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2005 Career Guide

The Winning Job Interview: Do your homework.

Puetz, Belinda E. PhD, RN

Author Information
AJN, American Journal of Nursing: 2005 - Volume 105 - Issue - p 30-32

In Brief

You’ve found the ideal position, one apparently custom-made for you. Whether online, in a journal, magazine, or newspaper, or by word of mouth, you’ve discovered what you believe to be the job perfectly suited to your knowledge, experience, and skills in nursing––in teaching or management or on a nursing staff. Now you must proceed to the next and crucial step in obtaining the position: the interview.

The prospect of a job interview can intimidate even the most seasoned of nurses. Of course, few people relish being put on the spot and made to feel insecure, both of which commonly occur during job interviews. But preparedness can help a great deal in making the experience less threatening and even enjoyable. The process, however, entails some preparation.



Before the job interview, learn as much as you can about the possible employer by contacting former or current employees, consulting the employer’s Web site, and reading newspapers and business journals published in the employer’s city or state. Take plenty of notes, and then identify two or three points to inquire about during the interview, such as the following:

  • Is the facility applying for Magnet status?
  • Has there been recent expansion at the facility?
  • Is the employer trying a new product line?

These are examples of points you can raise to impress the interviewer favorably, but be sure to have accurate information and review your notes directly before the meeting. Once the interview is scheduled, find out who will conduct it and request materials such as the employer’s annual report and strategic plan, and of course, a full description of the position.

Learn about the person who will interview you: is it the director of human resources or the chief nursing officer? Practice pronouncing the interviewer’s name correctly—upon introduction, you’ll have only one chance to get it right.

If you learn from the recruiter, or whoever arranged the interview, that a group of people will conduct the interview, you might benefit by acting out, in advance, a likely scenario, particularly if it’s your first interview. Ask a group of colleagues to act as your interviewers, asking questions such as “What do you know about this position?” and “Why would you like to work here?” Afterward, ask for comments about your performance. The confidence you display and your ready ability to respond to questions can be of great value to you. Even if yours is to be a one-to-one interview, such planning can help you to be at ease during it.

A word about dressing for the interview: you won’t have a second chance to make a good first impression, so dress in a businesslike manner. Traditional dress is the most appropriate at an interview for employment; a dark two-piece, matched suit often is recommended as a safe and conservative approach for both men and women.


Be on time, or even a few minutes early, for the appointment. Bring additional copies of your résumé, a notebook and pen, and a list of references. Be sure that you’ve prepared the individuals on this list: have permission to use their names and know that they’re willing to comment on your professional performance.

Greet the interviewer with a firm handshake, look her directly in the eye, and hand her a copy of your résumé, so that she won’t have to search for it if it’s not at hand. Maintain eye contact throughout the interview; don’t let your eyes wander, even though you may be tempted to take in the setting. If the interviewer notices that you are looking around while she is reading your résumé, for example, you may appear to be either disinterested or intrusive. Making and maintaining eye contact conveys confidence and honesty—two qualities that will be viewed as assets.

If you’re offered a drink, accept it. While you might think that handling a cup or glass is the last thing you need to do during an interview, you might use the time spent sipping on a beverage to consider your response to a question, or simply to pause while you regroup.

As the interviewer speaks, smile and nod occasionally, but avoid bobbing the head. Sit upright and when asked a question, respond forthrightly, but be mindful of not interrupting. You’re at the interview to sell yourself and your skills, so appear to be enthusiastic. Laughter is acceptable; generally, employers seek employees with whom they can get along and who act in a manner thought to be collegial. Your responses to questions can demonstrate that quality.

Remember to breathe normally. Anxiety can cause you to hold your breath, exacerbating anxiety, but inhaling and exhaling normally will help you to be calm and confident.


Interviews generally begin with “lead-in” questions, such as “Will you tell me a little about yourself?” When each is proposed, listen carefully and be sure that you understand what is being asked. Ask for clarification, if necessary. Pause to develop your response, and go directly to the point, without extraneous details unless they are asked for. Be candid, but don’t offer unsolicited information. Offer a brief description of the position you most recently held and of your professional skills and training. Don’t offer personal information, concerning your hobbies or interests, for example, unless asked for it.

