Most of the time, the interviewer will have a pretty good idea of what the job in question would require from you. The interviewer could be the direct supervisor for that position, could work alongside that position, or could currently do the job themselves.
With that in mind, the interviewer will ask questions to gauge how well they think you’d be able to do the job you’re applying for.
Many specialties require a specific set of skills and knowledge and interviewers will first want to make sure you have those. Then, there are skills that are universal to nursing itself including some that are developed over years of schooling or work experience.
While it isn’t always a deal-breaker if you do not have certain skills, the interviewer really knows what’s absolutely necessary and what can be worked on after you’re offered the job.
Do you have any experience with [this skill]?
The vast majority of the time, if an interviewer asks this question, then this skill is specific to the specialty or floor. This skill was mostly likely listed as “preferred” or “required” experience on the job application. It could be related to a specific piece of software or equipment, like ventilators, or it could be a treatment or medication that’s common for that patient demographic.
This is where your interview preparation comes in handy. You looked through the job description before showing up for it, so you had time to notice any particular skills listed and prepare an answer for this type of question.
If you do have experience with this skill, great! You probably have it listed on your resume, and that might have been the reason they pulled you for an interview. When you’re asked this question, just tell them about your experience.
Example: Yes, I worked as an RN in an ICU for several years after school, and I cared for several patients with tracheostomies.
If you don’t have any experience with this skill, it’s not the end of the world (or the job opportunity). This is especially true if the skill was listed as “preferred” and not “required.” The company still called you for an interview, even though you didn’t list any experience. That usually means it’s a type of skill they can teach you during orientation, and you’ll get better at it over time.
Be truthful, but still take the opportunity to highlight your eagerness to learn something new and your ability to learn it quickly. It also helps if you read up on any skills listed in the job description that you didn’t know about before.
Example: I haven’t worked in a setting yet where I cared for patients with tracheostomies, but I know it is one of the most common procedures for patients in ICUs. I saw you had the skill listed as preferred in the job description, so I took time before the interview to refresh my memory from nursing school and clinicals.
What is an example of a time where you didn’t know what to do at work?
You will not know everything. Good employers don’t expect you to know everything. The medical field and human bodies can be very strange, and there is a number of things that can go wrong. However, employers do expect certain actions from you when you encounter something you don’t know.
If you don’t know the answer to something, what is your first response? Think of a time when you came across something in your work that you didn’t know the answer to. How did you use your nursing skills to solve the problem?
Employers want to know that you took into account the safety of the people involved (your patient, yourself, or other coworkers), the unit’s policies, and overall best nursing practices. This is basically just a question to see if you can safely and efficiently problem solve.
Example: When I was working as an agency nurse, I had my first med pass shift at a rehab facility I’d never been to before. When I was reviewing what patients I had for the day and what medications they had scheduled, I noticed a patient needed his medication given via his PEG tube.
Since I hadn’t had to care for a patient with a PEG tube for many years, I immediately went and asked one of the full-time nurses working the same floor for help in reviewing the facility’s policies in giving medication via PEG. When I went to give the patient their scheduled medication an hour later, I felt confident in doing it correctly.
Describe a time that was very stressful. How did you handle it?
The medical field can be very stressful. Some specialties and units require split-second life and death decisions almost every shift, while others just get plain busy. Sometimes coworkers call in sick, supervisors can’t find replacements, and you’ll be understaffed.
Showing how well you successfully handled stressful situations can give you an edge over other candidates. It’s a skill set that includes delegation, problem-solving, teamwork, critical thinking, decision-making, communication, time-management, and stress management. If you know how to thrive during the most stressful times, then you’re more likely to stick around and make good decisions.
Example: When I used to work in the emergency department in my old city, there was a music festival every August that took place in a park a few blocks away. We’d see a lot more patients come through over that weekend. One particular night involved a multi-car accident that brought in several patients at the same time.
Luckily, before our shift had even started, my team and I had taken a few extra minutes during the shift report to decide what we’d do if it got unusually busy and which of us would be best doing what roles. So, when the patients from the accident came in, we were ready to step up into our roles and adjust as needed.
Your Opinion of Your Skills
A common question you might be asked is your opinion on your skills. This can be a fairly difficult question for some people who aren’t used to talking positively about themselves and what they can do.
Why should we hire you?
This question may not come across so straightforward in your interview, but it’s the question that the interviewer will be thinking about throughout the entire interview. If you do get asked this question directly, then you basically have to give them a sales pitch selling your skills and experience. You have to convince them why they should take a chance with you.
It’s likely safe to say that many of us don’t have a whole lot of sales experience, so this can be scary. When you’re thinking about how you would answer this question directly, here are a few thoughts to consider including:
- Your most relevant work experience that fits something specific in the job description.
- An experience or trait that’s unique to you and sets you apart from another candidate.
- Examples of valuable nursing skills that can be applied to every nursing job and can make the difference between an okay nurse and a great nurse.
Example: I’ve been a registered nurse for a decade now, and that’s given me many opportunities to develop my critical thinking skills and teach me to pick up and master new skills quickly. For example, I volunteered in South America to work for a couple of years as a registered nurse overseeing the health care and treatment of religious missionaries. I had to build a system of care basically from the ground up, including rewriting a preventative health manual in English and Spanish, establishing relationships with local doctors, and working with health care professionals in other countries to coordinate insurance. And, I had to do this all while learning a new language and culture.