RN Interview Tips and Advice
After spending days or weeks perfecting the resume and hours filling out online applications it will feel exhilarating to have an invitation to interview!
But before the Big Day it's important to spend some time preparing both mentally and physically.
The interview is all about first impressions. The very first impression a unit manager will retain is how the new graduate presents him or herself.
Guidelines for interview attire:
- A skirt or pant suit with jacket and button down collared shirt or blouse
- Skirts or dresses should be knee length
- Avoid flashy colors or patterns
- Heels should be low or wear flats, no open toes
- Pantyhose for skirts or dresses
- No cleavage exposure
- No visible tattoos or piercings
- Natural hair color
- Earrings should be studs or no bigger than dime sized
- Necklace should be simple
- Handbag should be neutral
- No perfume or mild use of perfume
- Fingernails should be short and without chips in polish
- A suit is preferred with jacket and button down collared shirt
- Pants and jacket should match, if they are not a suit
- Tie is optional but when in doubt, wear it
- Avoid bright colors or patterns, keep it simple
- Black or brown socks, avoid wearing white socks with dark dress shoes
- Black or brown dress shoes
- Avoid exposing tattoos or piercings
- Natural hair color and neat haircut
- Avoid wearing earrings
- Mild cologne or none at all
- Neat and natural fingernails
General rules of thumb for interview attire is to keep it simple, error on the side of dressy versus casual, and avoid being flashy. Keep colors simple and body parts covered. The impression should be made that you look the part of a professional unit nurse and will not offend patients, family members or staff of diverse backgrounds, not to mention the actual interviewer. While the current trend may be for the RN to have purple streaks in his or her hair this will likely offend. Best to go for natural and professional.
Nursing schools have a way of molding students into humble and gracious new graduate nurses. Perhaps it's the stringent schedules, strict instructors, and high GPA demands or the overwhelming feeling many nursing students have once clinicals have begun. But most nursing students feel ecstatic to have finished school but at the same time inadequate and scared to death! This is good! This is the impression a brand new nursing graduate should make on an interviewer and maintain during the orientation and internship. Because, let's be honest, a nursing graduate knows enough to be safe with patients on a basic level and knows the basics of the body and diseases, but the real learning hasn't even begun.
Interviewers know, full well, that nursing students (no matter how amazing the GPA, how fantastic the references, and how glorious the school!) are not equipped to work independently on unit. No matter the specialty the new nurse graduate needs training and often 6 months or more of full-time training.
The only way a new nurse can be taught is if he or she is willing, eager, and understands his or her limitations. In attitude, body language, and overall presentation of oneself it is of utmost importance to portray this humble impression to the interviewer.
The absolute worst kind of new graduate nurse to hire and train is the cocky, know-it-all, smartypants type. We all know this type. It's one thing to study hard and be confident but it is quite another for a brand new nurse to think he or she is smarter and more knowledgeable than the person trying to teach them and arguing with information.
A novice nurse absolutely must keep a humble and open minded. No matter what he or she learned in school it is just not the same as working in real world. And a nurse with a bad attitude will simply not last in a new unit even if they manage to get themselves hired.
So before the interview, be sure the attitude is humble, gracious for any opportunity to learn from such smart nurses and physicians, and ready to fill the brain with new knowledge and experiences.
Once the outfit is chosen, hair is done, and attitude is adjusted, be sure to:
- Arrive early, it's important to be about 10 minutes early for an interview, this demonstrates eagerness and punctuality, as well as a respect for the interviewer's time
- Make eye contact, this demonstrates confidence and attentiveness, as well as good social skills
- Smile with both eyes and mouth, avoid fake smiles
- Sit forward in the chair, women should cross legs either at knee or ankle
- Keep answers on point and focused to the question
- Avoid using profanity and slang
- Bring a copy of your resume if you have prior work experience. Read more RN resume advice
Many types of nursing interviews are possible. Either the new graduate will sit in a big room with many interviewers and maybe some other members of the team all asking questions, one interviewer will read from a list of questions and write down responses, or an interviewer will loosely follow the script but mostly be trying to get an understanding of who the new graduate is as a person and who they will be as a nurse for the facility, or any variation.
