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Applying for a job in nursing can be stressful. But if you’re reading this, chances are you are one step closer to beginning a new and exciting stage in your career!

Congratulations on making past the the nursing job application stage with an exceptional cover letter and resume, where you’ve also addressed the selection criteria. Now it’s time to prepare for the job interview. There are many things you are probably asking yourself right now, like “what do I need to know?”, “what should I ask?” and “how can I prepare?”.

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In this article, some of Australia's nurse recruitment experts share their most common nursing job interview questions. And we talk to an early career nurse who has some fresh insight after going through the process herself.

General questions

Nursing interview questions will be specifically targeted to each advertised position. Ensure you know the key selection criteria inside and out, advises Anette Smith, Recruitment and Retention Nurse Manager at Royal Perth Hospital in Western Australia.

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“From the key selection criteria, you really need to think about the questions that are possible. It helps to talk to people about what questions could come from that.”

The job interview will usually include questions on the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards. It will also include scenario-based clinical and problem solving questions, teamwork and leadership questions, and customer or patient service questions.

Some of these questions will be behavioural questions which are designed to test the applicant for the specific characteristics required for the position, and clinical questions which aim to assess the applicant’s critical thinking skills. These questions enable the interviewer to evaluate how well the applicant thinks on their feet and how they would prioritise tasks in a given situation.

Questions can vary slightly depending on the health organisation that’s recruiting. As a not-for-profit private healthcare provider, nursing recruiters at Victoria’s Epworth HealthCare ask questions about customer service and the values of the organisation.

“I think it’s a really good thing for people to ponder how they’re going to work in a values-based organisation,” Liz Powne, HR Manager of Workforce Development says.

“I might say to somebody - these are the values of Epworth HealthCare, can you tell me what this value means to you in your practice as a nurse or nurse manager? Can you speak to a time when you were perhaps challenged on this value and how you dealt with it?”

Nurses are also often quizzed on working within their scope of practice. “We might ask them to talk about a task they aren’t familiar with,” says Robyn Fox, Acting Executive Director of Nursing and Midwifery Services at Metro North Hospital and Health Service in Queensland. “What would they do to prepare themselves for that, who they would refer to? It’s very important they don’t undertake a skill or an activity that’s outside their scope of practice, that they haven’t had the education and support for.”

Click here to watch a video of a Registered Nurse's job interview experience in Australia

The STAR interview format

A popular technique used in interviews is the STAR technique, which can be helpful to keep in mind during professional interviews. Consider forming responses to interview questions using this method in order to provide structure and authenticity to your answers:

  • Situation: Explain the background of your example.
  • Task: Explain what your role was in the situation.
  • Action: Explain what action you took to address the issue.
  • Result: Explain what you learned from the situation and any positive results for the people involved and your company.
When it comes to specific interview questions you may be asked during an interview, this can vary based on your career stage and the experience level of the position you are applying for. 

Questions for nurse graduates

Nurse graduates may be straight out of university but recruiters will treat finding the right nurse graduate for their organisation just as seriously as filling an executive nursing position. Recruiters are looking for graduates who showcase good interpersonal skills, such as excellent communication and team work, as well as enthusiasm and a caring personality, problem solving skills, those with an inquiring approach to their practice, and graduates who are already considering the future direction of their career.

Grade point averages at university are important to the interview panel but emotional intelligence and resilience are just as crucial as academic intelligence, Ms Fox says. “It comes down to how they apply themselves to answering the questions.”

Nurse graduates will often receive a basic level of questioning in their job interview, such as:

  • Tell us about yourself?
  • What qualities do you possess that will make you a successful registered nurse?
  • What nursing areas pique your interest and why?
  • What is an effective team you’ve been a part of and what was your contribution to that team?
  • Why do you want to work here?
  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What do you know about the National Safety and Quality Health Service Standards?
  • How do you maintain your national registration with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency?
Ms Fox says nursing panels also ask about the key actions nurse graduates would undertake when looking after a particular patient. “We’d give them a scenario of the type of patient and then we’d ask them to explain why they would undertake those actions,” she says.

For Coleen Hong, a nurse graduate, she described her first interviews “daunting and nerve-wracking”.

“But after I got the first one out of the way, I started to feel more confident”.

“I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? You don’t get the job. Disappointing but it’s not the end of the world. It has happened to most people at some point in their life.”

As Ms Fox advised, Ms Hong found that a key focus of the questions she was asked focused on specific scenarios.

“After my first interview, I realised there was more prep I could do, and it made me think a lot more about different situations I saw in my training and rotations.”

“I thought of a bunch of questions and got my flatmate to ask me some to practice beforehand. It helped me form my answers clearly and get my point across. I didn’t write up answers to memorise, though, as I didn’t want to sound scripted, I want to come across as authentic in what I’m saying.”

“Obviously, it’s also really important for you to research the organisation. That’s the same with any job though. So I already knew to come ready with some questions to ask when they say to you at the end of the interview, ‘do you have any questions for us?’”

