Career Development Center

Interview Skills

Interviewing Skills for Nurses


Interview Preparation Exercise Sample Applicant Questions
Sample Interview Questions Sample Follow-up Letter


Interview Preparation Exercise:

Research and evaluate the job that you are seeking and preparing to interview for.  Reflect on the following steps:

1. List the knowledge, skills, and qualifications that the employer is looking for.
2. What are your greatest strengths and qualifications to meet their needs?
3. What are your weakest qualifications or those you’re lacking to perform this work?
4. Identify your transferable skills.
5. Identify your plans to improve a weakness or how you will compensate for it. Develop a prepared interview response for one of your weaknesses.
6. Develop a prepared response for one of your strengths.

Develop prepared responses for additional questions you anticipate being asked:

Sample Approaches to Common Interview Questions:

Although no one can predict what kinds of questions an interviewer will ask, most questions relate to 5 areas:

1. Why do you want to work for our organization as opposed to another?
2. What are your skills and achievements relevant to the position sought and do they match our needs?
3. What kind of person (or nurse) are you?
4. What sets you apart from all of the other applicants who can do the same thing?  How do you “stand out”?
5. Can we afford you?

The following sample questions and rationale for answering them provide a guide in helping you prepare for future job interviews.  The first 5 questions correspond respectively to the 5 areas listed above:

  1. What interests you about our organization and why do you want to work for us? What do you know about our organization?
    It’s important that you are familiar with the services offered by this organization and that you convey an interest in this particular position within this particular organization.  Indicate how the position can help you meet your own career goals as they relate to organizational goals.  Discuss what impresses you about the organization (i.e., quality of patient care, magnet status, etc.).  Also, express an interest in learning more about the organization from the interviewer’s point of view.
  2. What are your qualifications to work on this kind of ________ unit (i.e. med/surg, critical care, pediatrics, long term care) and why should I hire you?
    Before you answer this question, it’s important that you are aware of the organizational needs, particularly those related to this department.  If you are unable to get a detailed job description prior to the interview, then explain that you first need to know more about the unit expectations before you can answer the question.  In answering the question, focus on their needs and how aspects of your background can help them to meet their needs.
  3. Which of the qualities that you possess makes you feel that you would be successful at this job/career field?
    With this question, focus on qualities which are important to this type of work and then highlight those qualities.  For example, flexibility and the ability to adapt to new challenges and expectations are important qualities for a nurse to possess.  Try to illustrate that you possess these qualities through examples of accomplishments in which these attributes were displayed.  Speak about establishing measurable objectives with target dates.  Note that you are willing to identify and take on responsibility.
  4. Why should I hire you over all the other applicants?
    This is your opportunity to shine and “stand out” above the rest.  Focus on your greatest strengths as they relate to the position.  When referring to your greatest accomplishments/challenges, consider the SIR approach.  The “S” relates to the situation or the challenge that you faced.  The “I” relates to your input or how you dealt with the situation or challenge.  The “R” relates to the quantitative or qualitative result of your input (i.e., how did you provide better services, improve the quality of patient care, provide self-care education and so on).  Prior to the interview, consider potential SIR’s that would relate to the position for which you are now interviewing.  Try to offer an accomplishment that involved challenges similar to those that you would face in this new position.  In this way, the employer can see how you might apply past experiences towards future challenges.
  5. What is the minimum salary you would accept?
    Again, do your homework and know the salary range for the type of position for which you are applying.  Explain that you would expect a salary that is based on the job responsibilities, your experience, education and the current market value of the job.  Tell them that you realize that each job description tends to have a corresponding salary range and ask what salary range has been set for this job.  If you know the salary range for this type of position, you could also say something like, “I understand that a position like the one you’re describing may pay in the range of $ to $.  Is this in the ball park for you?”  Whenever possible, try to get them to throw out a figure or a range first.  If not possible, speak in terms of a potential range for the job based on your research.  Try to negotiate where you would fall within that range after you’ve been offered the position.

Below are some additional practice questions:

Why are you applying for this position?  What is it about this position that appeals to you?
Once again, your research on the position and the organization is helpful here.  From the job description, refer to the responsibilities which appeal to you.  In addition, explain what appeals to you about the organization.  Avoid denoting salary as the only merit – rather highlight other rewards and challenges.

What are your strengths?  Your weaknesses?
When discussing your strengths, emphasize strengths that are important to the work for which you are applying.  If you are forced to discuss weaknesses, offer a weakness that’s relatively minor and not directly related to the position.  Show how you’ve worked to improve in this area so that this weakness turns into a positive.

What are your future plans or… how long will you stay with us?
A direct hiring manager may ask this question out of concern that you will not stay in the position for a reasonable length of time.  Try to focus on your short term plans in this instance.  A human resource department representative may ask this question to determine your long term potential with the organization, so consider the role of the interviewer in determining how to approach this question.  A potential employer is interested in knowing you are ready, willing and able to make a commitment.  State that you are planning to be fully committed as long as you are mutually in agreement about your contributions and ability to succeed in the job.

