If you’re going on a nursing job interview, there are some frequently asked questions that you need to be ready for. Employers ask these questions often and early, and the wrong answers can cost you the job.
So we’ll go through the most common nursing interview questions you can expect to hear, how to give the best possible answers, and mistakes to avoid if you want to get the job.
Let’s get started…
Employers want to hire someone motivated and passionate to be in Nursing, not someone who is doing it only for the paycheck.
So be prepared to explain why you choose a career in Nursing, why you enjoy it, what motivates you, etc.
They may also ask, “What do you enjoy about this career?”
Try to share specific, tangible reasons when answering why you chose this career or why you enjoy it. It can be a personal reason, like a family member that you cared for at a younger age, and how that experience made you passionate about caregiving.
Or it can something else! That’s just one example answer. Whatever you choose, make sure it’s true. You’ll sound a lot more genuine/convincing if you’re telling true stories in your interview answers, so I do not recommend lying!
Next, the interviewer is going to want to know why you want their particular position or why you chose to apply.
Employers want to hire somebody who is targeting specific things in their job search and knows what they want. This makes them less worried that you’ll dislike the job, quit soon after joining, etc.
To prepare for questions like this, make sure you’ve studied the job description. Then, talk about one or two things you saw that excite you. Explain how the work you’ll be doing in this position fits with your goals and interests.
For example, you could say:
“I’ve always enjoyed working in oncology. It’s what I’m most passionate about and most interested in. I saw your job description mentions that this role is focused entirely on oncology. In my past role, I split my time 50/50 between oncology and cardiovascular, and while I enjoy both, I’d be very excited to have that one single focus in this role, and I think it would allow me to continue learning and growing in my career as a Nurse.”
The answer above is detailed and directly answers their question. Better yet – it explains why you’re qualified and why you’ll succeed in this position. Employers ALWAYS want to know that you’re ready to step into their job and succeed. So by mentioning relevant experience, you’re convincing them that you will do well in their role.
Another example answer:
“After five years in Nursing, I’m looking for an opportunity to become a Nursing Supervisor, Manager, or Shift Leader. When I saw your job mentioned the chance to lead a small team in clinical areas that I already have experience with, like oncology, I thought it sounded like a great fit and I knew I should apply.”
This isn’t just one of the most common nursing interview questions, it’s one of the most common questions in any interview. And it’s important to have an impressive answer because it’s asked VERY early usually, and sets the tone for the whole interview.
I recommend keeping your answer professional and just walking them through the highlights of your recent career.
For example, when they ask this question, you could say:
“I graduated three years ago with my degree in Nursing, and have been working at XYZ hospital since then. I’ve been promoted once and enjoy my work, but I’m now looking to gain exposure to new clinical areas to broaden my experience. Our hospital doesn’t have any openings outside of my current floor, so I’m beginning to look elsewhere to try to find a career-advancing position that will allow me to continue growing as a Nurse.”
This is another one of the most common interview questions for nurses. Employers will typically want to know where and when you got your Nursing degree.
So be familiar with this before your job interview, and give a brief, concise answer. There’s no need to talk for long, but tell them your degree, where it’s from, and consider highlighting one or two key projects you completed during your academic work.
Here’s a sample answer:
“I earned my Bachelor’s degree in Nursing two years ago from the University of New Hampshire. I did my clinicals at XYZ hospital and focused mainly on respiratory and cardiovascular care. Is there anything else you wanted to know?”
There are many different types of Nursing jobs, from large hospitals doing surgeries and emergency care to small clinics specializing in skin care, cosmetic procedures, and more.
And in the interview, the employer is going to want to know that you will enjoy their particular environment.
They never want to hire someone who’s going to hate the job or lose motivation and leave soon after joining… because it costs a lot of time/money to hire and train someone.
So that’s why they ask what work environments you prefer.
When answering, try to show them that you’d succeed in an environment like theirs, but be honest, too. It’s okay to say you do well in a variety of workplaces. It’s best to give an example as well.