Be prepared to respond to typical interview questions, such as “Where would you hope to find yourself in five, 10, or 15 years?” “What is your ultimate career goal?” or “Why do you want to leave your current job?” Rehearse answers to those questions, as well as to others such as “In which areas do you most need to improve?” “What is your greatest weakness?” or “If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?” When responding, always accentuate your skills and strengths, without acknowledging personal weakness—“I often find that the high expectations I have of myself compel me to work extra hard,” for example. Further, consistently represent yourself as one who solves problems, not creates them.

You may be presented with a scenario to which you are asked to respond. In such an instance, answer with a focus on the positive approaches that you would take. Be prepared to describe situations in which you have encountered success—or failure—and both what you learned from the experiences and how you might do things differently in the future.

You might be asked difficult questions, such as “Why should we hire you?” “Are you looking for other positions?” and “Because you don’t have some of the experience, skills, or educational background we’re looking for, shouldn’t I wonder what it is that makes you a good candidate for the position?” Answer with a focus on your particular and pertinent skills and experience. If those don’t emerge from your employment history, be prepared to describe a problem that you encountered in college or in a social setting, and how you analyzed and solved it.

Remember, too, that communication in an interview is reciprocal. You may propose questions of your own––“What are the greatest problems faced by this unit?” “What would you expect me to accomplish at this job?” or “What are some of the accomplishments of others holding the same position?” But ask them after pausing to take a breath or a sip of your drink, so that you don’t seem defensive.

Consider, too, asking the interviewer about himself—for example “What do you like best about working here?” and “Why did you accept a position here?” Generally, people like to talk about themselves. But don’t ask such questions if the interviewer inquires, “Do you have any questions?” The ones to propose at that point should focus on the position, the employer, or the industry, such as, “What are the three challenges the person taking this position will be faced with in the first 100 days?”

If you provide an inappropriate answer at any time, remain calm and state that you’re nervous (that is expected and will be forgiven). Then begin again. Don’t dwell on the mistake or apologize more than once for it. Appear confident, even if you’re not.

The discussion of salary at a job interview presents a difficulty, and it’s best not to be the one to raise the issue of remuneration. But if you’re asked what salary you expect, be prepared to respond in asking the range allotted to the position, then state that you expect the salary to be within it. Avoid naming a specific monetary figure until you are offered the position.

In a group interview, look directly at the person asking the question and direct your response to him. Avoid looking around the table at others who may be preparing their own questions or who may for another reason not be attentive, which may distract you. Address each person by name. Make a drawing of the meeting table and mark the attendees’ names on it so that you can more easily address each one. Remember that there are no standard responses to interview questions; choose the one that’s most clear and pertinent, and that casts the best possible light on you.

If you are asked to bring samples of your work to the interview, ask which types would be most helpful and then select those that reflect your best efforts. If applying for a managerial position, consider bringing a sample of a budget or published article that you’ve written. If applying for a staff position, consider bringing a sample of a patient care plan. And if applying for a position as an educator, consider bringing a continuing education course or a lecture outline. In each instance, be sure that the confidentiality of patients involved has been withheld.

Conclude the interview by stating that you’re very interested in the position, and ask about the next steps in the application process.


Later on the day of the interview, send a letter thanking the interviewer and stating that you enjoyed the meeting and that you’d be very pleased to be considered for the position. Include a note that involves the interviewer personally; for example: “The information that you provided me about the hospital makes me even more eager to work there.” In the case of a group interview, send a different note to each participant. Although e-mail communication will suffice, a personal note on a card or on business stationery with letterhead is preferable.

Unless the interviewer suggested otherwise, if you don’t receive a response within a week, telephone to inquire whether there’s any additional information that you can provide to assist in the consideration of your application. If the hiring decision hasn’t been made, ask when it is expected to be, then pursue the matter again on that proposed date.

Telephone several times, if necessary; persistence shows interest and commitment. Sometimes such decisions become delayed, and the continued demonstration of your interest could secure the position.

© 2005 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.