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Are you ready for your job interview?

Smith, Linda S. DSN, MS, RN, CLNC

doi: 10.1097/01.NURSE.0000369868.98304.4f

Don't try to wing it. Follow this advice to prepare yourself beforehand and land that dream job.

Linda S. Smith is a professor of nursing at Idaho State University in Pocatello, Idaho, and a member of the Nursing2010 editorial board.

A NEW AND CHALLENGING nursing position posted on a local hospital's website has caught your eye. Because it sounds like your dream job, you applied. Now you've been invited to an on-site interview, followed by a team interview with potential colleagues.

To present yourself positively and improve your chances of landing the position, take time beforehand to prepare for the interview and the questions you're likely to be asked. This article will explain how.

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Before the interview

First, conduct careful research about the position and facility using sources such as the facility's website, its library, and employees you know. Then learn all you can about the interviewers.

A team interview may take place in addition to a one-on-one interview with the manager or supervisor. Team evaluations are especially important when a candidate might become an integral member of an established work group.

Consider how your skills and strengths will complement the work team and unit. What's the impression you want to give? What do you want them to know about you and your work habits? How will your skills and talents meet the employer's needs?

Also consider which of your skills can benefit the mission of the facility.1 For example, if the facility's mission includes community outreach for expectant parents, mention your certification as a lactation consultant and your willingness to teach outreach classes. Expect to ask some questions at the interview. (See Be prepared with your own questions.)

One great way to prepare for an interview is to briefly list your demonstrated problem-solving skills, relevant experiences, work ethic, team collaboration, and professional commitment to quality nursing. Show these skills through brief anecdotes, items from your portfolio, professional references, evaluations, or skill measures, such as certifications and performance reviews.

If possible, ask a trusted friend to perform a mock interview with you, asking sample questions you're likely to be asked at the interview. (See Can you answer these questions?) Then ask for a frank critique of your performance.

Be prepared to answer a negative question, such as "What's your greatest weakness?," as positively as you can. For example, you could say, "I'm not quite as fast at documenting as some people because I'm very careful and thorough."

Ask if you'll be having any testing at the interview and then prepare accordingly. (See Will you be tested?)

Be ready for the possibility that the interviewer will query your salary and benefits requirements. To be prepared, learn the salary range ahead of time, think through your needs, and consider a fair wage and benefit range based on the position description.



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Presenting a good image

Think carefully about the first impression you'll convey. Conservative, professional attire is best. Avoid choices (such as excessive jewelry or makeup for women or aftershave for men) that could be distracting to your interviewers.

Get enough sleep so you'll arrive rested and full of energy. If you can, drive to the site ahead of time so you don't get lost on the interview day and arrive late or frazzled.

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The big day

Plan to arrive about 15 minutes ahead of schedule. Bring your resume and portfolio with you, along with names, addresses, and phone numbers of references and employment and education facilities. Turn off your cell phone before your interviews. Don't smoke, smell of smoke, or chew gum.

During the interview, sit up straight. Make appropriate eye contact, smile, and show professional respect and friendship to each person you meet. A firm handshake is also appropriate. Avoid rambling statements or criticizing former colleagues or employers.

Consider how your nonverbal behaviors will look to a future employer. For example, if you cross your arms in front of you each time you feel challenged, the employer may "read" this behavior as a closed or defensive response to questions. If you click your pen when you're stressed, consider ways to avoid this behavior.

The interviewer may try to put you at ease with informal conversation and small talk at first.2 Listen carefully to the questions asked and respond in an open, friendly manner. If a question is vague or confusing, ask for clarification before you respond. Your answers should be complete but concise—shorter than 2 minutes.

By law, employers shouldn't ask you questions unrelated to the position and your ability to perform it. For instance, they can't ask you about your religion, race, or marital or family status.3

Now's the time to ask your own questions about the facility and position to determine whether it's a good fit for you. Don't bring up salary or benefits at the interview. It's best to wait until you've been offered the position to discuss salary.

As the interview process comes to a close, instead of an offer, expect to learn the date when a decision is likely to be made and how you'll be notified. If the interviewer doesn't mention it, ask for this information. Employers will need time to consult with the team, check your references, and interview other candidates.

Within 24 hours of the interview, send a thank-you letter (preferably) or an e-mail, even if you've changed your mind about the position. But if you're still interested in the position, be sure to express your interest. Use this opportunity to reinforce how and why you're qualified for the position.

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The end of the day

If you've prepared well and you're a good fit for the position, you may receive an offer. And if not, this employer may keep you in mind for future openings. Be sure to be gracious if you don't get the job so that they'll consider you for the next opening. At the very least, you're more prepared for the next interview, so no matter how you look at it, you've come out ahead.

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Be prepared with your own questions

In addition to asking for a copy of the job description and organizational chart, you could ask your interviewer some of these questions:

  • What would make this nursing position satisfying for me?
  • How will this position facilitate my goal of ... (cross-training, career advancement, committee work)?
  • What are the nurse/patient ratios (each shift) in the unit where I'll work and in the total facility?
  • What's your new employee orientation/internship/residency program?
  • What's your career ladder program and policy?
  • To whom would I report?
  • Can you show me your management structure?
  • What's the relationship among professionals of different disciplines (respiratory, pharmacy, medicine, dietary)?
  • Are continuing-education (CE) programs available through the facility?
  • What's your reimbursement policy for external CE programs, certification, or nursing classes?
  • Who's the team (licensed versus unlicensed staff, team-member qualifications)?
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Can you answer these questions?

Prepare for open-ended questions such as:

  • Why do you want to leave your present job?
  • Why are you right for this position?
  • What are your strengths? What are your weaknesses?
  • Why did you choose to be a nurse?
  • What did you like about (your previous job, the school from which you graduated)?
  • What aspect of your (alma mater, former employment) did you like the least?
  • How do you handle your on-the-job stress?
  • What do patients expect from nurses?
  • What's the difference between mediocre and excellent when it comes to nursing care?
  • How have you solved challenging nursing problems? Or, describe a challenging situation and how you managed it.
  • What do you know about this facility (position) and how do you think you'd fit within our philosophy and mission?
  • How have you demonstrated your ability to perform as a team member and team player?
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Will you be tested?

Besides sharing information orally, you may face test assessments and measurements. For example, you may be asked to write an essay on a health-related topic to assess your grammar, writing, thinking, and organizational skills. You may also be asked to complete a timed dosage calculations exam or an additional personality and aptitude test. Review your "med-math" before the interview, and don't let test anxiety paralyze your performance.

Although specific demonstrations are often scheduled after the interview as a condition of employment, expect to be asked to describe safe moving and lifting competence. You may be asked questions about patient safety, such as how to safely administer medications, and about your own moving and lifting abilities.

Review your state's nurse practice act as well as national and state standards for your specialty area.

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1. McNary ME. For a successful job interview. Momentum. 2008. Spring:1(2):60–61.
2. Raisbeck E. Measure up to the job. Nurs Stand. 2008;23(7):72.
3. Handling inappropriate interview questions. Nursing. 2006;36(Suppl 1):19.
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Bennett AM. Creating a professional portfolio. Nursing. 2008;38(9):63.
LaMaster MA, Larsen RA. Prepare for a behavioral interview, then ace it! Nursing. 2010;40(1 Suppl):8, 10.
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