Keep your answer positive, too. Don’t say, “I hate large, fast-paced environments.”
“I do well in a range of work environments, but I think the environments I’ve enjoyed most in my career are smaller organizations where I can focus on giving great care to each patient that comes in, without feeling rushed.”
The example answer above would be great for a small, high-end organization like a skin clinic. Their clients are paying a lot and expect great care.
If you’re applying to be an ER nurse in a high-volume trauma center, your answer should focus much more on being able to handle a fast environment, and enjoying being busy and helping many patients.
Next, the hiring manager or interviewer will want to know which clinical areas you’ve worked in, and possibly how much time you’ve spent in each.
While you don’t need to have every piece of experience that their job description mentions, it does help to name the similarities between your background and the work you’d be doing in this next role.
So be confident, and just highlight the most relevant experience that you do have.
They clearly liked your resume and your background if they invited you to the interview, so don’t worry – just give a clear, concise answer explaining the areas you’ve worked previously.
And be clear about whether an area was academic research, patient care, etc.
This next nursing interview question isn’t about your technical expertise – it’s all about finding out more about your personality to make sure you’re a good cultural fit for the team.
Prepare an answer to this question ahead of time. Be ready to mention one or two specific things that you find rewarding. Think about what makes you smile at the end of the day, or what gets you excited to tell friends and family about after a shift.
It can be something about your patients. It can be handling tough situations and seeing a great outcome. Or it can be getting through challenges as part of a team. I recommend choosing something that focuses on your interaction with patients, though.
This is one of the trickier interviewing questions for nurses because it requires you to know what type of work you’ll be doing in this role.
Most likely, you’ll be working on a team, so it’s important to show you can work well with others.
If you’re unsure what type of work situation this job involves, you can give an answer that shows them you’re versatile.
Example interview answer:
“I enjoy working as part of a team. However, I’m also able to handle things independently. Sometimes you’re the only Nurse available to help a patient in the moment, and you need to deliver great patient care on your own. So I enjoy working as part of a team, but I feel capable of accomplishing tasks on my own, too. I suppose I prefer a mix of both.”
That example answer is a way to “cover your bases” if you’re unsure of their work environment.
Also, you can wrap up your answer by asking them a question. This is a great tactic to turn the interview into a more relaxed, back-and-forth conversation.
For example, at the end of your answer, you could say:
“…How would you describe the work environment here for the typical Nurse? Is it very team-oriented?”
Most Nursing jobs involve some stress (okay, a LOT of stress), so employers want to know you’re prepared to handle this type of situation.
Ideally, you want to show them that you’re “battle-tested” and have been through stressful situations and have a method for getting through it.
This can involve reminding yourself why you do this work and why you’re passionate about helping patients. Or it can be more of a tactic, like taking five minutes to do breathing exercises and gather your composure during your break.
Try to share something that’s true/honest in your answer. You’ll sound a lot more convincing this way.
This is one of the trickier nursing interview questions, because you want to share something genuine/true, but without sounding like it’s a major weakness. You don’t want to make it sound like you’ll struggle in their role!
So I recommend naming something that’s challenging about nursing, but then explaining how you’ve learned to handle it.
“When I took my first Nursing job, it was a challenge to learn to communicate with so many different personality types, both on my team, and with the wide range of patients I interacted with each day. However, I quickly learned how to communicate well with all sorts of people, and this has become one of my strengths now. I’ve become a better listener, I’ve become more patient and better at communicating. I enjoy making sure patients feel understood and comfortable. I also enjoy the teamwork aspect of my role with my fellow Nurses.”
Related interview question to be ready for: “What is your greatest weakness?”
If you’re currently employed, then you should expect an interview question about why you are looking to leave your current job.
Don’t ever badmouth your current employer, though. Instead, talk about what you’re hoping to gain by making a move.
This could be experience in new clinical areas, experience in a different type of work environment (e.g. large hospital vs. small clinic), or something else that your current job cannot offer you.
