conflict you’ve had with someone and how you handled it. If you have an example of a conflict from previous work experience, that would be the best. Otherwise, you can discuss a conflict that you might have had with a peer or teacher. They want to know how you handle yourself and how you work to solve a problem versus arguing.
“At my previous job, it came to my attention that a coworker of mine was actually diverting pain medication. I went in to do a narcotic count in the morning and noticed that there was actually a whole package of medication missing and the record had been tampered with. I made sure to evaluate all of the possibilities and make sure that I wasn’t missing any details. I then went straight to my manager to discuss the situation. This was a difficult situation because this was a person whom I had worked with for a few years and had actually trained me when I was first hired. Even though it was a hard situation, I knew that I had to act appropriately and make sure my manager knew.”
Interview the Interviewers
Don’t forget that you are also interviewing the interviewers to make sure that this is where you want to work. You will be asked near the end of the interview if you have any questions for them.
The answer is always yes. Not asking questions can make you seem uninterested – which you definitely don’t want.
Make sure to think of some questions that you might have before you go into the interview. You can even have them written on a piece of paper that you bring to the interview in a folder – I’ve done this for every interview I have had in my life – not just the nursing ones!
This is not the time to ask about how much you will be getting paid. All of that can come later – after you have been offered the position.
Ask questions that show you are genuinely interested in the nursing position. Here are some of the questions I have asked at interviews.
Can you tell me a little bit about the culture on your unit?
What does orientation look like and how do you make sure to support new hires?
What qualities are you looking for in an ideal candidate?
What steps does the hospital take to ensure safe nurse-patient ratios?
Any interview can be scary, but your first nursing interview doesn’t have to be a complete mystery.
I hope this article has helped you with some insights on how to feel prepared to interview for your first nursing job. You’ve got this!
Now your homework is to think of some specific examples that exemplify your strengths and how you will be an excellent addition to their team. Take those examples, google some more questions, and have a friend do a mock interview with you.
Saying these answers outloud ahead of time will help you feel more comfortable and confident during the actual nursing interview.
As always, I would love to connect with you on social!
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