Interviewing Techniques

Get Your References Ready

Preparing your references is a crucial part of your job search and you should have your references ready before your first interview. Picking your references requires more than choosing three or four people in your past who you think can speak about your work ethic or skills. Your references can make or break your chances of getting the job you want, so it pays to invest some time in choosing them. Suitable references include current or former colleagues, former superiors, peers, subordinates, members of the medical staff, professors or instructors and individuals that you have worked with in other capacities, such as volunteer projects and organizations. Once you have identified the individuals you would like to use as references, it is important to follow these guidelines: Make sure you have the individual’s permission to use them as a reference. Talk to your references first and make sure they will contribute to your reputation in the right ways. Inform them of your career goals. Outline the characteristics you want them to highlight should they be contacted by a potential employer, and then ask them if they agree. Remind them of instances that exemplify these desirable traits. If your prospective reference disagrees with this assessment of your virtues, find someone else. Ask them the best time and means for people to contact them, so you can provide this to prospective employers. Keep them informed of each time that you use them as a reference.

The Interview -Your Time to Shine

Congratulations, your resume and cover letter worked! You’ve landed an interview! There is no need to dread the interview. With a little preparation and confidence, you will be ready to shine.


Research the organization. Employers are extremely impressed by candidates who have obviously done their homework. Prepare for questions. Think of possible questions you will be asked during the interview. Be prepared to discuss your strengths and how your skills and experience will contribute to their organization.

Questions you are likely to get from the interviewer include:

  • Tell me about yourself
  • What would you like to know about our organization?
  • Why do you want this job?
  • What do you find most attractive about this position?
  • Why should we hire you?

Learn as much as you can about the person interviewing you. This will make you calmer as well as demonstrate to them that you really want the job. Be able to articulate why you want the job. Hiring professionals ask this question more often than not. Learn how to calm yourself down. If you feel yourself getting rattled in or before the interview, take a deep breath and calm yourself. Be able to express, specifically, the marketable skills you have to offer the organization. If the interview will be conducted over the phone, prepare your surroundings. Pick a location with the fewest distractions possible.


Dress professionally. Appearances do count. For more info, click here

Don’t arrive late. Give yourself time to mentally prepare for the interview by arriving 15-20 minutes early. Maintain a positive attitude. Be polite and courteous to everyone you meet. Let the interviewer get to know you. Don’t make the mistake of not sharing enough information during the interview. If the interviewer is unable to gain an accurate picture of your qualifications it defeats the whole purpose of the interview. Feel free to ask for clarification before answering a question. Take some time to formulate your answers before you speak. Focus on the interview. Don’t get off the subject by talking about unnecessary information that wasn’t asked. Make sure you answer all questions asked during an interview. Ask questions. An interview is as much about you getting to know them as vice versa. This also keeps the interview more conversational, thus less stressful. Before going to an interview, have a list of questions about the position and the organization prepared that you would like answered. This demonstrates your interest in the position and the answers you get will help you determine whether the job and the organization are right for you. You should create your own list of questions, based on what’s important to you, but here are some that can help you get started.

  • What is your nurse/patient ratio and hours per patient/day?
  • How is the staff scheduled?
  • What are the current challenges that your organization faces?
  • Why did the last person leave the position?
  • How long has the position been vacant?
  • What were the results of the last accreditation survey?
  • When is the next survey scheduled?
  • Is call required for this position?
  • If so, what are the call requirements?
  • What would be my primary challenges if I were selected for this position?
  • What is your management style?
  • How often are performance reviews conducted and what is your process?
  • How does this organization feel about continuing education?
  • How would you describe the culture here?
  • What can you tell me about the person to whom I would report?

Don’t criticize a former employer–that makes recruiters wonder if the problem is with you. Be prepared to talk about past experiences. Many interviewers ask such situational questions as “What was the most difficult task you have ever faced?” or “Describe a situation that required teamwork.” Anticipate these questions and have an idea beforehand and be prepared to answer them.

Successfully Answering Ten Difficult Job Interview Questions

Your prime objective during a job interview is to successfully bond with the interviewer as you market yourself. You must be cordial, pleasant, smile, have a firm handshake and most importantly, listen to what the interviewer is saying and asking. Job interviews are not events that allow for standard responses. Every question has a purpose and is designed to elicit specific information. You need to answer the questions honestly while being sensitive to the interviewer’s real goal, i.e. to determine if you and your beliefs/style match with that of the people, organization and job that you are seeking. Applicants who solely focus on their own needs and how the job meets their expectations will not be successful in the interview. Put your interviewer at ease with you, get to know what s/he values and expects of the individual in this role, what type of person s/he thinks will be successful and why, etc. Bring pertinent/appropriate questions to the interview. Organizations want people who have goals, values, aspirations and experiences which match theirs, but also want candidates that demonstrate their interest in the organization and role through their questions.

1. Tell me about yourself

The goal of this question is to determine if you are optimistic, pessimistic or fatalistic. It is also designed to see if you are egocentric. This is usually an opening question and does not require great depth. Be brief but cover the following areas: your early years, your relevant education, work history and recent career experience.

2. Why do you want to work for us?

If your answer is “because it’s close to where I live and because I get tuition benefits”, chances are you will be eliminated immediately. Relate your answer to their mission, goals, reputation, etc.–anything that shows you did your homework and that you want to match with their strengths. Although the other answers may be more ‘honest’, they are benefits and are not enough reason to keep you motivated and effective.

3. Why should we hire you?

Talk about the match between their needs and your abilities. Remember to talk about your energy and capacity to get a job done. Mention some career accomplishments and how those experiences can be brought to bear on their position.

