Interview Tips and Tricks for Nursing School, Clinical Volunteer Roles, or Nursing Jobs

Some of you might be applying and preparing for nursing school interviews. December is when I began my nursing school interviews a couple of years ago. Out of the schools to which I applied, only two required in-person interviews as part of their application process. Luckily, I wasn’t a stranger to interviews by that point. Before nursing school, I interviewed for a competitive clinical volunteer program and eventually helped interview and screen applicants when I became a leader. It seems to be that time of year again for interviews because I landed my first new grad RN interview this past week for a local hospital. Since it appears to be interview season for myself and others, here are some of my suggestions for interviews, based on my experience and advice from friends and professors. They include anecdotes of my interview blunders, so you hopefully learn from my mistakes!

Research the organization

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Do your research before the interview:

  1. Research the organization by reviewing its website and doing an internet search. You can research companies and hospitals and see what their current and former employees have to say about them on Glassdoor.com.
  2. Review mission statements. What can you share about yourself that matches or aligns with their mission statement?
  3. If you know any current or former employees/students, ask them about the unit, program, or culture.

Doing this research will help you prepare a more specific answer to the interview question, “Why do you want to be part of this school/hospital/unit/organization?” You’ll also be able to find information about considerations you might have to reduce the number of questions you ask during your interview.

Anticipate the questions and prepare your answers

Be prepared to answer questions from your application essays and be able to speak to your resume. You should be able to discuss or explain anything you have provided in your application. Be prepared to talk about yourself and give them an idea of who you are. Interviews with nursing school, volunteer programs, or entry-level positions do not typically ask many technical questions – people want to learn about YOU. (Although, I did have a couple of clinical-type questions in my latest interview).

What I found interesting is that nursing school interview questions were not much different than job interview questions or even questions from my volunteer program. Below are some common questions one should be prepared to answer or discuss during an interview:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • Why did you become a nurse? or Why do you want to be a nurse?
  • Why do you want to be part of this school / hospital / unit / organization?
  • Why do you want this position?
  • What are your strengths?
  • What are your weaknesses?
  • Tell me about a time you made a mistake.
  • Tell me about a time you managed a challenging situation or overcame a challenge.
  • Describe a time you had a conflict or disagreement with a colleague.
  • What do you have to offer? / What makes you different from other candidates? / Why should we hire you? / What can you bring?
  • What would you do if you had a difficult or agitated patient?
  • What would you do if you had a difficult preceptor?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years? 10 years?
  • Do you have any questions?

For my volunteer program and nursing schools, other questions I encountered were:

  • How have you prepared for this program?
  • How have you ensured your successful completion of this program?

Finally, for additional interview questions, there are some great ones listed online. I found other nursing school interview questions at https://allnurses.com/common-nursing-school-interview-questions-t553788/. I looked at job applications for new grad programs, even ones to which I wasn’t applying, and I pulled some of the following questions from an application:

  • What academic, clinical skills, and personal attributes do you have that will enhance your success in this program and your professional role as a nurse?
  • Cultural competence and respect for others are important in nursing practice. Describe a few ways that you have incorporated cultural sensitivity and competence into your own nursing practice.
  • Please briefly describe your professional/career goals.

Allnurses.com also has forums for people applying to specific nursing schools or hospital new grad programs – the discussion boards usually give you an idea of interview schedules, formats (in-person vs. virtual), or questions. When applying to specific programs, it’s helpful to know if candidates are already interviewing to assess if the program is still considering your application. It’s also good to keep in touch with your cohort after graduation for this same reason. My classmates received interview invitations and job offers to join a new grad program I applied to, while I heard nothing. It took over a month to receive my official program rejection, but I anticipated it since my classmates had interviewed for the same program a month prior.

One of my friends recently finished her first year and a half working as a nurse and interviewed for a new RN job. She shared possible interview questions with me. For more seasoned nurses, a potential employer may ask the following questions:

  • What do you look for in a leader? How do you emulate that?
  • What do you like about nursing? Dislikes?
  • What do you find rewarding about this profession?
  • How do you deal w/someone unsatisfied w/ your care?
  • Tell me a time about a clinical emergency and how you reacted.
  • Tell me a time you had to deal w/ difficult MD.

