Nursing Interview Questions and Answers
Whether you’re a new nurse or a seasoned pro, interviewing for a new job can be stressful. It can help to think of the probable nursing interview questions and answers that will make you shine during the job interview. Of course, every interview is different, but there are common themes that most employers touch on:
- Communication skills
- Patient care
- Time management
Interview Question Types
It’s common to be asked a variety of questions during a job interview. Some will focus on your behavior and how you’d respond to certain situations, others will focus on your future goals, and others will focus on your skills.
Behavioral Interview Questions
These types of questions are asked to see how you’d respond in certain types of situations and clinical scenarios. It helps the interviewer quickly assess your adaptability, work ethic, teamwork, personality, ability to learn, communication skills, and critical thinking.
Nursing is both an art and a science. These questions help the interviewer see if you possess the art of nursing — your cover letter and resume may already highlight your skills (the science part of nursing).
When you are responding to these types of questions, it’s best to share real-life examples if you have them. For example, if you are asked about working with difficult coworkers, describe a time when you helped to resolve an issue.
It’s natural to expect nursing interview questions and answers about your future goals and plans. Hiring managers are investing a great deal of resources in bringing you on as a new employee. It only follows that they would want to assess the longevity of your plans.
Be prepared for that by first identifying your nursing career goals for yourself. It will be hard to talk about your goals in an interview if you aren’t even sure of them! Think about where you see yourself in the next two to five years. Do you want to be a charge nurse? Hoping to work as a nursing manager? Are you planning to become a nurse practitioner?
Strengths and Weaknesses Questions
Everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses. The question is, Do you know what yours are? And do you have a plan for improving your weaknesses? It bodes well for you if you are self-aware of both your strong qualities and shortcomings.
When answering these questions, relate it back to nursing. For example, if you recognize that a strength of yours is organization, share how that improves your nursing abilities. Likewise, if you state a weakness of yours is delegation, share the steps you’re taking to improve and any help or growth opportunities you would like along the way.
Bonus tip: If you have strengths that are listed as desired or required in the job description, use this time to emphasize those!
7 Common Interview Questions and Answers for Nurses
We’ve compiled a list of interview questions and answers for nurses that can help you prepare:
- When did you first know you wanted to be a nurse, and what about the career appealed to you?
- What one skill or trait is most important to be a good nurse?
- What would your coworkers say if I asked them if you were a good team member?
- Tell me about a challenging time during your shift and how you dealt with it.
- Tell me about a time you disagreed with your nurse manager’s or doctor’s recommendation and how you handled it.
- What makes a patient difficult? How well do you deal with difficult patients?
- What is the next step in your career?
These common nursing interview questions and answers touch on the various themes an interviewer will want to cover. You’ll see examples of the types of questions you may be asked by the hiring manager, including behavioral questions and storytelling questions. Additionally, the sample answers can provide inspiration and guidance for your own responses.
Question 1: When did you first know you wanted to be a nurse, and what about the career appealed to you?
This question is a good ice-breaker that gives the interviewer a glimpse into your personality and enthusiasm for nursing.
- Use the storytelling method to answer.
- Focus on patient care (and your role in it!).
- Inspire them with your genuine satisfaction in being a nurse.
How You Could Answer
“I’ve known that I wanted to be a nurse since I was a child and I witnessed firsthand how empathetic nursing can have a real impact on a person. I had to go to the ER when I was 10 when I fell and hit my head at a family picnic. It hurt, but it felt worse that we had to leave early, and I was worried my parents would be mad. When I told the ER nurse what happened, she empathized with me and said she imagined leaving the picnic was disappointing. I was so excited that she listened to me and understood. Getting stitches was no fun, but that nurse made the experience positive. I thought she had superpowers. That’s when I knew I wanted to be a nurse. Being able to connect with patients while providing care is something that motivates me to come to work every day and continue in this impactful career.”
Question 2: What skill or trait is most important to be a good nurse?
This question helps determine your values and understanding of a nurse’s role. Pro tip: Be sure to make it clear how you embody these values in your work.
- Focus your answer on caring for a patient.
- Admit that there are many essential traits.
- Pick a trait and explain why it is most important.
How You Could Answer
“Nurses need a long list of traits and skills to be effective and give the best care. But one stands above the rest for me. It is critical thinking. Once while working in the intensive care unit, I noticed a new patient was admitted with orders for two units of blood. Her labs showed stable hemoglobin and hematocrit, the patient was asymptomatic, and had no indicators in her presentation or history of active or chronic blood loss. I called the physician who entered the orders, described my concerns, and asked for clarification on the order. The physician had selected the wrong order set and did not notice that it included two units of blood. By using critical thinking, I was able to catch this order error and prevent administering something potentially harmful and unnecessary for this patient.”