4. What do you look for in a job?

The words “job security” should not leave your lips! Organizational opportunities are what you should be seeking. Most people in leadership positions want to make a contribution to their work setting and to be recognized for them, or to have specific experiences that match with their long-term goals.

5. What is your definition of a__(job title)_____?

Today this is tough to answer because every organization has defined a given job title differently. The ad or the job description or other materials should give you clues about the correct answer. If you are unsure, talk about how this is changing and ask for their definition, then comment upon it.

6. How long would it take you to make a meaningful contribution here?

This is tricky because you want to pull your weight from Day 1, however you might not be able to make a major change for 6-12 months depending upon the job’s complexity. On the other hand, organizations moving at a fast pace don’t want to hear that you won’t entertain any changes until you’ve had time to fully assess the situation and might get something implemented much later than they need it.

7. What important trends do you see in health care?

This question is designed to assess your interest, your vision, how current you are with the professional literature and your reaction to change. The best way to be prepared for this is to remain current in your professional knowledge, to read, to attend seminars and to network. Be able to talk about what is happening in other areas of the country, what is occurring legislatively, who is the current guru in a specific topic, what trends you have proactively prepared for in your current setting, etc.

8. Why are you leaving your current job?

This will be probed closely, especially if you were terminated. Be brief, to the point and as honest as possible without hurting yourself. Do not be defensive! Taking a “we agreed to disagree” approach might work well. If you are leaving of your own accord, explain why you are choosing this as a transition time. If you were laid-off in a downsizing, say so. But always talk of the positive things about your current or former employer/company.

9. What do you think of your current boss? How would s/he describe you?

This question probes your relationship with authority figures and how you view them, seeks further information about whether or not this was a factor in leaving your current position, gets at your strengths and limitations and at how well you know yourself. Ask questions about the management style of your “potential boss” to determine whether or not this will be a good fit for you.

10. Describe some of your accomplishments…..

This is a question designed to elicit your values and where you derive personal and professional satisfaction. Thoughtfully consider your answer in light of today’s job market and expectations. Be prepared to speak to 2 to 3 major accomplishments in your current position or a trend of 3-4 accomplishments that span your career. If you have derived great pleasure by increasing the size of your department, an answer like this might cause you difficulty if the organization will be asking you to do more with less. This is where your prior knowledge of the organization can assist you in describing accomplishments which are similar to their opportunities.

Anticipate the Following Interview Questions for Nursing Leadership Roles

1. What interested you in this particular position? What excites you the most about the role?

2. What would you hope to achieve in this role?

3. What are your overall career goals for the next 3 – 5 years and how will this position help you to reach those goals?

4. Describe your experience with models of nursing care delivery (e.g. Case Management, patient focused/centered care).

5. Describe your experience with professional practice elements (e.g. career ladder, shared governance, self-scheduling, peer review, professional developmental models, etc.).

6. Why did you become a nurse? What do you enjoy about it? Describe your philosophy of nursing.

7. Describe the practice “climate” you would want to establish if you were selected for the position. What specific techniques do you utilize to motivate staff? How do you develop/mentor staff that report to you?

8. What has been your relationship with physician leaders in your current and previous positions? What have been some challenges you faced in working with physicians and how did you handle them? What would physicians tell us about you?

9. Describe your relationship with nursing administration. How do you handle differences of opinion? How do you explain these to the staff? How would your current boss describe you? How would non-nursing peers and others in hospital administration describe you?

10. What has been your experience with advanced practice groups, e.g. clinical nurse specialists, NP’s and educators? What special leadership issues do you think are present with these groups? How would nursing peers/colleagues describe you?

11. How have you encouraged the staff in your area to further their professional practice? What would the nursing staff say about you?

12. How would you describe your leadership/management style? Given some of the things we’ve told you about this area of responsibility, what would be some of the management techniques you would utilize initially and why? Describe your current organizational structure.

13. What are your ten key strengths? What areas have you identified as needing development and what are you doing to achieve those objectives?

14. Describe some of your professional accomplishments.

15. Describe your experience with budget preparation and administration. Are you good at financial management? How have you handled any incongruence between the needs of the unit and cost containment? How did you explain this to the staff and physicians?

16. What has been your experience with Performance Improvement, committees, regulatory agencies (JCAHO, State), research, etc?

17. Describe some of the special challenges you have dealt with between groups you have worked with or managed. How have you handled these? What different techniques have you utilized (e.g., team building, conflict resolution)? Describe your approach to team building. What makes a good team member and a good team leader?

18. What do you enjoy most about being in a leadership or management role? What are your favorite “management functions”? What are your least favorite?

19. What type of people do you enjoy working with and why? What type of people do you typically hire? What is your process for evaluating and developing your staff to their maximum potential?

20. What important lessons have you learned so far in your nursing career?

Always ask questions at the end of the interview. In fact, ask if your skills and abilities meet their needs. This gives you the opportunity to clarify concerns and provide additional information to quell these concerns. Let the interviewer know that you want the position at the end of the interview.

Follow Up-Don’t Forget to say ‘Thanks’

Make some notes about the interview right after you leave. Send a thank you letter or email ASAP to each interviewer. Every person you talk to at an interview should receive a thank you note. Write them immediately after the interview while everything is fresh in your mind. The letters should be in the mail/email the next day. Start off by thanking them for spending their time with you. In a quick, concise sentence tell them why you are still interested in the position. Restate what you believe are their needs and demonstrate how you plan to fill them. Add something specific about how you were treated or something they said. This will let them know that you listened carefully to them throughout the interview. Your letter should be enthusiastic, but be sure the tone is consistent with the tone of your behavior during the interview. Use this opportunity to mention anything you may have forgotten, emphasize points you want the interviewer to remember and reiterate your interest in speaking with them again.