Get That Job: Effective Interviewing Skills for Nurses

September 15, 2018

You have one hour, right now, to make a good impression on a possible future employer. Can you do it? Interviewing for a new job can be a scary situation but is a necessity in the world of career advancement. Effective interviewing skills can turn a mediocre meeting into an impressive interview— and a better chance to land the job you want. 

What to Expect in the Interview Process

Companies continue to interview because “We need to know if you’re a good fit for the role, and if the company is a good fit for you,” said Stephanie Barrett, RN, BSN, OCN®, national director, oncology clinical nurse educators, at IQVIA in Durham, NC. “The interview process can really be a twoway street.”

The interview process usually starts with prescreening an application. Here, a potential employer will look at your skills to determine you have the minimum qualifications needed for the job so “your resume is really what people will be looking at,” Barrett said.

If prescreening goes well, you might receive a screening call or video interview: these first interviews are used to get basic information and an initial feel of who you are. The screener will be versed in your resume and skills, so be sure that you have educated yourself about the company or institution as well.

“A lack of preparation can kill your opportunity with the company,” Barrett said. For the interviewee, this is a great time to highlight the job description and discuss what you can bring to the table. Barrett warned that even though this is a phone interview, pretend you are there face to face: sit up straight and speak professionally.

If the screener feels that you might be a good fit for the position, a face-toface interview is usually the next and last step; this is where the interviewee can demonstrate appropriate behavior and delve deeper into his or her qualifications. Depending on the company’s hiring process, you could have one live interview or several. No matter how many interviews you attend with the company, Barrett said to be sure to have a few printed resumes on hand, as well as references and their contact information. “You can refer back to [the resume] in the interview," she said.

Make Sure Your Resume Is Top Notch

Your attire, your skills, and your professionalism are all important during the interview, but your resume can also speak volumes. The resume is the first step in the interview process and does the following:
• Piques the interest of the hiring manager

• Highlights your career experiences with past impact

• Reflects your attention to detail and your written communication abilities

When creating a resume that has impact, use creative and descriptive action verbs (e.g., identified, created, motivated, partnered, streamlined, innovated), and quantify your experience at current and past jobs (e.g., “I have cared for more than 1,000 newly diagnosed patients with breast cancer.”).

With past jobs, make sure that you have reviewed your history and know how to answer specific questions. “Be able to explain why you left one position for another or why you have gaps in your resume,” Barrett said. Remember to tailor your resume to the position—it is normal to have more than one resume for different types of jobs, Barrett said. If you’re having trouble cleaning up your resume or even getting started with the format, resume writers are available to hire on LinkedIn and usually request $150–$250 for their services.

Prepare for the Interview

Consider what the interviewer might ask you. Do some research on the company or institution that you’re applying with, as well as the company culture and the role you’re interested in. Although you might not know exactly what the interviewer’s questions will be, you can search online for questions that are asked at interviews and practice your answers. Your research on the company can also help you anticipate what questions the interviewer might ask. Some questions may include:

• “Tell me about yourself.” (highlight the parts of your resume that you are proud of and be enthusiastic)

• “Why are you leaving your current role?” (if you have a bad manager, be honest, don’t be negative, and be polite)

• “Why do you want to work here?” (know what attracted you to this company)

• “Why should I hire you?” (this is the time to sell yourself!)

Interviewers also ask questions that focus on your experiences and talents, which might include the following:

• “Give me an example of a time…”

• “Tell me about a difficult…”

• “What is the most challenging…”

• “Explain to me how you prioritize…”

• “You’ve told me that you love education—give me an example of how you have invested in your own learning…”

These types of questions can be difficult to answer, but the STAR Method can help you in shaping your answer. This method is a structured manner of responding to a behavioral-based interview question by discussing the specific situation, task, action, and result of the situation you are describing. By using and practicing this method, you can better answer tough questions clearly and effectively.

“Practice and preparation are key,” Barrett said.

Don’t forget to plan and prepare for the attire you want to wear to the interview. You can’t go wrong with the classics (e.g., appropriate suits, skirts, and blouses), but be sure that your clothes don’t have to be constantly adjusted or that they are revealing. Accessories should consist of conservative jewelry and makeup, and wear little or no perfume as some people can be sensitive or even allergic to various fragrances. Be sure that your nails are clean or manicured and wear professional shoes—women should steer clear of shoes like stiletto heels.

On interview day, arrive early; in fact, consider doing a practice drive beforehand. “If you’re going somewhere you’ve never been before, go a day ahead,” Barrett said. “Do a dry run and find out about parking.” When your interviewer or an office administrator greets you, shake hands firmly and have good eye contact.

Actively listen to your interviewer and “repeat a question back to be sure you’re providing the answer they are looking for,” she said. Be aware of your body language, and avoid chewing gum and using cell phones— avoid any object that isn’t directly related to the interview.

Close Out the Interview

You’ve finally made it to the end of the interview—congratulations! Your attire was perfect, you answered all of the interviewer’s questions carefully and concisely, and your behavior and attitude were exceptional. What should you expect at the close of the interview and beyond?

At this point, you should clarify any unanswered questions while staying positive and enthusiastic. Reinforce your interest in the role by asking when you should expect to hear from the company, and ask for a business card so you can follow up with a thank-you email or handwritten note. 

Salary is not usually discussed until the position is offered, but when the time comes, be realistic about your salary based on your experience and degree. Websites such as or clarify the average salary in the industry you work in. Also, don’t forget to discuss other benefits once you are offered the position, such as bonuses, vacation time, medical coverage, and education days. 

Barrett, S. (2018). Effective interviewing skills: Create a lasting impression. Session presented at the ONS 43rd Annual Congress, Washington, DC, May 18, 2018. Retrieved from https://

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