Interview Tips for New Graduate Nurses

Interview Tips for New Graduate Nurses
Photo by Christina @ / Unsplash
This article was written by Findingmybeta
Author's Note: I have been to countless interviews since I graduated from nursing school. At first, I relied heavily on nursing forums and other websites for interview tips and practice questions, but after a while, I felt like I found my groove and had a pretty good idea of what to expect. I’ve gotten to a point where I feel pretty confident going into interviews. I no longer get nervous, stumble trying to find words, or rush when speaking. Although I still get plenty of rejections and am by no means “an expert,” I’ve learned from my mistakes and have been able to fine-tune the skill of interviewing enough to hopefully help you land that job!

First off, congrats on getting to interview portion! As a new graduate or a nurse without much experience, getting to this stage is the toughest part! With hundreds of applications for a handful of positions, it’s so easy to get tossed aside. Now you have a chance to prove yourself! You’re in control!

Considering you’ve been asked to interview without much experience, you can pretty much assume that the interview will be entirely based on behavioral questions to get a sense of your personality. This doesn’t mean that preparation isn’t necessary though… besides preparing for interview questions, which we’ll get to later, there are so many other aspects to the interview that you need to prepare for.

Part I: Getting Ready

Proper attire

Have the outfit that you plan on wearing ironed and set aside for the big day. Dress to impress, but your outfit doesn’t need to be a professionally tailored business suit either. I’ve always worn a blazer with a pair of dress pants/skirt and nice business looking flats. Honestly, I couldn’t afford the extravagant suit when I graduated, so I shopped for the best looking/cheapest mix-and-match outfit I could find. It still looks professional and the interviewer knows I put in effort. On the other end of the spectrum, don’t get too dolled up either. As nurses, we don’t show up to work with our hair done and face full of make up. If you do wear makeup, keep it as close to natural looking as possible.

What to bring

Print out multiple copies of your resume and buy a portfolio folder! I bought this one from Amazon for $14 and LOVE it!

I put my license and credit card inside so I don’t need to worry about bringing a purse. It looks professional and most importantly, I have somewhere to store copies of my resume. Other pluses are the notepad just in case you need to jot something down and slots for you to put your RN license, CPR card, or other certifications. Everything is together in one place and you’ll be super prepared!

Getting there on time

I always use Google Maps to look at the area where I will be driving especially if the hospital is in the city. Know what your expected drive time will be. You may be directed to park at a specific lot, so figure out where the lot is in relation to the hospital. And then plan on leaving so that you arrive at least 30 minutes prior to our interview. This gives you time to miss a few turns, look for parking, and still arrive at least 10-15 minutes early. 95% of the time, I end up waiting in the car so I’m not ridiculously early, but it gives me time to mentally prepare or go use the restroom. One of my old school professors always said “Early is on time. On time is late. And late is unacceptable.” We were scrubbed in for her 7am clinicals at 6:30am… She would never hire someone who showed up right on time!

Research the hospital

ALWAYS look up the hospital’s mission! Every hospital has their own! You might be asked how you’ll contribute to the hospital’s mission or even to name a few aspects of the mission. Read the ‘About’ page on the hospital’s website and at least be familiar with it. You might me asked to tell them what you know about the hospital!

Look up the people that you’re interviewing with

Sounds a little creepy, but you want to stand out from the crowd. If you know who you’ll be interview with, take a look on Linkedin or google them. You’ll get a better sense of who they are, their career paths, and maybe some common interests. If you find a common interest, use it to your advantage!!! For example, I had one interviewer who was a climber. When I was asked how I cope with the stress of work, I could’ve mentioned walking my dog or watching Netflix, but I made sure to mention that I climb. That lead to a whole side conversation. Other recent examples were finding out that the person I interviewed with was from the same state as me, also has rescue puppies, or mentioning my travels to their home country. It helps you to break the ice and feel more at ease too!

Part II: The start of the interview

I’ll be upfront… If you’re interviewing for a position in a new graduate residency in a big name hospital, be prepared for a very fast paced and not so personal interview. Versant programs have a LOT of applicants.

The experiences I had consisted of me walking into a room with a group of managers with clipboards in front of them. As soon as you sit down, they’ll start going down their list of questions and jot notes or rate responses as you answer. It can be very intimidating! There’s not much time to calm your nerves before you’re expected to talk, and the managers can sometimes appear cold and uninterested already. Don’t sweat it though. Breathe and try to be yourself!

