In every interview, the main topic at hand is you. The company and interviewers want to know you — not just your skills, work experience, and education credentials. Each company has its own culture, and many times we’ll spend more time with our co-workers than we do anyone else in our lives. One bad personality (or attitude) can have a negative impact on the rest of the staff and work environment.
Interviewers also want to know if you’re the type of person to work hard and stick around. They want to know what motivates you and what brought you to them. In the end, if it comes down to you and another equally qualified applicant, they’ll go with the person they believe will fit in the best and work hard.
Many people find it difficult to talk about themselves. You don’t want to seem too arrogant gushing about your strengths, but you also don’t want to seem like you’re talking down about yourself and have no confidence. It’s a fine line to walk, but these types of questions give you the chance to show your personality and strengths and set the stage for the rest of the interview.
Tell Me About Yourself
One of the most common questions in this category isn’t usually phrased as a question. “Tell me about yourself” is a very open-ended request. You might wonder what exactly they’re asking. Are they asking about your family and home life? Your education? Your work experience? Your hobbies?
With this question, the interviewer wants to know what you think is the most important information they should know. This is when preparing in advance and using your nursing assessment skills comes in — you’ve taken a look at the company and the job description, so you’re familiar with their mission statement and what skills they value. Your answer is an opportunity to show how well you fit into that mission with your skills.
A word of caution, however, as there are some approaches to avoid when answering this question:
- Don’t restate your resume. A resume is a detailed summary of your experiences. The interviewers have already read it and will probably read it again later, so long as you make a good impression at the interview.
- Don’t get too personal. A potential employer doesn’t need to know what religion you identify with, whether or not you are married, or any other details about your personal life that you normally wouldn’t share with an employer.
- Don’t monologue. They don’t need to know everything about you. Trying to tell them everything will likely mean your answer will lose focus.
When you think about answering this question, consider some of these good tips:
- Adapt. Craft your response based on what you already know the interviewer wants to know. You’ve looked up what the company’s mission and values are, and you know what they want from their job description. Your answer will shift based on the company you interview with.
- Be specific. While you can start with general statements like, “my best strength is my ability to stay calm under pressure,” but support those claims with specific examples. Was there a stressful time at work or school when staying calm made a difference?
- Use examples. As always, use both personal and professional experiences to support your answers.
- Stay focused. Focus on just a few important points. Start with the top one or two most important points or strengths from your resume.
Finally, when you get down to crafting your answer, think of it as where you’ve been and where you’re headed. Start off talking about what you’ve been doing before applying for this job and then wrap it up with a brief reason for why you’re interviewing.
Example: I’ve been in nursing school at [university] for the past few years and just recently passed the NCLEX-RN exam. During school, I worked part-time as an LPN in a rehab facility during swing shift. I loved the variety of skills I used and learned while working with patients gaining their independence back. Now that I have my RN license and have done clinicals in a variety of specialties, I’ve found that I’m most interested in working with [this patient demographic], and I know your facility is one of the best in the state.
What are your strengths and/or weaknesses?
Strengths and weaknesses will usually come up as separate questions, but the approach to answering them is more or less the same. You don’t want to come off as arrogant anymore than you want to come off as if you’re criticizing yourself. Whichever question you are answering, pick strengths and weaknesses that you have experiences with to back them up.
Example: I would say my biggest strength is I like to stay on top of things. When there was any free time at my last job, I would assess the patient schedule and the supplies we had on the floor, and if anything was running low, I would take the time to restock it fully, so no one would have to run around, trying to find supplies when we were busy. It saved us time but was also respectful to my coworkers.
Example: In my last job, my coworkers used to remind me to ask for help when we got busy. I would get hyper-focused on what needed to be done. I wanted it done to my standards and would get frustrated if it wasn’t. I had to learn to rely on my coworkers and trust that they could do the job just as well as I could, however, it did take several years of constant conscious effort.
About Your Motivations
Employers often want to know about what motivates you. Whatever motivated you to get to where you are today will likely affect how well you do your job, as well as how long you’ll stick around.
Why did you become a nurse?
Even if an interviewer doesn’t ask you this, it’s still an important question to reflect on. Can you remember the moment you decided to go into nursing? Or maybe multiple moments led to that decision.
This question also has variations; they may ask what you think is the most difficult or most rewarding part of being a nurse. Those questions often go hand-in-hand with why you wanted to go into nursing in the first place. Be personal, as it’s a very personal answer, but stay professional.
Example: I initially went into nursing because I have a lot of family members in nursing, like my aunt and my grandmother, and it seemed like a stable job that also made a big difference in people’s lives. Then I started working as a CNA and realized it was hard work! But, it was also very rewarding. I remember in my first CNA job there was a patient who was really tough to get along with. He couldn’t talk because of his health conditions and was confined to a wheelchair. He didn’t seem to like a lot of people. One time, he had an emergency, and I jumped right in to help without question. After that, he came to me and took my hand, and although he couldn’t form words, I could tell by his tone and his eye contact how much he had appreciated my help and my patience. Memories like that really helped me get through nursing school and reminded me that I wanted to become a nurse to help people.
Why did you leave your last job?
Answers to this question need to be honest, but avoid talking badly about your previous or current employer. An interviewer often uses this type of question to see if you’ll bring a negative outlook to their company or if you won’t stick around for a long time. Employers don’t want to spend resources on someone who isn’t likely to make the time spent in training worth the cost.
Example: I really enjoy my current job and it does focus on patient outcomes and what’s best for our patients, but I’ve become too comfortable in the routine. Additionally, there are few positions in management to grow into. I am looking for an opportunity to grow my skills and knowledge, as well as the chance for career advancement.
Why do you want this job?
This question often ties in directly to the previous question. Most people don’t look for jobs unless there’s something about their current or previous work that led them to start a job search. Even if the interviewer doesn’t ask this question directly, they’ll still want to know why and will be looking for that reason to come up in every answer you give.
Think about why you applied for this job and why you are willing to interview for it. Sure, it might be that it simply sounded interesting, or that it is near where you live. Maybe it was just one of dozens you applied for. You just don’t necessarily have to mention these reasons.
If you were offered this job, why would you say yes? Why would they want you to say yes? This goes back to the research you did on the company before the interview. Tell them why their facility in particular interests you and why the job itself suits you.
Examples: One of my friends used to work for your company before moving to another state, and she would often tell me about how much she loved it. She would tell me how your company treats both its employees and clients with the same level of care and respect. I also know that your hospitals are often at the forefront of new medical advances, like pioneering heart surgeries, and I appreciate a company that is always looking to the future.
I’m particularly interested in this position because I have always been interested in working in the ER ever since I did my nursing clinicals. I like the challenge and knowledge that comes from having every day and every patient case be different than the one before.
Where do you see yourself five years from now?
An interviewer wants to know whether it’s worth it to hire you. At the end of the day, they are looking out for what’s best for their employees and what’s best for the company’s bottom line. If it seems like you won’t stick around long enough to make the cost of training worth it, then they’ll likely go with someone who will.
This question could come in a variety of forms about your career goals or how you’d define success, but they all want to know the same thing — how does this job fit into your long-term plans? If you don’t know the answer to that question, take some time to think about it.
Example: My plan is that over the next five years, I will get the knowledge, experience, and confidence I need to take on a managerial-type role. I know that your company prefers to hire and advance from within, and I would like to find myself working for employers who promote that kind of employee growth.
Congratulations, you now have strategies on how to answer these personal questions and hopefully give your interviewers a chance to know the best you. In the next section, we’ll talk about another category of questions — how well you work with others.