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Interview questions you should ask


Increase your chances of making a good match by asking questions that will help you learn before you leap.

Create a two-way interview by asking as well as answering questions.

AFTER ALMOST 10 YEARS at one hospital, Frances Elroy was looking for a new job. She knew that she was a good nurse with a lot to offer, but the prospect of facing her first interview in 10 years filled her with dread. Arriving for her appointment with a nurse recruiter, Frances soon found herself reeling off answers to the recruiter's questions and trying to remember what she'd said. When the recruiter asked her if she had any questions, she was caught by surprise and said, “No, thanks.” But as she walked out of the hospital after the interview, she wondered what she should have asked about.

What would you have done in that situation? Asked a few quick questions to confirm some points the recruiter made? Well, you'd be missing the same opportunity Frances did to make her interview a two-way process that would have left her more informed about the place where she wanted to work. The next time you go for a job interview, use this list of questions that every nurse should ask.

  1. What's the nursing department's mission statement and philosophy? How does the department put its values into practice? For example, if patient and family education are important elements, how do nurses teach patients and families? What resources are available for patient education?
  2. Who makes decisions about the number and type of staff in the units? Asking about patient acuity and staffing levels can yield some helpful information. But knowing who makes such decisions tells you even more, such as the power of the nursing department and its status within the organization. Ask who makes decisions about unit staffing—the unit nurse-manager and staff, or people who have little knowledge about professional nursing practice?
  3. Who makes the final decision about hiring new staff? In some organizations, the human resources department or a nurse recruiter (who may or may not be a nurse) decides who's hired. In others, the nurse-manager decides. In either case, ask for an interview with the nurse-manager, a tour of the unit, and a chance to meet with staff.
  4. What education opportunities are available for staff nurses? What opportunities are available on-site? Does the organization reimburse for continuing-education programs to maintain certification? How easily can nurses get time off to attend a conference or workshop off-site? What's the procedure for doing so? Does the organization have tuition reimbursement programs for nurses wishing to pursue advanced education? If so, what's the payback agreement?
  5. Do master's-prepared clinical nurse specialists, nurse practitioners, and nurse-researchers work here? If so, you'll know that the organization is committed to quality nursing practice. Ask how these clinicians interact with staff nurses.
  6. What nursing care delivery systems or models are used? What model is used in the unit where you might be working? If the answer is primary nursing, ask for details. Terms can and do mean different things at different facilities, so make sure you understand what people are telling you.
  7. What input do staff nurses have into decisions about nursing practice issues in the unit? Do they have input into unit changes that affect nursing care?
  8. On what committees (organizational as well as nursing) do staff nurses serve? Answers reveal much about the organization's belief in professional nursing practice, as well as the nursing service department's structure and its position in the organization.
  9. What are the strengths and limitations of the unit in which you may be working, as well as those of nursing service and the organization? Nurse-managers and human resources personnel often ask prospective employees about their strengths and limitations, where they see themselves in 5 years, and how they'd respond to hypothetical situations involving patients. Use the same techniques. For example, ask the nurse-manager of the unit for which you're interviewing where she sees the unit being in a year or so. Ask her to respond to some hypothetical situations. For example, if a family compliments the nurse-manager on a staff nurse's performance, how does she respond? Or if a physician complains about a staff nurse's persistence in clarifying an order, how would she handle it?
  10. What's the nature and duration of hospital and unit orientation? If the unit is short-staffed, will your orientation be cut short? Will you have a preceptor? If you work night shift, what resources will be available? For example, who's available to help you assess a patient's condition and intervene appropriately?

Two more points for your consideration: When appropriate, ask several people the same question. Don't be surprised if you get different answers that leave you wondering what really does happen. For example, the nurse recruiter may tell you that staff nurses make out the staffing schedule in the units, but staff nurses in the unit may tell you a central staffing planner does it. Explain to the second person that you got a different impression from someone else and ask her to clarify it.

Don't worry that asking questions and seeking clarification will jeopardize a potential job offer. After all, do you really want to be employed where employees act as if they have something to hide? A nursing department worth its salt will be impressed with you because you're interviewing them!

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“Interview Questions You Should Ask,” American Nursing Student, E. McConnell, January/February 2002.
    © 2004 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.