Question 3: What would your coworkers say if I asked them if you were a good team member?
Some nursing interview questions and answers ask you to reflect on how coworkers see you. You must believe in teamwork to be an effective nurse. The hiring manager wants to know if you understand that, and if you can point to examples of teamwork in your experience.
- Be a cheerleader for teamwork.
- Talk about how it affects patient outcomes.
- Recognize that sometimes you need to work independently.
How You Could Answer
“My coworkers would smile when you asked them about my teamwork skills because I do the teamwork cheer whenever we’ve gotten through a challenge together. I always want to be there for other nurses and members of the healthcare team when they need help and be open to letting someone help me if I’m struggling. They would tell you that I always make my rounds, asking if anyone needs help before I clock out. It’s a way to support others in the unit. Of course, there are times when you must take the initiative and dive into a task yourself, especially if it’s an urgent patient matter.”
Question 4: Tell me about a challenging time during your shift and how you dealt with it.
This behavioral question lets the interviewer know how you handled a situation in the past, which could predict how you might perform in a similar situation in the future. Challenges and stress are realities in nursing. Through these types of nursing interview questions and answers, the interviewer wants to know that you take problems in stride and learn how to approach resolution.
- Tell a story with a professional tone. Avoid, “OMG, this one day was awful!”
- Describe the technique you use to deal with stress.
- Talk about the positive outcome in your example due to your technique.
How You Could Answer
“Stress and challenging situations are part of the job as a nurse, so I am rarely surprised by anything that happens. One time when we were short-staffed, one nurse called to say they had an emergency, and another didn’t show up for their shift. Our problem-solving skills quickly led us to utilizing resources. We told our nursing supervisor about the call-outs. They checked with other units to see if a nurse was available to float to us until they could find a PRN nurse. We had another nurse in the unit immediately, and within an hour a PRN nurse arrived for the remainder of the shift. We got through the shift smoothly and felt good about being able to take care of our patients despite the challenge.”
Question 5: Tell me about a time you disagreed with your nurse manager’s or doctor’s recommendation and how you handled it.
Some nursing interview questions and answers are meant to address more than one thing. This question assesses your communication and interpersonal skills and tells the interviewer if you understand the chain of command and its importance in a healthcare setting.
- Emphasize the importance of seeking clarification from a senior professional’s instructions.
- In your story, explain how you questioned the recommendation professionally and respectfully.
- Say how it ended successfully.
How You Could Answer
“We had a patient complaining about pain after getting the dose of medication prescribed by her doctor. I questioned why she couldn’t have her dose increased. The doctor was adamant that she was fine with the dose as prescribed. As a nurse, I am the doctor’s eyes when they aren’t able to observe a patient in person. I checked the patient again and charted 7/10 pain despite medication, rest, and heat. I consulted with our charge and we agreed I should call the doctor with the latest observations and ask for a PRN medication or alternative to alleviate the patient’s pain. After hearing the update, the doctor changed the order to an alternative medication. The patient’s pain subsided soon after.”
Question 6: What makes a patient difficult? How do you deal with difficult patients?
You may face some difficult situations interacting with patients as a nurse. Nursing interview questions and answers often seek to gauge your level of compassion, as well as how you handle situations with difficult patients.
- Don’t use any names or other info that would violate HIPAA.
- Communicate that it’s not unusual to have an unhappy or uncooperative patient.
- Talk about techniques you’ve used to calm agitated patients.
How You Could Answer
“I’ve found it is important to understand why a patient is unhappy or uncooperative. Being hospitalized can be frightening for some people, especially if they don’t understand the need for a procedure. I always make sure every patient I work with feels seen and heard by making eye contact and practicing therapeutic communication techniques, when culturally appropriate of course. This fosters trust and provides an opportunity for me to answer questions that are troubling them.”
Question 7: What is the next step in your career?
Companies invest time and money when they hire a new employee. They want to know that you’re planning to stick around. They also want to see if you are ambitious and want to further your career or education. Nursing interview questions and answers like this one help the interviewer know if you fit into the organization.
- Emphasize your interest in the facility and position.
- Talk about your commitment to the job.
- Be honest about your plans. If you have no interest in pursuing another degree, don’t say it just to sound good.
How You Could Answer
“My next step is to work in a facility like this one where I can learn and grow. I’m really eager to learn more about this nursing specialty, patient population, and common procedures. As for the future, I know I want to become an APRN. Working here would allow me to learn about different areas of nursing and see what interests me the most.”