Or, you can simply say, “I’ve been in my current role for X years, and I’ve learned a lot, but I feel it’s time for a change to keep learning and developing as a Nurse.”
That example answer above is best if you’ve been in your current company for a few years, though. And if you do answer like that, it’s best to also explain what you’re looking for next and why their job caught your interest.
So you could end by saying:
“I was interested in applying for this job because I saw the job posting mentions an opportunity to work with ____.”
Also, if you’re not currently employed, they may ask why you left your most recent job. This article has 20 good reasons for leaving a job.
When they ask interview questions about your strengths in Nursing, don’t be timid or say, “I’m not sure.”
This is your chance to brag about yourself and be confident/bold. So be ready to name a few things you excel at, and how those would help you succeed in this position.
Think about what sets you apart from other Nursing candidates they’re interviewing. What helps you deliver excellent care to patients? What will you do that will help them grow their business, strengthen their reputation, etc.?
This is a question to think about and practice before your interview, because you do not want to hesitate or say, “I don’t know,” here.
This is also true if they ask, “Why should I hire you?” as well. Be confident and be ready to explain why you deserve the position!
This is similar to the question above and involves the same answer strategy.
Try to think of something unique that you bring to the position, or a strength that other candidates might not have. What are you best at? What can you do better than other Nurses who they are interviewing? Now is your chance to brag and show that off!
And always explain how your strengths will help you in this particular job. Don’t just talk about your skills in general – make it about them. How will your skills allow you to be successful in their position?
The more you can show that you’re ready to step into their job and succeed right away, the better. That’s what they’re looking for in the interview.
That’s why it’s so important to study the job description and research the company before your interview, so you can make your answers about their needs.
For more info on this, we have a job interview preparation checklist here.
This is one of the least tricky nursing interview questions you’ll hear, and the worst thing you can do is overthink it! Just give an honest answer about how you first came across their position.
This can be a friend or colleague, an online job posting, their company website, an advertisement you saw, etc.
Then, to cap off your answer, name one thing that caught your interest in the position. Explain why you decided to apply.
This extra step will show them that you’re excited about their position and that you did some research and thinking before you applied. A lot of candidates will apply to many jobs without really looking or thinking much about them, and employers prefer to hire someone who’s being more careful/thoughtful in their job search. So this will impress them!
Nobody’s perfect, and everyone fails. When they ask about a time you failed, talk about a specific situation where you failed to accomplish your goal, and most importantly – how you corrected it, learned from it, and used the experience to make sure it doesn’t happen again!
Never sound like you laid the blame on others or refused to take responsibility. It’s much better to sound humble and show you can admit a mistake.
However, you don’t want to name a catastrophic mistake that led to disaster. Try to name a real mistake, but nothing too critical. If you sound mistake-prone or careless in general, they’re not going to hire you.
You’re unlikely to get through a nursing interview without hearing a question or two about handling difficult patients.
Every Nurse has dealt with them! And the interviewer wants to make sure you’re able to stay calm and handle the situation appropriately.
So share a story about how you handled a difficult patient by listening, communicating clearly, trying to understand their perspective, and addressing their concerns.
However, don’t be afraid to show that you were firm in explaining your organization’s policies and why they must be followed. Sometimes a patient wants something that’s not possible, and part of a Nurse’s job is to explain this.
A similar question you might hear: “How do you handle conflict?”
This is another behavioral interview question that you can expect to hear as a Nurse. (Like the question above).
In this case, they’re not asking for a past example, but you can give one if you want.
To answer, start by explaining your overall approach. I recommend talking about how you’d stay calm and quiet.
Discuss how you focus on listening and asking questions to understand their point of view, and then respond.
Also, explain that you do everything possible to make sure the patient feels like they were given excellent care.
If you do want to share an example, you can say, “For example, in my last job, I…” and tell a real story of how you dealt with this situation. That’s a great way to end your response to this question.
Along with asking about your educational background (mentioned earlier), the interviewer may also ask an interview question about a particular nursing certification.
