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Managing Your Career
Nursing Interview Tips from a Recruiter
Making a lasting impression.


With the touted nursing shortage, you’d think you could bomb an interview and still land any job you want. Think again. Hospitals—especially, reputable ones—are selective. Recruiters use the interview to predict your performance and if you’ll be a good fit. Based on interviews, nurses are often rejected. That’s why Carolyn Steffel, a nurse recruiter at Edward Hospital, a magnet hospital in Naperville, IL, says to diligently prepare and take your interview seriously. Here’s her best advice from years of interviewing nurses:

1. Dress professionally.
You may have a stellar resume—aced nursing school, received high marks on your NCLEX, hold great recommendations—but if you come in as Sally or Sal Slop, your credibility will plunge. Steffel has had nurses arrive at interviews wearing shorts and flip-flops. Guess whether they got the job. Steffel recommends staying away from anything that will distract the interviewer from what you’ll bring to the organization—hiked-up hemlines, street attire, wrinkled slacks, flashy jewelry, disheveled hair, overpowering fragrances, or gum smacking. Since you’re applying for a professional position, look the part: Keep it conservative, neat, and clean. First impressions are lasting.

2. Watch your non-verbal cues.
According to Steffel, interviewers are looking for a nurse to be well composed and professional.

They discern this through the nurse’s non-verbal cues. Don’t forget interviewing fundamentals, like a firm handshake, a pleasant smile, direct eye contact, uncrossed arms, and an energetic tone of voice. Aside from displaying enthusiasm and sharpness, these gestures also reveal how you will interact with future customers (patients). And your poise points to how you will handle the countless unfamiliar and frightening scenarios a nurse faces during his/her career. In short,interviewers appraise your non-verbal communication as much as your verbal communication.

3. Exude enthusiasm.
When Steffel interviews nurses, she also looks for a passion for the profession and the organization for which the nurse is applying. Steffel knows people are nervous and might occasionally flounder for words—that’s expected. Still, nurses should demonstrate excitement about their careers, that they have something unique to offer, and that they are fond of the organization for a specific reason (i.e., their mission statement or they’re a magnet hospital). Engaging the interviewer in conversation about the organization, also demonstrates your eagerness and ability to interact with people (which nursing is all about). While you may not have years of experience to buttress your credibility, your excitement and interest in the organization will do so.

4. Turn off your phone.
In a world in which we are constantly reminded to turn off our cell phones and pagers, you would think it would be a no-brainer to do so before a job interview.

Not so. Steffel has interviewed nurses whose cell phones rang in the middle of the interview… and one time a nurse actually answered it. Not only are your phones and pagers a potential distraction, but the interruption demonstrates that you are not fully present for the interview— and that it’s not a priority.

“Interviewers are fully present for the interview,” says Steffel. “The candidate needs to abide by those same principles.”

5. Research the organization.
Be prepared to answer the questions: “Why are you interested in our organization? What brings you here? Why do you want to work at this hospital?” And don’t say, “Because it’s the closest to where I live.” Take time to review the hospital’s mission statement, read articles written about the hospital, or review the job posting—find any information you can about the hospital and study it. It will be invaluable information during your interview.

For instance, if you researched Edward Hospital, where Steffel is a recruiter, you’d find it’s a magnet hospital and about their brand promise to deliver care “for people who don’t like hospitals.” During the interview, use information like this to demonstrate your interest in the organization. But don’t simply say, “I want to be hired because I want to be at a magnet hospital.” Take it a step further, Steffel recommends, and explain why you want to be at a magnet hospital: because of the nurse support, the preceptor program, the internship, the transition training program, etc. This attention to detail shows the interviewer how serious you are about the position you are vying for.

6. Ask the right questions.
“You’re interviewing the organization just as much as we’re interviewing you,” says Steffel, “so you need to have questions prepared.” Maybe there was something that the interviewer said during the interview that you’d like to be clarified. Don’t hesitate to ask. Now is the time to find out what won’t work for your personality—rather than later, once you’ve signed the dotted line.

Questions nurses should ask include the following:
• What is your orientation program like? Do you have a preceptor program? What is its duration?
• Do you allow time off for and/or pay for continuing ed?
• Do you have nurse educators, and how often are they available?
• How are performance evaluations done, and how frequently?
• Will I have to work weekends and holidays? Will I be on call?
• What is your retirement plan like? Will you contribute?

Preparation at every level will set you apart from your competition—and may help you even
enjoy the process.