The basic bottom line is no matter what type of interview it is, smile often, be polite, be yourself but keep it professional, and attempt to present yourself as an eager, brilliant, professional, and polite new graduate nurse.
The new graduate nurse has a unique advantage to an experienced nurse. The new graduate can not be quizzed during an interview on technical skills he or she has not yet learned but is expected to be eager and willing to learn new skills, be punctual and have good attendance, and be disciplined enough to not quit, even if it's tough. The new graduate should offer an image of these things as well as offer any evidence of such behavior during previous work and clinical experiences.
While there are many questions a facility may ask a new graduate here are some potential questions and approaches to answering them. Review and think about how to answer these questions prior to the interview. Come up with a handful of situations which could be useful to answer variations of these questions honestly. These are just examples of types of questions.
1. Tell me about a situation where you made a mistake and how did you fix it?
Making mistakes is fine, they want to know your thought process on fixing the mistake. Were you honest? Did you follow policy or admit if you didn't? Did you follow the chain-of-command and tell a supervisor, if appropriate? Did you have appropriate remorse? Did you take the right steps to minimize damages and make it right?
2. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? In 2 years?
This questions demonstrates long and short-term career and personal goals. The interviewer wants to find out if your aspirations fit within the facilities goals. They want to see how career and family-oriented you are. If you aspire to continue education and certifications, mention it here and relate it to the position for which you are applying.
3. Tell me about a way in which you "made a someone's day."
Bringing hope and happiness to a patient's day is part of nursing and some nurses are better at this than others. Demonstrate to the interviewer that you delight in bringing joy to others and truly feel an ethical responsibility to go above and beyond the call of duty to do this. Think of a situation where you did this and have it ready, just in case.
4. Why did you choose to become a RN?
Best to answer this question honestly but avoid saying anything about money or family pressure. Feeling a "soul's calling" is sometimes a true and appropriate response for nurses or having cared for a sick family member and felt deeply satisfied by being able to help them when they needed you most.
Tell me about a situation where a family, patient, or colleague was difficult to deal with and how did you respond?
5. The interviewer wants to understand how anger or frustration affect your behavior.
They want to know if you can remain a professional and not react negatively to another person's craziness. Did you demonstrate good communication skills? Did you treat them with respect even if it was hard to do so? Were you able to deescalate the situation? Did you ask for help if needed? It's important not to speak about the crazy person or people in a judgemental way. Empathy is a good attitude for this question.
6. Tell me about a time you were greatly challenged and wanted to quit.
The new position will be challenging and the interviewer want to understand if you will stick with it or give up. Nursing school likely has good examples of a time you felt like quitting but didn't and now feel such a sense of accomplishment that you're so glad you stuck it out. Be honest about your situation and talk about the emotions you felt but knew there was a need to persevere because nursing is so important to you, or whatever the truth may be.
7. What are your strengths?
This questions offers a great opportunity to discuss your best qualities, if possible, try to gear it towards the position you are interviewing for. During clinicals were you great at time management? End of life comfort care? Memorizing and applying new information? Being a ray of sunshine for a lonely patient?
8. What are your weaknesses?
Every person has weaknesses and the interviewers want to understand how yours could affect the kind of nurse you are. Make weaknesses sound like strengths, if possible. For example, if you are a perfectionist you might drive yourself a little nuts being sure tasks are done correctly and beautifully (something small maybe, such as wound care dressings having to be perfect) or being punctual to a fault.
9. Do you work best with a team or alone?
Most nursing jobs require teamwork and cooperation. Saying something about how you always learn something from others when you work together on a project or how you love asking questions to people smarter than you may be an honest answer.
10. What would you do if you saw a colleague do something you know is wrong, such as steal, lie, cheat, break policy, or put a patient at risk?
