Job Hunter: How to Ace Your Nurse Job Interview

Female nurse candidate being interviewed.

You’ve graduated school, passed your certifications, and may already have work experience. You’re qualified. Now, you need to convince someone else not only of your qualifications, but that you’re the best candidate for the nursing position.

Nursing jobs are competitive, but if you’ve already put your best foot forward with your nursing resume and cover letter, eventually you’ll start getting some calls.

In this post we’ll talk about interview preparation, the five types of interviews to consider, and common nurse job interview questions with strategies on how to answer them. We’ll also talk about what not to do in your nurse job interview, as well as follow-up etiquette.

Let’s start with preparation:

Nurse Job Interview Prep

In the days leading up to your interview, the best thing you can do is get prepared. This means doing your research, compiling your materials, and practicing for the conversation.

1. Plan Ahead

Getting ahead isn’t just a smart way to stay organized—it also helps minimize stress on the day of the interview. Be almost ready to walk out the door at least a day in advance. Here’s what you can do ahead of time:

  • Look up the location (unless you’re interviewing by phone or video). If you’ll be visiting a large facility, make sure you locate the building and office number, and plan for traffic and parking.
  • Pick out the clothing you plan to wear, and make sure it fits well, and is clean and free of stains or wrinkles.
  • Print out a few extra copies of your interview portfolio to have on hand.
  • Revisit the original job posting and the person or people with whom you’ll be meeting.
  • Schedule yourself for a good night’s sleep the night before.

2. Do Your Research

Showing up with knowledge about the job, the organization, and the department will demonstrate that you take the opportunity seriously. You might even want to dig a little deeper into the history or current endeavors at the company or facility. This will give you something to ask questions about when it’s your turn. Here are some common research questions to prepare in advance:

  • What is the company or organization?
  • Is the facility private? State-run? Teaching? Religiously affiliated?
  • Is it a large company or a smaller operation?
  • Who runs it and who founded it?
  • What is the organization famous for, if anything?
  • With whom are you meeting, and what’s their position?
  • What can you find out about the department you’re interviewing for?

Use every avenue available to you: the company’s social media and LinkedIn presence, word of mouth, the organization’s website, press coverage, and even salary sites. Once you’ve done your research, think about which of your findings are of particular interest to you. That way you can speak to why you find this job appealing and a good fit for your goals.

3. Think About Presentation

This might seem obvious, but it’s important. Dressing and conducting yourself professionally is a baseline expectation for any prospective employee. Don’t wear scrubs or a lab jacket to your interview; do show up put together and polished, and make sure you tick all the boxes:

  • Choose business-professional attire (i.e., black, navy or gray suit; closed-toed shoes; etc.).
  • Wear something well-fitting, washed, and in good condition.
  • Make sure your nails and hair are clean and groomed.
  • Practice straight posture and approachable body language from the moment you enter the building.
  • Make eye contact and offer a firm (but not crushing) handshake.

When in doubt, err on the side of a more traditional appearance. Remember that an interview is about showcasing your experience, poise, and preparation, so leave your more splashy personal flair at home.

4. Practice the STAR Method

The STAR Method is a structural manner of responding to a behavioral-based question (such as “How would you handle a situation where [XYZ]?”). The acronym stands for:

  • Specific situation
  • Task
  • Action
  • Result

If you follow this formula in answering some of the more in-depth questions that may come up in your interview, you’ll be able to avoid rambling or getting caught with a partial or vague answer. Speak through your response to each question in the STAR order. It will help you give a complete, organized response.

5. Prepare Your Interview Portfolio

Always have a few extra copies of your interview portfolio printed out and on hand, in case your interviewer requests them. Your interview portfolio should include the following:

  • Cover letter
  • Resume
  • Professional certifications
  • Licensures
  • Transcripts
  • References sheet

Some of the above may not apply to you. Bring what is relevant and make sure it’s typed up and printed in matching fonts and styles on the same type of paper. Carry a pen and notepad in your portfolio in case you need it. If you are a WCU student and don’t already have an interview portfolio, reach out to Career Services and they can help you compile one.

5 Types of Interviews

1. The Pre-Screen Phone Interview

Before we get into tips and techniques for the traditional, main interview, let’s quickly talk about the pre-screen, or phone interview. It’s likely, particularly for a larger organization, that you’ll first be asked to speak to a recruiter or an in-house human resources officer before you’re selected for the main interview phase. This interview is usually quick, and its purpose is to cull the list of candidates whose resumes show promise.