Read more Managing Your Career articles

16 Responses to “Nursing Interview Tips from a Recruiter”

  1. william harley Says:

    this is so right-on…in my area you have to walk on water to get a job…

  2. Joanne Suriano Says:

    Thanks for the great tips, I’ll be graduating in Dec and posted this information for all my fellow classmates

  3. Mel Says:

    As a Director of Nursing, I would be singing praises to any perspective employee if they followed these tips! Show me that you are excited and energetic about being a part of my team, and mean it! I especially love the research part of this. If you have looked up our website, past annual state survey results, quality indicator reports-I am over the moon that you did your homework and checked me out!

  4. Learned by Mistakes Says:

    Those tips are terrific! But how much will the Nurse Recruiter as well as the Nursing Director of the unit view candidate that is energetic, excited and really wants to be a part of the team but participated in another internship program for 3 months that proved to be “not the right fit”. Can the director see beyond a novice mistake and look at the other positives? Especially if the candidate admits to the mistake and enthusiastically states that he/she could use future preceptored time more efficiently than the first time around?

    This is happening tome. I could sure use some feedback! Thanks.

  5. tracey foxx Says:

    I believe these tips are very helpful in inteviewing. Everyone should read this. Preparation is the key in landing that job or cereer we as nurses work so hard to get.

  6. Nancy Says:

    I’m a DON at a new homecare, and the owner has this ur person do all the interviewing with new nurses and I’m the one who will be dealing with them. The UR person is only at the Home Care once a wk. Should I bring it up to the owner or just let it go?

  7. Kris RN to Nancy Says:

    The interview process doesn’t have to be by just one person. Where I work, it is a “team” process. Some of the employees meet the interviewee and ask them questions and make sure the fit is a good one. We are like a family, and work well together. You should definately be part of the process. Hope that helps. Good-luck.

  8. LeeLee Says:

    Is it acceptable to bring a paper list of my questions?

  9. Isaac Majier Says:

    which have you asked before?

  10. Sandra Says:

    Please let me know if this is normal or what is the experienced nurses and recruiters opinion.

    I had a phone interview with a recruiter, went well, recruiter gave me list of positions, I picked most interesting to me.

    Recruiter tells me that during the time with the nurse manager that she will be showing me around, time to meet her, and set up shadowing on the unit. The recruiter gave me a wage and all.

    Interview with new nurse manager:

    15 minutes early-check in with nurses station to make my timeliness known incase manager is busy and comes late. I sit in the lobby adjacent from the nurses office.

    Nurse manager walks up to me and asks who I am. I say my name and that I am here for an interview with Ms….. I am in a black suit, pink/red dress shirt, hair up, cleanly, etc.

    She asks me what time my interview is as she is apologizing for being late. I said it was not until and she looked at the clock (8 minutes til) and waves me off. She gives me a chair placed far from her desk. I open my briefcase to get out my personal coverletter, resume, and references for her. She grabs out a stack of white papers and begins to read my information to me??? “So, your name is.” She is not looking at me at all, and says why here? I said I did clinicals here and like the atmosphere of the hospital. Plus, I am extremely interested in the option of oncology that this floor has to offer. I also like telemetry that is the sister floor that I could work on. I specified that this is the position that spiked my interest. I stated that since I did my clinicals at this hospital I am familiar with the operations and the computer charting.

    She continues to read my information outloud but not looking at me or asking me anything about the information.

    I found it rude that as I am in the interview the nurse manager is just discovering my basic information. How can she be prepared to interview me.

    She continued reading the information. I am unsure, should I have been interjecting information and my evaluations as she is reading this looking down at the paper? I just sat there, I was completely confused and shocked.

    I was top of my class, graduating with honors, won 4 scholarships, and Deans list recipient. She skipped right over that, so I could not use that as my point for being a hard worker.

    I have exceptional clinical reviews from my preceptors that I could not offer. I was unable to offer up anything.

    She finished reading my information to me on the paper. Was it my responsibility to just start talking? Is it normal that the nurse manager will be just learning about me as she reads through my interview information from the phone interview?

    She looked at me and began to explain the position, scheduling, and all things related to the position. I responded that I was interested in nights, as it works perfectly for me and I am a night person. She continued about the position.

    I found it odd that she was talking about the position but she did not bring up the shadowing that the nurse recruiter said she was supposed to set up. I asked about the shadowing stating the nurse recruiter said she would set that up. She said oh your interested in that?