So review your certifications before the interview, and review the job description to see if any certifications are mentioned there, too.
Be ready to answer clearly and directly when asked. This is NOT one of the interview questions for nurses where they’re looking for a long-winded answer. Try to keep it brief.
Employers often ask questions about your long-term goals, for a few reasons. First, they want to see if you sound motivated/energetic in general… about your work, your career, and your life.
They’d rather hire someone who sounds positive and enthusiastic about their career.
The second reason they ask is: They want to make sure their job fits your general goals and career direction. The last thing they want to do is hire and train someone who’s going to quit after six months because the job isn’t satisfying them.
So you need to demonstrate two things:
A) You’ve thought about where you want to be in a few years
B) Their job fits your goals and helps you get where you want to be
If you do that, they’ll be a lot more comfortable offering you the job. For more help and example answers to this question, read this article.
Earlier, we looked at the question, “How do you handle stress at work?” but they may also ask a more general question about how you handle it in your life overall.
Because Nursing exposes you to stressful situations often, it’s a topic that many employers want to talk about in the interview.
Try to show that you stay level-headed and maintain your composure and that you do relaxing, healthy activities outside of work to maintain a balance.
“Over the past couple of years, I’ve been practicing breathing exercises and meditation. Both have been very effective in reducing stress while on the job, and after a shift. I also like to exercise regularly by going to the gym and doing yoga. Finally, I spend time in nature when I’m not working. I’ve found that’s a great stress reducer.”
That’s how to effectively answer interview questions about how you cope with this stressful career, or how you take care of yourself personally.
Another variation of this question that you might hear is: “How do you practice self care?”
These are all frequently-asked nurse interview questions, because it’s a career that often comes with stress.
Before offering you a Nursing job, employers want to know they can trust you to make calm, calculated decisions that are best for the patient and the organization.
They don’t want to hire someone who’s going to be reacting in the heat of the moment, making knee-jerk decisions without thinking things through, and committing errors along the way.
So try to show you have a logical, methodical approach and that you stay calm under pressure. Describe how you look at the pros and cons of each choice, the possible risks and likely outcomes, etc. You can also discuss how you speak with a supervisor if you’re unsure how to proceed.
And if they ask for an example, walk them through a recent situation where you had to make a decision under pressure and where you made the right choice and got a great outcome!
For answer examples and more tips on this question, read our full article on explaining how you make decisions.
After going through the interview questions and answers above, you’ll likely have a chance to ask questions of your own.
You can ask questions throughout your Nursing interview, but if you haven’t, you should ask some at the end. Asking questions shows that you’re interested in their job and that you care about your job search and career.
Employers don’t want to hire a Nurse who will take the first job they can get. They want to hire someone who’s looking for the right fit and targeting certain things. (A type of work environment, an opportunity to learn something specific, etc.)
And you show them this by asking questions!
For ideas of what to ask, here are 26 creative questions to ask employers.
If you study the nursing interview questions above, you’ll be better-prepared and make a better impression.
Make sure to practice your answers before the big moment, too, though.
Reading once through these common nurse interview questions is great, but you’re going to perform even better if you practice giving answers before your interview. You can do this by recording yourself on your phone or doing a mock interview with a friend.
You don’t need to memorize everything word-for-word, but you should know what general ideas you want to talk about for each question and topic! The point of doing a practice session is to make sure you’re able to communicate these ideas clearly.
I like to practice by recording myself talking on my smartphone (every modern phone has a sound recorder app). Then, I play back the recording to make sure I sound natural and am hitting the key points I wanted to mention.
If you prefer to do this with a real person, pull aside a friend or family member and ask them for help.
The more you get familiar with these interview questions for nursing jobs, the better you’ll perform and the more job offers you’ll get!
Biron Clark is a former executive recruiter who has worked individually with hundreds of job seekers, reviewed thousands of resumes and LinkedIn profiles, and recruited for top venture-backed startups and Fortune 500 companies. He has been advising job seekers since 2012 to think differently in their job search and land high-paying, competitive positions.
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