Here are some tips to help you prepare:

  • Choose a quiet environment where you have excellent cell service.
  • Be prepared to answer common questions and be familiar with the company and its website.
  • Smile, even though you can’t be seen. This is proven to help with confidence, including to the listener.
  • Be sure to listen actively and take notes during the interview.
  • End the call with a thank you, and ask about next steps.
  • Follow up with a courtesy thank you email to your interviewer.

The objective of the pre-screen phone is largely practical, so be ready to respond to logistical questions about your availability to start, salary expectations, current employment status, and clinical experience.

You may also be asked a few more personal questions regarding your goals or to describe your requirements for the ideal position. Stay in the game by being ready with these details, and be concise and amiable in your answers. The pre-screener often will not have a lot of detail about the position and department you’re interviewing for, so you may need to hold some of your more in-depth questions for the next round.

2. The Traditional Interview

Okay! You made it through the pre-screen. Now you are faced with a fresh set of anxieties with the in-person nurse job interview.

This is your chance to make a first impression on a decision-maker, so take your presentation seriously. Preparation, professionalism, and a little bit of chemistry could put you at the top of the candidate pile.

Once you’re called in, if you haven’t been greeted by name, introduce yourself and thank the interviewer for seeing you. If you’re not sure how to pronounce the interviewer’s name, don’t guess, ask. Once any small talk is over, your interview will start to ask questions (for more on nurse interview questions, please skip ahead to the section below).

If you’ve done a rotation at this particular organization or facility, your interviewer will probably already be aware. Bring it up anyway. It’ll give you both something to discuss and will reinforce your fitness for the job if you’ve already been a part of their ecosystem.

After your interviewer has finished with questions, you’ll be asked if you have any questions, time permitting. This is another opportunity to come prepared. (See the questions section below.)

If you’re interviewing with another nurse, ask about their specific experience. Instead of “Do you like it here?” ask “What is it that you like most about working here?” or “What’s been your biggest challenge working here?”

Include questions that show you’ve done your homework. For example, if the facility is equipped with special technology, ask about that, or inquire about how new nurses are onboarded.

When the time comes to wrap up, don’t linger. Thank the interviewer again and reiterate your enthusiasm for the position and organization. Request their business card and ask about next steps.

3. The Panel Interview

The panel view is just what it sounds like: an interview with multiple people at once. Most of the same rules of presentation and preparation for the traditional interview apply here as well, but there are a few additional things you can do before you walk into the room to be ready:

  • Ask for the names and roles of the panelists in advance, if you can.
  • Be sure to make eye contact and connect with each interviewer so none of the panelists feels left out.
  • Ask for everyone’s business cards so you can send individual thank you emails.

4. The Virtual Interview

Nowadays, largely because of COVID-19, many interviews are conducted remotely with video technology, and this is becoming a new normal. This also happens when the interviewers are in different locations. Again, your preparation is similar to that for a traditional or panel interview (and some virtual interviews are panel interviews as well), but there is some additional setup required:

  • Make sure you have downloaded and tested whatever video software is being used for the interview.
  • Be sure your internet connection is reliable and you know how to log in.
  • Set up the space you’ll be seen in. Arrange a clean area with a background that isn’t inappropriate or distracting.
  • Position yourself where there is good lighting so you’ll be easily seen over video.
  • Wear the same professional attire you would for an in-person interview.
  • Arrange for a quiet space in which to conduct your interview.

5. The Working Interview

While more uncommon, a working interview is sometimes scheduled for professions where the supervisor may want to see your work in action. In this kind of interview you’ll be expected to perform job duties alongside or in front of the person who is interviewing you.

Because this type of interview is so different from the others, you’ll approach your preparation somewhat differently. Since you’ll be actively working, you should ask the person setting up the interview whether it is paid or not, and if it is, what the wage, hours, and expectations are. Ask for this information upfront.

Typically after this kind of interview, you’ll receive feedback and have a conversation about whether you’ll be a good fit for this team. You may be expected to share your feelings about accepting or declining the job at this time as well.

Please note: This is the one type of interview where you may observe a different dress code. If you’re expected to show up ready to work, dress accordingly.

Nurse Job Interview Questions

This part of the interview is probably the least predictable, but there is a lot you can anticipate. Some questions are almost inevitable, and you can prepare your answers in advance. We’ve provided some additional questions that may be trickier, requiring you to think on your feet. The more time you spend considering your responses to possible questions, the more relaxed you’ll be.

Let’s start with preparation for the standard questions:

Take a Self-Inventory

The interview is about you, and you should be prepared to talk quite a bit about yourself, as it pertains to the job. The best way to prepare for this is to consider your “why.” Think about the following:

  • Why did you want to become a nurse?
  • Why should you be hired?
  • Why do you want to work for this company?
  • Why do you feel you’ll be a good fit for the organization?

