Job interviews can be stressful. Learning what questions to expect from a registered nursing job interview can help you prepare for success. This page shares common job interview questions from practicing nurses who have been on both sides of the interviewing table.
5 Common Registered Nurse Job Interview Questions
Most registered nurse job interview questions assess your approach to nursing, how you apply your nursing expertise, and how you would contribute to the organizational culture. Most interviewers focus on behavioral interview questions — questions that ask how you handled a specific situation and questions that help them understand your interest in the organization.
Why are you interested in this opportunity?
Interviewers ask this to understand how well you would fit into an organization, whether you might stay if hired, and also to test whether you have done your background research on the organization. Your answer should show that you have taken the time to learn about the hiring organization and what makes it unique. Demonstrate how your background matches the skills and attributes required for the position.
Focus on what you can contribute in the role and how your personal mission as a nurse would forward the organizational mission. "Be aware of the organization and its overall mission," Erika Haywood, a board-certified nurse coach, says. "Highlight how their mission aligns with your personal values as well."
Why should we hire you?
Interviewers also use this question to ensure you know the organization and understand the role you would play working in the position.
"This can be one of the hardest questions for nurses (and really anyone) to answer," says Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN. "When you are asked this question, personalize your desire to work with the hiring organization and commitment to stay there as much as possible…this is where doing a little research on the organization ahead of time is key, so you can talk about how you can help them reach their goals as a unit and facility."
How do you handle a patient that is upset with your care?
Interviewers use these types of questions to understand how you deal with some of the inevitable issues in nursing, such as a patient who is dissatisfied with their care. They look to understand how you treat patients and how you solve problems constructively. Do you show emotional maturity and ensure that the patient gets the best possible care? Do you communicate with patients from a position of empathy?
McGowan advises, "Nurses that actively listen to their patient's complaints and those who continue to advocate for their patient (which may mean finding another nurse to care for them) show empathy and dedication to their patients."
Tell me about a time where you were wrong. How did you handle it?
Your answer to this question tells interviewers how you deal with another inevitable situation, in this case, being wrong. Are you able to admit when you're wrong? Do you own the consequences of your mistakes and fix them, or do you blame others or leave the situation for them to fix? Do you take responsibility to prevent the mistake from happening again?
"We all make mistakes, and being able to identify when you have been in the wrong is already a good sign for a strong candidate," McGowan says. "But an even stronger candidate will not only explain their mistake, but how they fixed it, and most importantly how they learned from it," he adds.
What are your long-term career goals?
With nurse turnover already high, employers do not want to hire a nurse who is not at least potentially interested in a long-term future within their organization. They want to hire employees who are likely to feel satisfied in their job and with the organization. Be honest rather than trying to give the answer they want.
Haywood suggests highlighting any degree or certification you are working towards. "Many employers have tuition reimbursement or professional development programs. Highlighting your plans or what you are open to helps give the employer a better picture regarding your plans and potential longevity with the organization," she says.
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What to Expect In Your Registered Nurse Job Interview
Employers ask these and other interview questions to understand the role you would play in the organization, both inside and outside your job description. Are you a problem solver? A coach? A lifelong learner? Can the company trust you with patients, their reputation, and organizational wellbeing?
Employers are looking for "enthusiastic nurses who are passionate about patient care," says Molly Rindt, who works with nurses and other healthcare professionals to get matched to their right careers.
Haywood adds that employers look for nurses who can work on a team and have good time management and prioritization skills as well.
In addition to answering questions, be prepared to ask questions. These should demonstrate your genuine interest in the organization and how you can contribute and grow as a professional within the role and organization. Detailed questions about benefits and compensation can wait, provided that the compensation is within your desired range.
Tips for Success
Rindt emphasizes preparation and demonstrating that you are a match for the employer's needs. "Review the mission statement and research basic facts about the hospital or organization," she says. "Emphasize your love of nursing, desire to learn, and your plans to expand your skills. Familiarize yourself with examples of behavioral questions. Solid answers can help the flow of the interview."
McGowan adds that employers "will look for signs that show how compassionate you are, whether you are a good listener, and how well you know your nursing knowledge." Be ready with examples of how you displayed these traits in different situations.
Last, Kenny Kadar, president of Coast Medical Services, stresses that it is important to be yourself, and to "Be open to opportunities, open minds, open doors."
Meet Our Contributors
Molly Rindt is an experienced nurse with a background in emergency medicine. She is currently the talent advocate lead for the West Coast team with Incredible Health, a career marketplace for connecting hospitals to much-needed permanent nursing talent. She enjoys helping and empowering nurses to take care of themselves.
Erika Haywood is an experienced nurse and board-certified nurse coach with a background in adult step-down progressive care units and pediatrics with complex medical needs. She is currently the talent screener lead for the Central Team with Incredible Health. She enjoys helping others find and do their best work.
Kenny Kadar is president of Coast Medical Service, located in Greater Los Angeles. As an integral part of Coast's endeavors, Kadar helps provide world-class healthcare to patients by connecting highly qualified nurses to reputable hospitals across the United States.
Nicholas McGowan, BSN, RN, CCRN, is a critical care nurse with 10 years of experience in cardiovascular, surgical intensive care, and neurological trauma nursing. McGowan also puts his background in education, leadership, and public speaking to work to help other nurses. McGowan is an online learner who builds on his foundation of critical care nursing, which he uses directly at the bedside, where he still practices. In addition, McGowan hosts an online course at Critical Care Academy where he helps nurses achieve critical care (CCRN) certification.
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