7 Common Nursing Interview Questions (and How to Answer Them)

Wherever you’re applying as a nurse, be it to a hospital or a nursing home, it pays to come prepared to your nursing job interview.

Making sure you’re prepared and arriving on the day of the interview armed with knowledge about your organisation, the people in it and what the role will require of you is already half the battle.

But an interview is, most of all, a test – a test of your skills, a test of your experience, and a test of you as a person. And like any test in life, preparing beforehand to answer the questions that are likely to come up gives you a massive leg up when it comes to acing your answers and passing with flying colours.

We’ve already discussed in detail various tips and tricks to get you ready for your interview elsewhere. Here, we’ve outlined questions that you are likely to be asked in your interview, and our recommendations for how best to answer them.

Why Do You Want This Job?

Although this sounds like you’re being asked for your personal motivations for applying to this particular nursing role, what the hiring manager actually wants to hear when they ask you this question is what makes you the best candidate for the position.

Call upon your skills and experience and how they directly relate to the role as outlined in the job description, framing them as reasons that this particular position stood out to you and made you confident in your ability to meet its challenges. Discuss your passion for nursing and the energy and excitement you bring to what you do every day, showcasing your empathy and how you prioritise patient care above all.

Of course, having established that your unique skills profile is what they’re looking for, absolutely flavour your answer with references to more personal reasons for the application. If this is a nursing position in another country, you can express your desire to travel or see more of the world.

Use this as a chance to show off your knowledge of the organisation and its unique culture and values, explaining how you have a personal interest in the work they’re doing and are very excited to be involved.

What you should be wary of, however, is mentioning salary or benefits at this point in the interview. This can adversely impact your chances in the eyes of the interview panel and is a conversation better reserved for deeper into the process.

Tell Me a Time You Dealt With a Difficult Patient or Family Member.

Unfortunately, as you probably already know, dealing with difficult people is part and parcel of your responsibilities as a nurse.

What this question wants to know is whether you have the temperament to deal with these conflicts, should they arise, in a calm and rational manner. It’s important here not to speak negatively of the person or people involved in your example. Your primary goal here is to demonstrate empathy, and show that you understand the patient’s (or their family members’) frustration while adhering strictly to protocol and ensuring that their needs were addressed.

Don’t be afraid to own up to mistakes. What’s important is not so much that a mistake was made in the first place, but the actions you took to make the situation right, and what you learned from the experience as a result. This will also demonstrate your honesty and your strength of character in taking responsibility for shortcomings in patient care. These things happen, and being able to move past it and rectify the situation delivers far better patient outcomes than attempting to cover it up.

Remember, as with most of these direct, scenario-based questions, to make use of the STAR method that we outlined in our Nursing Interview Tips post to properly outline and contextualise the situation and the actions you took to address it.

Describe a Situation Where You Resolved Conflict With a Co-Worker?

This question has a similar format to the last one, only with the focus now being on your co-workers instead of a difficult patient.

Conflict is normal in the workplace. In a setting as high-stakes and stressful as nursing, it is almost guaranteed. What your hiring manager wants to know, much like before, is that you can deal with these incidents should they occur in a calm and collected manner, prioritising patient outcomes and quality of care.

Remember the STAR method, once again, when structuring your response. Explain the situation and the context for the dispute, detailing what you did to handle it and, most importantly, what lessons you learned from it that can help you deal positively with such an incident in future. Whatever you do, don’t badmouth your co-worker; this is a chance to show personal growth, not air dirty laundry.

As well as demonstrating your ability to remain calm and collected in the face of interpersonal adversity, this is also a chance to showcase your knowledge of and adherence to proper procedures. If the dispute with a colleague you are highlighting took place over a question of patient care or protocol, you can fortify your answer with references to your medical knowledge to really drive your suitability for the role home.

Do You Work Well With Your Colleagues?

The flipside to questioning how you deal with negative interactions with your colleagues is how you work positively with them.

