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How to nail an interview for a nursing job

Interview for a nursing job

We’ve all heard the same job interview questions: “What are your strengths? How about your weaknesses? Where do you see yourself in five years?” But if you’ve got your eye on a coveted nursing job, you’ll need to prepare for more specific questions to make the cut.

“You can’t evaluate a nurse by asking about strengths and weaknesses,” says Adela Valenzuela, MSN, family nurse practitioner clinical coordinator for the University of Phoenix College of Health Sciences and Nursing. “Those are ‘elevator questions.’ No one will say anything bad about themselves.”

Valenzuela and Theresa Tarrant, PhD, a registered nurse who manages the University’s LPN to BSN program at the Phoenix Main Campus, know this firsthand — both as job candidates and as interviewers. They say to expect performance-based questions that yield insight into your problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities.

No one goes to the hospital because they want to. [Ask yourself] why do you want to be involved in that?

Some of those questions include, “How would you research an unfamiliar subject if a charge nurse asked you to discuss it for an upcoming committee meeting? How have you dealt with difficult family members or a noncompliant patient? What medical procedure would you use in a particular situation and why? And how does your chosen course of action affect patient outcomes?”

Tarrant adds that you also need to think about why you want the job. “People always say, ‘I want to help people,’” she says. “But it takes a higher level of commitment because you’re involved in the best and worst time of their lives. No one goes to the hospital because they want to. Why do you want to be involved in that?”

She says to also expect a panel interview with peers and managers. “They’re gauging how your personality will fit in, whether you’re a team player and are adaptive,” Tarrant says. They may also want to assess your familiarity with their organization, she adds, so learn about it and its mission so you can speak knowledgably about how your goals align with it.

While doing your research, Tarrant advises preparing questions such as, “What is a good asset for me to have?” and “What do you expect for me to be successful on this unit?” Remember, she points out, that the interview is a two-way process — each of you is checking out the other to see whether it’s a good match.

If you’re competing for a higher-level position, Tarrant notes, you might be asked to make a presentation to demonstrate your speaking and research skills. Managers also look for evidence that you understand the business side of health care — such as government regulations, documentation and supply costs — and how they affect the cost of health care.

“It’s more than patient care,” Tarrant notes. “It’s efficient use of resources.”

Valenzuela and Tarrant also stress that it’s important to follow proper interview etiquette, regardless of the position you’re pursuing. “Plan ahead, arrive on time and be appropriately dressed,” Tarrant advises. “You’re showing me the best person you are in that interview.”

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