What are you looking for in a job?
Try to relate the connection between your needs/wants and the qualifications desired in the position for which you are applying.  This is a chance to see if you will integrate well with the job and organization, so be honest if there’s not a good fit. You would be dissatisfied in the long run. Describe how the job compliments your top values (i.e. personal contact, challenge, teamwork) as well as allowing you to utilize your skills and competencies.

Why did you leave your last job or why are you looking to leave your present job?
Don’t be negative or point a blaming finger at current or former employers.  Keep it short.  Speak in terms of your search for growth and knowledge.  Focus on what you want to do rather then what you’re trying to get away from.

In what areas do you feel you need additional experience?
It is important to know how closely your skills and qualifications match the employer’s expectations.  This knowledge can help you compensate for what’s missing.  If they are looking for a special certification, show that you are taking action to pursue that necessary credential.  If, for example, you haven’t managed a large clinic, you can provide examples of other experiences where you’ve developed and utilized management skills.  If, for example, your IV or phlebotomy skills are rusty, explain your ability to be a quick learner and your efforts to be proactive in taking continued education or refresher courses as necessary.

What particular aspect of the job appeals to you most?  Which aspect appeals to you least?
Let the employer know you are interested in using your training to help them meet their needs while also offering you professional growth.  Focus on what appeals to you rather than what does not appeal to you.  Try to list at least three (3) attractive features and briefly state why you are a good fit.  Mention only minor unappealing aspects, avoiding skills and duties (i.e., longer commute, slight adjustment to hours, etc.).

How did you choose your college major?  Did you change your major?
Relate to the employer that you put some thought into your decision and that it was not based on pressure from someone else to go into the field.  In asking you about changes to your major, they’re trying to determine how you approached the decision-making process and the steps you took along the way.  Your answer to this question can help them determine your level of initiative and effort when making a decision such as this one.

What are you currently doing, or what have you done, to reach your career objectives?
Describe formal education, workshops, conferences, professional association involvement, related reading, mentors and advisors.

Describe a situation where you had to work under pressure or with challenging personalities.
Refer back to question #4 and consider potential SIR’s.  Remember to highlight positive results or to emphasize what you would do differently next time if again faced with a similar challenges.

Potential Applicant Questions to Consider:

Typically, toward the end of the interview, you will be given an opportunity to ask questions of the interviewer.  If you think of questions to ask while the interview is being conducted, inquire as to when the best time would be to ask them.  Asking some questions is always a good idea, as it shows that you’re taking interest in the organization, demonstrates your professionalism, and reveals your knowledge about relevant issues.  The following is a list of questions that you may consider asking, if they have not already been covered during the interview:

1. What are your expectations of the nurse who works in this position?  Who would I be reporting to?  What is the nurse’s role in your organization?

2. How do you see my background and experience fitting into your needs relative to other candidates?

3. If the organization does not have magnet status: Is your hospital planning to apply for Magnet status?

4. If the organization does have magnet status: How has Magnet status changed the role of the nurse in your organization?

5. What are relationships like between the nurses here and their peers and colleagues?

6. What are your staffing ratios?  What are your staffing policies? 

7. Has your organization been affected by the nursing shortage?  If so, what have you been doing to address it?

8. What kinds of in-service education programs do you have, especially for new graduates, or those taking on new roles and responsibilities?

9. What kinds of opportunities exist for advancement within your organization?  Do you have policies regarding such advancement?

10. What is your timeframe for making a decision about this position?

11. What is the next step in the process?  May I call you so as to follow up?

 Sample Follow-up Letter:

Nina Elliot, B.S.N.
15 Shady Brook Lane
Arlington, MA 
(100) 555-5555
Cell: (000) 555-5555

Ms. Nancy Nurse
Clinical Nurse Recruiter
City Hospital
City, State, Zip Code

May 1, 2008

Dear Ms. Nurse,

I’d like to thank-you for the opportunity to interview for the New Graduate Nurse Program at City Hospital.  I learned a great deal about your staff expectations and feel that I can meet those expectations.  When you took me on a unit tour, I was able to get a first hand view of its fast paced environment, which only increased my desire to join your team of skilled professionals.

When you asked me the question about what my former employer would say about me if you called for a reference, I neglected to add that she would comment on my flexibility, especially when the hospital was downsized two years ago.  There was a need for unit clerks to rotate to other units, and while I was obliging in order to cooperate, I also gained a lot during the transition.  I was able to improve my communication skills since moving to other units gave me more contact with patients and families.

At the end of the interview, you mentioned that you expect your nurses to be clinically skilled, but also stressed their need to have good interpersonal communication skills.  I feel that my education and clinical rotations coupled with my work experience in health care, have given me the confidence to feel prepared to care for patients effectively.

I look forward to hearing from you,


Nina Elliot

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