Here’s another great interview question I found in a Facebook group: Tell us about a time you had an error in judgement. What happened, what did you learn, and how has this shaped you into the nurse you are today?

Practice and use prompts

One interview preparation technique my friend used was to write out her responses to potential interview questions. She placed the questions and notes about her answers on the wall behind her computer and camera. During her virtual interview, she was able to glance at her notes, when needed, to help her answer questions. I think this idea is genius!

I do not recommend reading word-for-word written answers to interview questions. However, writing answers may help clarify what you want to convey about yourself or allow you to draw upon stories and examples to share more readily. I love my friend’s technique because little notes or prompts help prevent blanking out during an interview. This technique is similar to giving speeches or presentations: Never recite notes or slides, but use them as prompts to remind you what to say or share.

After writing out your responses to potential interview questions, practice sharing your answer out loud. Practice with yourself in a mirror, and later, practice with another human being. I am planning to do this with friends and former classmates. Mock interviews serve as dress rehearsals and allow for feedback for improvement and adjustments before actual interviews.

Dress professionally

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For my clinical volunteer program, applicants were instructed to dress professionally for their interview. I dressed in business casual clothing and opted not to wear a blazer. It wasn’t until I became a leader that I discovered that they docked points for applicants not wearing a blazer or suit to their interview. After learning this, I made sure to wear a blazer (or business suit) during future clinical interviews.

The following year, for one nursing school interview, I spilled tea all over my blazer as I drove to the interview. I set my tea on the passenger seat (it didn’t fit in the cup holder), and somehow my tumbler tipped and spilled its entire contents onto my blazer resting below it. Luckily, my blazer was black, and it was difficult to tell it was even wet. I dried it as best as I could once I arrived and parked at my interview location. I was able to wear my blazer during my interview, even though it was damp. It just smelled fragrant – like lavender earl grey tea! My lesson from this is never to drink colored beverages going to an interview and maybe carry a Tide pen!

For nursing job interviews, job applicants typically do not wear scrubs to an interview unless they arrive directly from a shift or are interviewing during a break in their workday. If you’ll need to wear scrubs to an interview, explain that to your interviewer beforehand.

Bring copies and material for notes

For your interview, bring extra copies of your resume or your nursing portfolio to share with interviewers. Bring material (ex. pen, blank paper) to take notes. Collect the contact information or business cards of your interviewers.

Arrive early

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Arrive early enough to park and walk to your interview! Unfortunately, I was about a minute late to my top choice nursing school interview. I arrived at the interview location 40 minutes early but was unable to find parking. I had been to the site twice before and easily parked at the adjacent parking structure both times. I thought arriving 40 minutes before my interview would give me extra time to park elsewhere on campus if needed. I was wrong.

All lots, even the farthest ones on campus, were full. It was raining and a Tuesday of the first week of the semester; most students were attending class or petitioning themselves in courses. I drove around multiple times and tried parking on all parking lots listed on the campus map. I even went through the nearby neighborhood, but the residential area required permits to park. I finally found street parking outside a restaurant blocks from the campus beyond a freeway entrance. Only 60 minutes of parking was allowed per street signs, but I was willing to take my chances. I could go over a little time and possibly get a parking ticket over missing my interview at my top school!

After I parked, I ran as quickly as possible and called my interviewer to let her know I was on my way but running late. I arrived at the front office out of breath and wet from the rain. Fortunately, I was only a minute late, and they allowed me to interview. Lucky for me, that school accepted me into their program!

These days, because of the pandemic, many interviews are done virtually. Get yourself set up early enough to allow your computer to load, log in to the program used for the interview, and be comfortable. Make sure the background the interviewer is seeing is free of mess and clutter or anything distracting. A trick an old co-worker of mine used was to ensure she seated herself in front of a wall of her awards and certificates during a virtual interview. If you have a place where you hang your diploma(s), awards, etc., consider that wall as your background.

