If public speaking is the greatest fear that most people have, then being interviewed has to be right up there with it.
Being interviewed combines that deer-in-the-headlights feeling with the feeling that somebody surely gets when the police are reading them their rights.
Plus, you think, my whole future depends on this!
Well, slow down. Your whole future doesn’t depend on it, but your job often does. And interviewing well (or at least not messing it up) is sometimes the make or break thing in a hiring process. So that’s what this article is about: how to interview for that nursing job that you’re wanting.
Because of the nature of the nursing profession, your interview will have some specialized things to prepare for.
There are two sides to this matter and both of them will probably come up, depending on the position you’re applying for: The first is the broader, professional side to your history, and to what you’ll bring to the position you’re interviewing for.
You should be prepared to talk about how you view your nursing career, how you view your professional field, and how you think that your experience fits into that view. You should have some idea of how your potential employer operates professionally, and how you would fit in with that grid.
For example, let’s say you’re applying for a position in a psychiatric facility, and from your research, you’ve found that the facility uses the tidal model of mental health care in their nursing care. You would want to be able to discuss that model intelligently, and how you think your experience would fit into the commitments and competencies used in that model.
The other side you’ll need to relate to is the more narrowly focused, technical side of nursing. For these potential questions, it’s a good idea to list out what skills you’re proficient at, what skills you know, but may need brushing up on, and those you don’t know, but are willing to learn.
Prepare to discuss these intelligently, and avoid getting defensive about a skill that you’re not as good at as you are with others. For example, if you’re a med-surg nurse, and you’re applying for a surgical intensive care unit position, do some research and find out some of the procedures, treatments and tests that unit uses.
Know what you can do, and what you can’t. In many situations, if you’re a good candidate, it’s not a deal-breaker if you don’t know everything. In other words, if you’re entering a new nursing area, you should be honest about any lack of knowledge, but you can also say something like this, “I’m eager to transition to this area. I’m a fast learner, and I think that my previous background and skills will bring something to this new position” and then list how that would happen.
How should you dress for an interview? A basic rule of thumb is to at least wear business casual in any interview situation, and the higher up the position, the better dressed you will want to be.
Of course, I don’t need to tell you to not wear scrubs or anything like it, but I’ll say it anyway: don’t! You may be applying for a position where you’ll always be in a uniform, but the interview needs something that suggests your professionalism in a way that uniforms don’t.
And here’s a word of encouragement if you’re looking to get into a new clinical area. It can be discouraging sometimes when employers want certain skills and background, but you can’t get those until you’re hired. Sometimes you feel stuck. That’s when honesty and directness work.
Admit your lack of background, but point out the skills you have, and be enthusiastic about moving into a new area. If the interviewers tell you it wouldn’t work, ask them what you could do to prepare for the position in the future. And keep trying! You might go through several potential employers who won’t hire you, and then find one who’s willing to take a gamble on you.
Who you’re interviewed by is dependent on the level of the position you’re being hired for. If you’re being hired for an entry-level position (for example, just out of school), you might be interviewed by a manager of the unit where you’re hoping to work. But if you were applying for a position as a chief nursing officer at a large medical facility, you would probably be interviewed a number of times, often by a whole management team. But in any interview situation,, the same principles apply and the preparation I’m outlining here will help you.
There are several things you should do to prepare for an interview, but the first one is to relax. Yes, despite how crucial this interview is, relax, and calm yourself. Because whether an interview is done by phone or in person, if you’re feeling stressed, that feeling will come across, and will probably reflect badly on you.
Remind yourself that the person you’ll be talking to is often just like yourself. They too, have been through this process, and they’ve also felt that stress. Also remember that you’ve already shown your potential employer that you’ve got some good qualifications. If they didn’t think you were good, if they didn’t think you’d bring something good to their work situation, they wouldn’t bother with an interview. So, again: relax.
If you’re doing a phone interview, there are a couple of things to be careful of. First, if you’ll be on a cell phone, make sure you’re where your reception is good. Make certain your phone’s battery is well charged. It’s probably also a good idea to get dressed up a bit, even for a phone interview.
While that sounds kind of silly, if you’re in a sweatshirt or pajamas, you’ll probably be a bit too relaxed, and you want to be on your game for an interview. If possible, be alone during the interview. This includes infants, children and even pets. Try to find a way to be completely alone, and the interview will go better. Interruptions can also reflect badly on your interview.