    She asked me no nursing questions, personal quality questions, only do you have any experience? I stated no, and said I am sorry I am under the impression this position is for a new graduate. She said it could be okay. I was a store manager, so I brought up that I have exceptional client service skills. I am used to fast paced work environments. She responded with you were not a nurses aide. No. You never worked in a nursing home. No. She states I just hired a new one and she only needed 3 days orientation and I got to put her right on the floor. She is great.

    She asked me if I had any questions. I asked again about the shadowing and she said okay lets go walk around. I have never been on this floor before by the way. She starts to show me around, but says nevermind you did clinicals here you know where everything is. I said okay and just went along. She introduced me to staff members. The NOM was in the nurses station and spoke to me. She mentioned to the nurse manager that it is a big plus that I did my clinicals here. So, the nurse manager sits me in her office and says she will be back. She brings in another nurse and says I am doing a peer interview? So, I sat being told by a nurse that I won’t come in and just start in oncology because she is focusing on that. She said that if I do things I had better ask, so I do not make mistakes for the other nurses. She talked for about 20 minutes.

    She got up and left and I was just left in the nurse managers office. I got up and got my briefcase thinking what is going on here. The nurse manager sticks her head in the door and says do you know how to get out? I said nice meeting you. I again addressed what the recruiter told me. The recruiter said the nurse manager will set up the shadowing for 2 to 3 hours, and when the date was set I was to call the recruiter back. I stated to the nurse manager that the recruiter said I was here for this specific thing, and the nurse manager told me that she does not set that up the recruiter does? I was so confused.

    Long story short. By avoiding the shadowing thing the nurse manager was not planning on considering before we were half way through the interview. However, she lied and told me that the recruiter really did the appointment instead of saying to me that I am not considering you.

    She asked me little to no questions is that normal? Is it normal to be read your information, and if so, should I have just offered information? I do not understand what happened here? She did not even finish reading my information before she decided not to hire me? How could she make an educated decision at that point?

    I did not handle that rejection well. I was lied to, and she was trying to get rid of me basically. What do you make of this? I am being considered for 5 more positions, and I fear an interview.

  11. Sandra Says:

    One tip I read said to ask for the position at the end of the interview. How would all of you feel about asking for the position?

  12. Marie to Sandra Says:

    Every interview is different. Sounds like the nurmse manager and recruiter were not on the same page which may cause confusion.
    Consider it experience and move on to the next interview. Do you really want to work for a nurse manager that you felt didn’t treat you professionally?

  13. Auth Says:

    If you look at each of the listings they start with the hheigst and move to the lowest in about 10 .. I believe these lists consist of the top ten’ in each category. California doesn’t even make the list until the RN listings. And, although I just graduated and acquired my RN, I will be making close to what is listed. I think the list is accurate in showing the hheigst paid of these positions (top ten). Hope that helps! GD Star Ratingloading…

  14. ELaine Says:

    Wow, who would want to work for a rude and ill-informed manager?

  15. Kristen, RN, BSN Says:

    I have all kinds of comments for you hon, haha. I’m sorry you had a rough time.

    The Nurse Manager was a bit rude, but most of the things you considered rude were not unusual for an interviewer. Also, sounds like there was some lack of communication between her and the recruiter.

    As for things that are normal for an interview – 1. for them to already have your information. I’ve been told “don’t bring anything with you to an interview, not even your cell phone” It feels strange and you feel kinda naked, but they already have your resume, etc. and this gives you an opportinuty to show your interest and warm demeaner with body language.
    2. It’s not unusual for employers to read the first couple sections of your resumee and skip over the rest. Most employers reading through resumees read through a ton and they just get a feel for it by reading the first couple sections. Don’t take this personally. If there’s something you’re really proud of, make sure it’s near the top. Like, if you graduated with honors, include that in the top section titled “Education.”

    Also, it sounds like the telephone interview gathered most of the information they wanted and she may have been satisfied with the info they’d already collected.

    In the end though, Elaine made a good point too: Are you sure you want to work for a manager who was rude like that? When you are in an interview you are also interviewing the employer. Pay attention to who of your interviewers you will actually be working with. You want to make sure these are people you’re going to like working with. The truth is, that if you get this job you will be spending a lot of time together, so hopefully you will be able to get along.

  16. Brittney @ Scrubs Magazine Says:

    These are some really great tips. “Dressing to Impress” is vital to ensuring that you make the most of any interview opportunity you have. More resources for nurses who want to learn more about dressing to impress at your nursing interview can be found via Scrubs Magazine http://bit.ly/18jTENs

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