While this question sounds a little tricky because you're not sure if "tattle-tailing" is a good answer, remember that an employee who is breaking policy or putting someone at risk is never in the right. Pledge your allegiance to company policy and how you feel an ethical obligation to report any bad behavior ASAP.
Asking questions during the interview portrays an image of interest and shows that the new graduate is prepared and has really thought the position through. Here are 5 suggested questions to ask during the interview.
1. What are the immediate and long-term goals of the unit?
This can be geared differently for the type of unit and facility the RN is applying for. A large teaching hospital is always doing research projects and they need participants who want to help. Demonstrate an interest in helping, if you can, and offering outside time to do so.
2. Please tell me about the leadership team. What are their expectations for new graduate and experienced nurses?
You're demonstrating an understanding of how the facility is structured and a keen interest in abiding by these expectations. Hospitals tend to have leadership teams of nurses which create committees and set standards for non-leadership nurses. Smaller facilities may not have a team but should have some sort of nursing leadership in place.
3. How is the training program for new graduate nurses structured?
If this hasn't been explained already be sure to ask about the training program. Is it a good mix of classroom and preceptorship? If you aren't comfortable when the program is over will you be allowed a longer preceptorship? Who is assigned to train new graduates?
4. Might there be an opportunity for advancement down the road?
The key to this questions is showing that you want to work really hard and do extracurricular activities for the facility because you are so eager to learn and grow as a nurse and not to seem like you think you're too good or don't want the position you are applying for. In a hospital setting, asking about qualifying to be a charge nurse may be a good approach since charge nurses usually have bedside shifts as well. Most bedside nurses don't like being charge nurses so the interviewer may appreciate this enthusiasm.
5. Please tell me about the scheduling requirements and patient ratios.
How many weekends will be required? If starting on night shift and wanting to move to days, how long might that take? Be sure this doesn't sound like working you are unwilling to work nights or weekends. A new graduate should be willing to work any shift at any time to get in the door of a great job. And, if the state does not have patient-to-nurse ratio laws does the facility have a policy on this?
Saying the right thing is just as important as not saying the wrong thing. Choosing the right words can make or break an interview. Here are some questions to avoid during an interview.
1. Will there be a drug test?
This leads the interviewers to think the new graduate may not pass a drug test. The answer, by the way, for any nursing job, is ‘yes, there will be a drug test.
2. How soon can I put in a request for time off?
Avoid anything like this during the interview. You will find out all these processes and more during orientation. Unless you are getting married or have a funeral you can't miss, plan on working whenever they want you to for at least the orientation and internship.
3. Did I get the job?
Often the interviewer doesn't know the answer to this question as he or she has likely not decided on the spot or is not the decision-maker. Also avoid asking if further interviews are required. Be patient. The facility will let you know.
4. Will you hire my nursing school friends?
If you are hired and are officially an employee, have your unemployed nursing school friends apply with your name as a reference. Until then, hope and pray that you, yourself, become employed.
5. Where and when can employees smoke?
Cigarette smoking, including electronic cigarettes, is prohibited on just about every hospital campus. Staff who smoke usually walk across the street from the hospital. Smaller facilities may have different rules but these will become apparent during orientation. Smoking tends to be unattractive to other healthcare personnel and patients. It's best to avoid smoking before the interview (so there's no smell) and avoid talking about smoking during the interview.
It seems corny and cliche but taking the time to send a personal, handwritten thank you note speaks volumes about the nursing graduate's manners and how much the opportunity to interview was appreciated. Write a short blurb about a personal sentiment you may have shared or reference something funny that came up during the interview. Some kind of personal touch to help the interviewers differentiate you from another new graduate is a good idea.
A new graduate that follows these tips has a great chance of landing the job. Remember to be humble, eager, and ready to learn. Drop any cocky attitude that may have built up since nursing school. The interviewers liked the resume enough to call so show them you're ready to learn and go get that job! But, if it doesn't happen, try not to get discouraged. The right job is waiting for you! Find an RN job now.