If you’re doing an interview via Skype, then of course you’ll need to be dressed just as you would for an in-person interview. Pick the room where you’ll be talking. Having a blank wall behind you is probably a good idea, but be especially careful of clutter or anything offensive in the background.
The room where you’ll be should also be well lit. A basic rule of thumb for a Skype interview is to treat it as though the interviewer was coming into the room with you. Because they are. And as soon as you relax that rule, that’s when it comes back to bite you. Dress completely as though the person was in front of you — which means no slippers.
A cat or dog — even when not making noise — should not be in the room. Having said all of that, in any interview situation don’t panic if something goes wrong. Let’s say you were on Skype with the interviewer, and your cat gets into the room, and wants to snuggle. Just tell your interviewer, “Excuse me, let me take care of this,” take care of the situation quickly, and get back to business. How you handle the unexpected tells them something about how you’ll handle the unexpected in your job situation.
Preparing for an interview is important. Preparing means knowing what you want to say about yourself, and knowing about the facility or company you’re interviewing with. There is no excuse for not being familiar with your potential employer. Read their website carefully, and check other sources. That way when a question comes up such as, “Why are you interested in working at this facility?” you can answer intelligently.
You will also want to have intelligent and thoughtful questions prepared to ask during the interview. While you are often able to find information online, you’ll want to find out about the facility and their philosophy, answers that may only be discovered in the interview. You’ll want to know what influences their practice of nursing and how that plays out in both the larger facility as well as the area where you’ll be working. You’ll also want to know about their management style.
In almost every nursing position you’ll be both supervising (other nurses, CNAs, as well as other unit personnel) and supervised (by your management team). Management questions also involves finding out nurse/patient ratios, triage procedures, and float policies. Ask questions about scheduling: what hours are worked in your area, who does the scheduling, and how holiday scheduling is handled. If the area where you’ll be working requires 24/7 coverage, ask if there is on-call coverage, and how that’s handled.
Most of the time, the questions you’re asked are going to center around your experience and resume. Be prepared to talk about your experience, and what you learned from it. Also be prepared to talk about your goals and where you’d like to see your career going. One important tip to remember is to avoid complaints about past or present work situations. If asked you can critique (meaning, “give constructive advice”) a certain situation, but complaining must be avoided. If it was a terrible situation and you didn’t last long, it’s OK to say, “I didn’t agree with the way my employer handled ________ and I felt there wasn’t a good fit there.” Just be sure to avoid personal attacks and bad mouthing. If there are time gaps in your resume, be prepared to explain them. For instance, let’s say you had a child, and spent two years out of the workplace caring for the child. If the interviewer asks about it, don’t apologize, but simply explain what you were doing during that time. The same goes for a gap in which you were unable to find a job or a gap when you were in school. Don’t bring these up unless you’re asked about them, but be prepared.
Being mentally prepared is essential to a good interview, but don’t neglect the basic nuts and bolts details that can end an interview before it even starts. Make sure you know where you’re to meet the interviewer. Confirm the time, and be a few minutes early. (Being a few minutes early will help you to be calm). Verify if there’s a special place you should park. Bring your phone with you in case you get lost, but be sure it’s on silent when you get there.
When the interview is over, send a thank you note. Not an email, not a text, but a real, live snail mail thank you note. Even if you didn’t think the interview went well, send a thank you. First, because you should. Yes, your mother was right about that. It’s simple courtesy, and while that will help you along in your job search, it’s also the sort of behavior that will you into a more grateful, giving person. People notice that quality — and they usually want that kind of person to work for them. And secondly, because people remember it. People rarely send thank you notes anymore so your effort will be noticed — and remembered. Don’t kiss up, don’t go on and on, just say something like: “Dear Ms. Smith, Just a note to thank you for taking the time with me on the interview last Thursday. It was good meeting you. If you need further information, don’t hesitate to call me. Sincerely, Jane Doe, RN”.
Let’s summarize how to perform well in an interview. The secrets are these: relax, prepare, focus, dress conservatively, and be courteous. You can do an interview well, even if you don’t have a lot of experience. Remember that you’ve got a lot to give to the company or facility you’re interviewing with. Be yourself, and you just might enjoy this crucial step in your job search.
James Huffman, RN (@jimhuffman) is a community health nurse and freelance writer in North Carolina. Learn more about James on Google+.