This is all about your personability and teamworking skills. Once again calling on the STAR method, you want to use this opportunity to showcase a time you and your co-workers had to work together to accomplish a task, and how you managed to do this using your skills and experience to achieve a positive outcome.

Whether you were taking charge in this particular example or simply pitching in or following instructions doesn’t matter so much as your ability to demonstrate that you can work and play well with others.

Avoid saying anything negative about your colleagues in this example and highlight your interpersonal skills, making sure to illustrate how the actions you took collectively followed protocol and accomplished the goal of prioritising patient care (if applicable to your example).

Describe a Time You Went Above and Beyond in Care for a Patient.

This can be a bit of a curveball if you haven’t prepped some examples beforehand, but in reality, this can be a great opportunity to shine, if you’ve prepared your answer beforehand. This is a chance for you to show off a little, demonstrating your stellar bedside manner and ability to do whatever it takes to deliver on a patient’s needs.

In answering this question there is of course the immediate response to consider. Do you have one or two examples of times when you did indeed go above and beyond when caring for a patient? Fall back on the trusty STAR method here to properly structure and illustrate your answer.

But don’t shy away from taking pride in your accomplishments here, too. Any special accolades you may have received thanks to your hard work, any awards you’ve picked up over the course of your career, be sure to take time to mention these as well.

As before, spend some time detailing the circumstances and actions you took that led you to earning those accolades, making a point to highlight your skills, experience and attention to proper procedure.

How Do You Handle Workplace Stress?

Nursing is a stressful occupation, there’s nothing wrong with admitting that in your interview. What’s important is that you can also demonstrate a resiliency to mental exhaustion and burnout, and keep pushing even when the pressure builds up.

When an interview panel asks how you tackle workplace stress, they’re looking for some signs that you are cognisant of the challenges involved in nursing and in managing the stress from your day job.

There is no right answer here – you won’t be penalised for choosing to relax with a nice bubble bath over, let’s say, filling out a sudoku puzzle or playing games on your phone – but the interviewer wants to hear that you’ve made the connections in your mind to how your self-care habits, your ways of calming down and chilling out, impact on your mental state and ability to keep moving on a 12-hour shift.

Feel free to get personal with this one and exhibit a little bit of your personality. A job interview is as much about ensuring that your character is a fit for the workplace as is your skillset, so by all means show off a bit of your personal side and talk about what makes you happy. Be that your hobbies, your exercise routine, reading a book after a shift to unwind, taking your dog for a walk…how you choose to deal with workplace stress is yours and yours alone, but your ability to do so and to demonstrate how doing so improve your mental capacity for the tough job ahead is what makes you a better nurse.

How Do You Prioritise Tasks with a Busy Workload While Maintaining Standards of Patient Care?

The truth is, as you already know, there’s never enough time in a shift to accomplish everything that needs doing. Your would-be employer knows that, too, so it’s of particular interest to them how you deal with that reality and what you do to prioritise your ever-growing list of tasks on a day-to-day basis.

In nursing, of course, patient care is your utmost priority. It must be at the forefront of every decision you make, and this includes how you decide to allocate time to tasks.

Be sure to detail your approach to time management, prioritising urgent tasks and allowing tasks you’d simply like to do to filter down the list. As you do so, remember to explain how your decisions and actions constantly reinforce your objective of delivering excellent patient care.

Have Your Own Questions Ready

Taking the time to prepare ahead of an interview makes every bit of difference, not just by forearming you with answers to likely questions but by helping to build your confidence. Feeling better in yourself and what you’ve come to the interview to do will inspire better answers, a more positive attitude and a friendlier demeanour.

All of these things will help you on your road to nursing interview success!

We’ve taken the time here to detail the questions that are likely to be asked of you in your nursing job interview. But what about questions you should ask of the interview panel?

At some point in the interview, it is likely that the interviewer will ask if you have any questions for them. Don’t be caught off guard – we’ve prepared yet another handy list of useful questions to have in your back pocket, ready to go!

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