Be confident and calm

If you’ve prepared for your interview, you should be confident. You have made it farther than other candidates by even getting offered an interview! If you don’t feel confident or are anxious for your interview, practice slow deep breaths. Inhale over 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 4 seconds. Exhale for 4 seconds and hold your breath for 4 seconds. Repeat this breathing pattern to calm yourself. (I learned this breathing exercise from a live talk from Brene Brown, but I guess this is something first responders also practice)!

Hopefully, you arrived to your interview early. Go to a restroom beforehand, look at yourself in the mirror, compliment yourself, and practice wide-stances. Put your hands on your hips. Keep your back straight, shoulders back, and chest up. Make sure you are not physically sinking inward, which can give the impression of insecurity. Do your pep talk and superhero wide-stance practice immediately before your interview. (I learned this superhero confidence-building trick during a training workshop in my previous job). During the interview, remember to look your interviewers in the eyes as you talk to them.

Ask Questions

If you’ve done your research, but you still have questions, make a list and bring it to your interview. The interview also allows an applicant to discern if a position or organization is right for them. “Do you have any questions?” is a common question asked at the end of an interview. When prompted, you can draw from your list of questions.

Below is a list of possible topics one could consider before or during an RN job interview. Ideally, you would research these topics ahead of time and discover most of the answers before your interview. Some job considerations are from my friend while others are from a nursing school professor:

  • Training process?
  • Scheduling?
  • Performance expectations?
  • Employee performance review process?
  • Support in education? CE? Conferences?
  • Opportunities to teach/mentor?
  • Involvement in shared governance
  • Why do you like working here?
  • Work environment?
  • Is this a magnet hospital?
  • When was your last accreditation? May I see the report?
  • Is this physical facility a place where I’d want to seek care?
  • Take a tour to see staff working. Are they happy?
  • Ask to visit unit(s). Observe the number of patients per RN on the board.
  • What are the benefits?
  • Is a contract expected?
  • When are people eligible for raises?
  • When does vacation start accruing?
  • Is childcare available or offered?
  • Meet with staff who will be in charge of you.
  • Are nurses allowed to do advocacy?
  • Is quality improvement top-down or driven by nurses? Do nurses drive performance improvement?
  • If in a clinic, is the medical director strong and stable?
  • What is nursing turnover like in the unit?
  • Care coordination?
  • Do finance people speak same language as nurses? What are their priorities?
  • What partnerships does the nursing departement have with patient families? What resources are available across the continuum and community?

Some questions to consider asking during nursing schools interviews are:

  • What is the NCLEX pass rate of your graduates?
  • How do you prepare your students for NCLEX? Are students required to do HESI or ATI or purchase UWorld?
  • What is the rate of people graduating in the recommended timeframe? How long does it typically take for people to get their degree in this program?
  • What is the clinical and lecture schedule? What is a typical day like for your students?
  • What is the size of the cohort?
  • What are the traits or practices of your most successful students?
  • What are the hospitals or clinics where clinicals have been held?
  • Are there student or faculty mentors?
  • Do you help with job search or placement?
  • How quickly do your graduates find jobs after graduating?
  • Where do your graduates typically work?

Write Thank You Notes

After your interview, write thank you notes to your interviewers. (You collected their contact info. during the interview, right?) Reiterate unique traits and strengths or clarify any uncertainties about yourself. You want to do this to be memorable and to give your interviewers confidence in choosing you. Express your gratitude and appreciation for the people that took the time to interview you. Emailing the thank you messages ensures quick delivery.

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I wrote this blog post as a resource for others but also for myself. I need these reminders, too! I like that I can now review this list before every nursing interview. Do you have interview questions to share or tips to add? I would love to hear them!

Thank you for reading! If you found this post helpful or appreciate anything from it, please like and share with others! Good luck to you and your endeavors, and good luck with your interviews!

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