I just recently learned that another reason why interviews are conducted like this is because they try to stay as unbiased as possible. Everyone gets asked the same questions in the same order without side conversations that aren’t pertaining to the job. It doesn’t mean they don’t like you already! They’re just putting you through the ringer. Of course not all interviews are like this, and you might have a totally different experience. This is just the worst case scenario!

Many other times, you’ll be warmly greeted and asked to sit down. There may be some side conversations as everyone is getting situated. Try to avoid awkward silences and show them who you are! Talk about anything that comes to mind or just say thank you for inviting you to interview.

Before we start

I want to emphasize that the biggest tip I can give you is to relate all your responses back to why you want to be a nurse on that specific floor in that specific hospital!!! Do this whenever you can! As often as you can!

Passion is huge! They want someone who wants to be there. Someone who is willing to learn and believes in what they’re trying to achieve. There will be plenty of applicants who are looking for the first hospital who is willing to hire them for a simple paycheck. Don’t let them think that’s you!

Most interviews will start off the same way…

  • Tell me a little about yourself.
  • Why did you choose to become a nurse?
  • And why are you interested in working on this floor? (specialty and population of patients)

This is your introduction! Telling someone about yourself can be so broad. To narrow it down, think about what aspects you want them to know about. Highlight the experiences/traits that give you an advantage towards being a nurse. Be genuine! Explain why you decided to take the path towards becoming a nurse, and emphasize what unique traits you have that show that you are made to be a nurse working on a(n) ____ floor.

This is what I mean by relating all your responses back to why you want to be a nurse on that specific floor in that specific hospital! The things worth mentioning are the qualities that prove you’ll be successful in that role. For example babysitting/being a camp counselor/being the oldest of 5 when interviewing for a pediatric nurse position.

Don’t say that you are just trying to get med/surg experience as a stepping stone. Don’t say you just need the money. And try to avoid general cliche answers of “I want to help people.” It’s okay to open up, dig a little deeper and show some emotion!

Part III: Behavioral Questions

Once those questions are out of the way, the behavioral questions will start. These are asked to get a better sense of your personality and see how you handle various situations. Be prepared to talk about concrete experiences that you’ve had and be able to present scenarios from your clinicals.

Some of the common prompts/questions are:

  • What are your biggest strengths?
  • What are your biggest weaknesses?
  • What do you think your previous boss would say about you? What about coworkers?
  • Name three words to describe yourself.
  • Tell me about a time where you were in a leadership position.
  • Tell me about a time where you had to deal with conflict with a friend/manager.
  • How did you handle it?
  • Tell me about a time you failed at something.
  • How would you handle a situation where you were overwhelmed with tasks and had a deadline approaching?
  • How would you say you perform under pressure?
  • Give an example of a time you handled a stressful situation.
  • How do you manage your stress?
  • What are your short-term goals? Long term goals?
  • Tell me about a time where you felt proud of yourself.

Be ready to talk about some your clinical experiences:

  • A patient who didn’t agree with the plan of care
  • The patient who has had the most profound effect on you
  • A difficult patient
  • A time where you needed to advocate for a patient

For more info on how to answer some questions, check out this link. It gives you a better idea of what approach is preferred, but obviously make the response your own.

Part IV: Asking Questions

You’ll always be given a chance to ask questions at the end. Even if the only thing on your mind is ‘how did I do??!!?!!’ and you’re overwhelmed with relief that the interview is almost over, take the opportunity to ask some questions about the job/floor. It shows that you are interested in the position. Oftentimes, the interviewer already provided information that may have answered your questions, so I always have multiple of questions prepared so that I don’t blank out. Ones that I’m always interested in asking are:

  • What will the orientation phase be like? How many weeks? Classes? Extra support?
  • What is the nurse:patient ratio?
  • Will I be trained to float to other floors?
  • What are some of the issues that you are facing on the floor?
  • How do nurses stay up to date with the latest evidence-based practices?
  • Do you offer assistance to nurses who want to further their education?

Ask any other questions you may have. Smile a lot. Say “Thank you.” Shake some hands. And that’s it!!!

My words of wisdom… Even if you feel terrible about the interview or soon later find out that you didn’t get the job, do NOT beat yourself up! It’s never a waste of time. Keep at it and take the whole process as a learning opportunity. It’s good to fail hard and fail often! Be proud that you pushed your comfort zone and are stronger than when you first started. You’ll only be better next time around!

And if you got the job, CONGRATS!!!