You may be asked these questions directly or they may be implied through other parts of the interview. Either way, these are important things for the interviewer to know about you, so make sure you’ve articulated them for yourself first.

Standard Interview Questions

There are a few questions you’re almost guaranteed to be asked, in some form. There’s no excuse not to have your answers ready for these, so have them down pat. We have provided the most-likely-to-be-asked questions below, as well as some guidance on how to respond.

Tell me about yourself.

This might sound general, but the interviewer really is asking you to summarize your background as it’s relevant to this position. Talk about your work, school, and volunteer experience. Do not talk about your children, your religion, or anything personal.

Why are you interested in joining our organization?

This is where your research of the company’s website and social media or press articles come into play. Talk about their mission and values and how it aligns with your own values, and anything you came across that sparked your interest and desire to work there.

What has been your greatest challenge with a customer or patient? What did you do to resolve it, or what was the outcome?

Share a story from a clinical rotation, work, or volunteer experience where you encountered a difficult patient or customer and how you overcame the situation. This question is an opportunity to use the STAR method in your response.

Describe your skills as a team player.

Share your willingness to assist your team. In the nursing profession, this is a key component of the job. Make it clear that you’re dedicated to team initiatives as well as the larger goals of the organization. Try to share a specific situation where you helped a coworker or adapted quickly to come in and assist.

Additional Sample Nurse Interview Questions:

The above questions are all but guaranteed. Below we’ve provided some additional questions that may or may not come up. Some of them are a little more complex, so it’s good to have an answer ready. The most important thing is to keep your answers positive. Never badmouth an old job or boss, as this will seem unprofessional and may turn off your interviewer.

  • Why are you leaving your current position or looking for a change?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Can you describe a particular nursing experience that you’re proud of?
  • What about one you would do differently?
  • How would you handle a situation where you disagreed with a supervisor or colleague?
  • How do you hope to grow in this position and what are your long-term career goals?
  • How has your experience so far informed your approach to nursing?

These are just some of the questions you might encounter, so you should also contact Career Services to request worksheets and set up a mock interview to help you prepare and rehearse.

Ask Your Own Questions

It’s equally vital that you have three to five questions prepared that you would like to ask the interviewer. Remember that this is a two-way conversation and you’re there to learn as much about them as they are you.

Here are some example questions that you can ask that might help you gain insight into the job:

What does success at the company look like? How do you measure it?

Asking this question reinforces your interest in the opportunity. It also shows you’re already thinking ahead about how you can excel in this role.

What are the day-to-day responsibilities?

You’ll want to know what will be expected of you daily if an offer is extended. What’s a day in the life at this organization?

Are the opportunities for professional development and career growth?

This is a good question to ask both for your information and to show that you’re interested in growing with the organization. Hiring a new employee is an investment, and companies like to find people they expect to stick around.

What are the next steps of the interview process?

Based on the answer to this question, you’ll have a better idea of whether there will be additional rounds of interviews and how best to follow up.

Your Closing Statement

When the time comes to wrap up, don’t linger. Practice how you’ll end your side of the interview. Your closing statement should sum up your interest in the job and your confidence that you can do it well. Use the below as a template in coming up with your closing statement:

“Thank you for making time to interview me for this role. I know my experience and accomplishments can provide value. I am thrilled about the prospect of working in this position and being part of a highly reputable team.”

Write and memorize your own version of the above, in your words. This is your last chance to leave an impression on your interviewer, so keep it courteous, professional, and warm. And don’t forget to request a business card before you leave.

Thank You Notes

Within 24 hours after your interview, it’s essential to follow up with a simple thank you, by email or physical letter. This is not just a courtesy–some employers may think less of candidates who fail to follow up promptly.

The purpose of a thank you letter is to restate:

  • What job you interviewed for
  • Why you want the job
  • What your qualifications are
  • How you might contribute

Be sure to thank the person with whom you met again for their time and the opportunity to be considered. If you can, try to include something specific that came up in conversation so it’s clear you took the information home with you, and offer to send anything additional upon request.

If you follow all of the tips above and come to your interview prepared and polished, you’ll be well-positioned to get a nursing job offer. Remember, a great nursing position will get a lot of qualified applicants, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t get the response you want right away. Put your best foot forward every time and treat each appointment as an opportunity to hone your nurse job interview skills.

And don’t forget to engage WCU Career Services to take advantage of interview prep resources. Career Services can help you craft your compile your interview portfolio, provide you with preparation sheets, and conduct a mock interview. We’re here to help you make a great impression that will help you obtain a new position.

WCU provides career guidance and assistance but cannot guarantee employment. The views and opinions expressed are those of the individuals and do not necessarily reflect the beliefs or position of the school or of any instructor or student.