How Not to Respond
You’ve learned many great ways to respond to common interview questions — but what are the things you must avoid? Generally speaking, you don’t want to harp on things you disliked about past jobs, coworkers, or leaders.
What do I say about leaving my last nursing job?
Keep it professional. You can be honest and state why you left your previous nursing job, but stay respectful. If you needed a part-time job, and couldn’t get that schedule change, that may be easier to share. If you left because of unethical practices, focus on why meeting your professional standards is so important to you.
What if my previous nursing job was too exhausting?
First reflect on what didn’t work for you. Was it the specialty, the unit, the teamwork, the schedule, or something else? Identify what it is you are looking for and share that.
Don’t say: My coworkers at my last job never helped; it was like I was the only nurse there!
Do say: I’m excited to join this team because collaboration is very important to me.
Should I talk about my personal life?
In general, no — keep it professional. It’s okay to discuss your needs, which may broach the subject of personal life if you’re requesting a certain schedule. However, keep in mind that could negatively impact you if the interviewer has concerns about what you’d shared.
Don’t say: I’m a busy parent with five kids, my ex and I are separated, and can only work Monday through Wednesday. My ex has my kids then, he won’t budge no matter how much I ask.
Do say: I need a full-time position, and ideally the day shift. I appreciate receiving schedule changes a week in advance.
What if I am not qualified for the job after all?
Don’t lie and say you know how to do something if you don’t. It’s okay not to know everything or not to have experience with something, especially as a new grad nurse. Everyone starts somewhere.
For example: If you discover during the interview that you will be required to have a PALS certification, but you only have a BLS, let them know but also have a plan or request. For example, you might say, “I don’t have my PALS yet, but I have been BLS certified since 20XX. I would be happy to obtain that certification before my start date.”
10 Nursing Interview Tips
Whether you are a seasoned registered nurse or you have just completed your nurse assistant training, preparing for a job interview can be nerve-wracking and intimidating for anyone.
While it’s important that you’re prepared with nursing interview questions and answers, there’s much more you can do to nail your performance with a potential employer. Here are 11 nursing interview tips to help you feel confident and deliver like a professional.
- Be on Time
- Do Your Research
- Practice Your Answers to Common Questions
- Be Honest
- Tell Your Story With the STAR Method
- Ask Questions
- Take Notes
- Ask About Next Steps
- Send a Thank-You Note
Tip 1: Be on Time
Punctuality is at the top of our nursing interview tips. Whether your first interview is a phone screen, Zoom meeting, or an on-site interview, make sure you are on time. If you’re in person, be professionally dressed and organized, with copies of your resume on hand. For online nursing interviews, be logged in and ready to go; for on-site interviews, plan to arrive at the facility early to leave breathing room for traffic and other unknown variables.
Reliability is essential in the healthcare industry, so it is critical that you set the right impression for any and every nursing position for which you’re in the running.
Tip 2: Do Your Research
Many nurse interview tips center around preparation. Whether or not you applied through a job board or you were referred by a friend, you want to ensure that you have done some research about the employer’s background and be able to identify why you have chosen to interview at the organization. Understanding the mission and being aware of recent awards and recognitions can provide you with some easy talking points throughout the interview.
Read the job description thoroughly, not only to see what the specific responsibilities are, but also to gather information about the company’s mission. Make sure your answers reflect what you’ve learned about a company.
Let’s say you have an interview at an assisted living facility (ALF). Start by Googling the ALF and seeing if any news items show up in search results. Then visit the ALF’s website and look at the “History” and “About Us” sections to get a feel for the culture and values. And don’t forget to check out the ALFs social media pages to see what kinds of messaging the organization shares with followers.
Tip 3. Practice Your Answers
While every healthcare role is different, most interviews for nursing professionals have some questions in common. Regardless of how confident you are in your caregiving, administrative, and communication skills, interviewing is a different matter. Don’t wing it. Nursing interview questions and answers can be deceptive.
Among the more practical nursing interview tips: Practice. Take a look at these common interview questions for a CNA to get an idea of what to expect. Preparing answers is a great way to boost your odds of success. By knowing in advance what you’d like to say to a potential employer, you’ll be able to deliver your answers with thoughtfulness and a sense of purpose. This also helps take some of the stress off your shoulders.
Tip 4: Be Honest
Your interviewer will likely ask you some challenging questions during your nursing interview that you should be prepared to answer honestly. Not knowing an answer to a question is completely acceptable and your potential employer will value your honesty.
