Nursing Interview Questions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

by | Jun 16, 2020 | Podcasts, Nursing Jobs & Interviews | 0 comments

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Nursing Interview Questions: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly. In this episode Kati, Amber, and Chelsea sit down to discuss nursing interviews. We cover some very common nursing interview questions, discuss good and bad answers, and learn what your interviewer is really thinking.  #FreshRN #podcast #FreshRNpodcast #shownotes #nurse #nurses #interview #nurseinterview #nurseresume

Who You’ll Hear

Kati Kleber, MSN RN– Nurse educator, former cardiac med-surg/stepdown and neurocritical care nurse, author, and speaker.

Chelsea Klekamp, BSN RN – Experienced bedside nurse, Nurse Residency Program Coordinator

Amber Nibling, MSN RN-BC – Senior Director of Clinical Learning at Orlando Health, former nurse residency program director.

All Things Nurse Interviews – Tips From the Experts

Let’s dig into the episode and the incredibly helpful points that Amber and Chelsea share. This post summarizes their perspective.

Most New Grad Nurse Applicants Have VERY Similar Resumes

Hospitals will receive hundreds of new graduate resumes and many of them look very similar. It is difficult to stand out at this stage of the game. Therefore, you want to have a resume that is:

  • Error-free (because if there’s another applicant with a very similar resume who didn’t have errors, yours will be de-prioritized!)
  • Easy to skim
  • Contain only relevant clinical information (unless specifically asked for)
  • Professional

Because resumes will look extremely similar, it makes the interview that much more important.

Why the Interview Matters

The interview is a time for you to set yourself apart from a sea of resumes and make a great impression. As a nurse, you are making first impressions every single shift- this is something you need to be good at. 

During the interview, they are assessing your ability to make genuine small talk. People who interview nurses are often nurses themselves, and are very good at reading people.

Be yourself, but be your professional self. No matter how comfortable you are feeling with the interviewer, avoid cursing, over-sharing, or making jokes.

Interviewers absolutely can tell when an answer is inauthentic. This is difficult to come back from, so it is in your best interest to prepare and provide genuine responses.

Question: Tell Me About a Mistake You’ve Made

A Bad Response

It would look really bad if you can’t think of an example. We’re all humans and make mistakes, which is a normal part of learning a highly complex new role. If you’re unable to think of one, then this tells the interviewer you’ve got a low level of self-awareness.

To make it better, know this question will be asked and think of a response. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in a healthcare context. It could be from another work, volunteer, or school experience.

A Mediocre Response

A forgettable answer is simply explaining a mistake that you made. To upgrade your answer, you need to go to explain what you learned.

A Fantastic Response

Describe the mistake, what you did to address it in the moment, and what you learned from it. Really focus in on what you learned. Even if it’s something serious like a medication error, it’s still a great response if it demonstrates your honesty, integrity, and willingness to learn. They are assessing how you respond to mistakes, which are inevitable as a nurse and the ideal candidate is accountable and dedicated to improvement.

Question: What Are You Most Excited and Most Nervous About?

A Terrible Response

It would be a red flag if what you’re excited about is the pay, job security, and lack of schoolwork, and that you weren’t nervous about anything. While this all could be 100% true, it is very inward focused. You should be nervous about something, otherwise you will come off as overconfident and that you hold unrealistic expectations of this role.

A Mediocre Response

Something that answers the question but doesn’t really impress anyone is an extremely generic answer without much explanation. An example would be, “I’m really excited to finally work as a nurse, but nervous about making makes.”

A Remarkable Response

To really wow them, focus your answer on how you’re going to move the needle for your patients. The mediocre response simply mentioned being excited, but taking it a step further to elaborate on what that actually means will elevate this response.

That could look like, “I’m very excited to finally be with patients and families as the primary nurse, deliver nursing care, and play a role in their progress.”

Rather than simply being nervous about mistakes, a way to upgrade that response is adding more details. “I’m nervous about making mistakes because there simply is so much to learn, and know that mistakes are part of the journey. I know there is a steep learning curve, and I don’t know what I don’t know, so that aspect of the unknown does make me nervous, but I’m ready to dive in.”

Question: Tell me About a Time You Went Above and Beyond

Cringeworthy Responses

If you say something like, “I go above and beyond every single shift because it’s simply my standard,” is 100% cringeworthy. It doesn’t make you sound impressive or remarkable. It is unrealistic to do so, and by saying that in an interview, it makes it look like you’ve got a grandiose perspective of yourself.

It’s also a bad idea to give an example o an expected behavior but framing it as if it was amazing. Things like getting a patient a warm blanket, ensuring their food order was correct, calling a family member, or helping them wash their hair are all normal expectations of the job – even if it was busy and felt like you were going above and beyond in the moment.

How to Upgrade This Response

Take the time beforehand to thoroughly assess which of your example behaviors are standard or are truly above and beyond. (And use my interview question worksheet, which includes a fillable PDF that you can craft and refine your responses on.)

It can be very simple, but it must be genuine. It should demonstrate that you provided individualized patient care, or went the extra step to be an extraordinary team player.

Question: Tell Me About a Time You Received Feedback That Was Hard to Hear

A Low-Quality Response

It would look bad if you couldn’t come up with an example, or claimed you’ve never received negative feedback. Everyone has been corrected in some shape or form during nursing school or while learning the ropes of another job.

Another turn-off for interviewers is if while explaining a time that you received challenging feedback, you spoke negatively about other people or attempted to place blame on others. This signals to the interviewer that you do not take accountability for your missteps.

An Upgraded Response

Think of a genuine answer (noticing a pattern here?) and keep in mind that it doesn’t have to be in a healthcare context. Explain the situation, why it was hard to hear, how you responded in the moment, and then explain how you’ve worked to improve since receiving that feedback.

By doing so, you are demonstrating that you were able to:

  • Remain professional in the moment
  • Reflect on your misstep/miscalculation/mistake
  • Be accountable
  • Be dedicated to improvement going forward

These are all major GREEN flags for hiring managers!

Final Thoughts on Nurse Interviews

In preparation for the interview, do some self-reflection about what you truly bring to the table. Even if you are fresh out of school, your experiences and your attitude are valuable

It is incredibly important to the interviewers that you are self-aware and have realistic expectations. Make sure your answers demonstrate that. 

Don’t talk down about others in the hope of making yourself look better. More than anything it shows you don’t value your teammates. 

If you are still in school, write down when you make mistakes or receive difficult feedback as it happens to you. You’ll then be able to refer back to these examples before you go to your interview, so they are refreshed in your mind and you’ll be ready to talk about them. You’ve got this!

More Resources for Nurse Interviews

Are you done with the guess-work of applying and interviewing for nursing jobs?

hired: the ultimate guide to nurse resumes and interviews course cover

Hired from FreshRN is a self-paced, online course for ambitious nurses who want to be the ideal candidate for their dream job. Amber Nibling, MSN RN-BC, and Kati Kleber, MSN RN have interviewed hundreds of nurse applicants and they give you the inside scoop of what interviewers are thinking. Learn everything you need to know to impress potential employers (and yourself) by learning what the hiring team expects from you, so you can not only meet, but exceed those expectations.

Picture of Kati Kleber, founder of FRESHRN

Hi, I’m Kati.

Kati Kleber, MSN RN is a nurse educator, author, national speaker, host of the FreshRN® Podcast, and owner of FreshRN® – an online platform created to educate, encourage, and motivate newly licensed nurses in innovative ways.

Connect with her on YouTube, Pinterest, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook, and sign-up for her free email newsletter for new nurses.


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