But you can’t just say, “I don’t know,” and leave it at that. You want to say, “That’s a great question. I don’t know my answer at the moment. I’d like the time to think about it. May I email you my answer by the end of the day?” And then do it. The hiring manager will be expecting to hear from you. This helps give the interviewer a good idea of the type of nurse you are — one that follows through.
You should also be ready to answer questions about your education, employment background, clinical nursing experience, patient care practices, and future goals. Again, practicing your answers in advance among the best nursing interview tips we can give you.
Tip 5: Tell Your Story With the STAR Method
A great strategy for handling nursing interview questions and answers like a pro? Pull from any previous personal experiences that have molded you into the nursing professional that you are today. If you can tell a story about your journey to become a nursing professional, even better.
If you’re not sure how to begin, try the STAR method. Do you remember learning about SBAR in nursing school, to help you give nursing report or call the doctor in a succinct, organized manner? The STAR method is similar, except this framework guides you when answering interview questions, especially behavioral ones. It stands for: Situation, Task, Action, Result.
How does it work in the context of nursing interview questions and answers?
- Share a story that describes a similar situation as the one being asked about.
- Think about what your role was, and discuss any tasks that you were responsible for.
- Share what steps you took. Did you take action? Describe it.
- What happened? What was the result and outcome? How did your actions affect that outcome?
Question: Tell me about a time you advocated for a patient.
Answer (using STAR method): “One time I arrived for the night shift in the ICU, and after getting report, found that my Spanish speaking patient did not have an interpreter. I asked the charge nurse why there wasn’t one present at the bedside, and she said they had scheduling issues. I could not find a blue phone in the patient’s room, either. I collaborated with my charge nurse and nursing supervisor to have an interpreter present for the shift, but since they could only come for 6 hours, we obtained the blue phone to use instead. This way, myself, and the entire healthcare team, and the patient could all speak to each other.”
As you can see, this format walks you through answering the question in a concise, systematic way. Of course, you don’t always have to answer this way, as some questions won’t require such an in-depth response. Refer to your best judgment as to when this tool can be helpful.
Tip 6: Ask Questions
Without fail, interviewers will ask you if you have questions at the end of the interview. Don’t brush them off or feel like you’ve already taken up enough of their time. They ask you this question to gauge your level of interest in the role and your preparedness for the interview, so make sure to have a few questions ready. This is potentially your new job, so show your interviewer that you want to know as much about the role as possible. Here are some ideas to inspire you:
Can you please tell me a little about the facility’s work culture?
Chances are, the person interviewing you will cover what it’s like to work at their facility, but don’t be afraid to probe a bit deeper. Does leadership listen to staff feedback? How are nurses recognized and rewarded for their hard work? What do they themselves like most about working there?
What does success look like in this position?
This shows the interviewer that you care about doing a good job. It also gives you insight into the overall expectations for the role.
How would this facility support my professional development?
Advancing in your nursing career is beneficial to you and your employer — not to mention your patients — because of the additional skills you bring to the team. Plus, a question like this shows that you’re thinking ahead. It’s a great opportunity to find out if there are any education discounts or tuition reimbursement programs available to employees, as well as opportunities for advancement within the facility.
Tip 7: Take Notes
Nobody expects you to commit everything to memory, so feel free to ask your interviewer at the beginning of your conversation if it’s okay for you to jot down some notes while they’re speaking. If they mention something about the job or facility that sticks out in your mind, don’t rely on yourself to remember. Make a quick note of it.
Tip 8: Ask About Next Steps
Before you walk out the door (or close your Zoom window), make sure you know what to expect next. When might you hear if you’re moving forward in the process? Will there be a follow-up interview? If so, with whom will it be?
Tip 9: Send a Thank-You Note
When you get back home, write an email to the person who interviewed you and thank them for their time. Mention some of the things you enjoyed learning about. Simple acts of courtesy go a long way. You’d be surprised how many candidates skip this step.
Tip 10: Breathe
A final bit of nurse interview advice: Try to relax. We know — you really want to land this job, and interviews are nerve-wracking. At the end of the day, your experience and credentials matter, but so does your preparation, poise, and personality. Putting in the work to research and prepare for your nursing job interview will boost your confidence and showcase to your interviewer that you are invested in this role. So, take a deep breath, follow these nurse interview tips, and knock that interview out of the park.
Find Your Next Job on IntelyCare
Navigating nursing interview questions and answers can be intimidating, but you’ve got this. Ready to take the next step and find a great new opportunity? Check out all the nursing jobs available right now on IntelyCare and apply today.
Morganne Skinner, BSN, contributed to the writing of this article.