“My favourite question to answer is about why I became a nurse. That’s when I feel confident and in my element. That’s when you get to talk about you, and what makes you tick and what you love about nursing. Let them see how passionate you are”

Questions for early career nurses

Recruiters are seeking early career nurses with excellent interpersonal skills, teamwork and problem solving skills, a thirst for knowledge and for wanting to grow their career, flexibility, organisational skills, a focus on quality and patient safety, patient satisfaction, and professionalism.

Nurses in the early stages of their careers can be competing against nurses with years of experience, so it’s important to think ahead and plan your answers to some of these common questions:

  • What do you know about this area of nursing?
  • How do you perform under pressure?
  • Tell us about a difficult clinical experience you had and how you handled it?
  • What have you enjoyed the most about nursing?
  • What are your career aspirations?
  • Why do you want to leave your current nursing position?
  • What makes a good team player?
  • Provide an example of how you’ve handled a situation with an agitated patient?
  • The team leader has asked you to look after a particular bay of patients by yourself while your colleague takes a break. What would you do from a clinical handover perspective?
Ms Fox says scenario-based questions will also be asked, for example, about a deteriorating patient and how the applicant would address that based on their level of skills and experience. “We might give them a scenario about a patient receiving a medication and ask them a question about how they would apply that and the follow through of that in the workplace,” she says. “We’d also ask a scope of practice question geared to their particular level of expertise.”

Questions for clinical nurses

Nursing applicants looking to move into clinical specialties should equip themselves with graduate certificates in that specialty area. Building on some of the early attributes nurses should possess, recruiters will be looking for nurses with clinical expertise and skills, an interest in ongoing learning and fostering others, and a passion for their chosen nursing specialty.

“We want that clinical expertise there and we can build on the professional and we can build on the organisational,” Ms Fox says. “But if you’re going to be the clinical specialist, you need to understand the theoretical and the clinical practice constructs of what you’re doing within the workplace.”

Here are some of the typical questions put to clinical nurse applicants:

  • What do you think this role involves?
  • Can you tell us about a time your work was criticised and how you handled it?
  • What have been your favourite and least favourite clinical positions and why?
  • How do you set priorities in your work?
  • How would your co-workers describe you?
  • How do you handle stress?
  • Have you had a disagreement with a manager and how did you handle it?
  • What specific training and skills can you bring to this role?
  • Provide an example of problem solving a patient’s care in this specialty area?
  • What areas are you currently working on to improve your skills?
  • How would you apply research findings to your practice?
Questions for nurse practitioners

Interview panels are seeking nurse practitioners with outstanding communication skills, a commitment to ongoing learning, passion for their work, customer or patient focus, good team work skills and leadership skills. With a Masters degree under their belt, nurse practitioners are tested on their body of knowledge in the specialty area or the role to which they’re applying. Ms Fox says nurse practitioners should expect questions around scope of practice, communication and interactions along with scenario-based questions.

Here are some common questions for nurse practitioners:

  • Why did you want to be a nurse practitioner?
  • Why did you choose this particular specialty area?
  • What is your greatest failure and how did you learn from it?
  • Provide an example of where you’ve worked well in a team?
  • How do you keep current with evidence-based practice?
  • Provide an example of where you thrived under pressure?
  • What are your career goals?
  • What challenges are you looking for in this nurse practitioner position?
  • What health care issues are important to you?
  • How do you describe your approach to patients?
  • Which features of our organisation or practice interest you the most?
  • What qualities do you feel are most important to the success of a nurse practitioner?
Questions for senior nurses

Senior nurses should possess all the qualities of a great nurse but also hold leadership attributes, excellent teamwork skills, a commitment to high quality patient care, ongoing education, and taking their nursing career to the next level.

Ms Smith says nurses applying for senior positions in specialty areas, such as intensive care, should have or be working towards a postgraduate certificate in that particular field. “It’s not always an essential criteria but it might be desirable and it might be what gets you over the line above the other person,” she says.

Here are some interview questions often put to applicants for senior nurse positions:

  • Provide an example of a situation where you had to resolve a conflict with a patient while  providing care. What did you do?
  • Provide an example of a change you made in your nursing practice that improved the quality of care you were able to provide?
  • What’s your most important professional achievement?
  • Have you participated in the professional organisations you belong to?
  • How much supervision do you want or need?
  • Provide an example of a time you acted as a leader?
  • How do you delegate tasks to other staff?
  • What would your last supervisor say about your work?
  • Tell us about a recent situation where you were required to use your own initiative?
  • You’ve been approached by a junior nurse on the ward who is concerned about the care that’s being provided to a patient. How would you address that?
  • What would you do to ensure a particular clinical issue in the work environment didn’t occur again?
  • When have you had difficulty with your peers and how did you handle it?
Questions for nurse managers

Nurse manager positions range from Assistant Nurse Unit Manager (ANUM) to Nurse Unit Manager (NUM), Associate or Assistant Director of Nursing (ADON), Director of Nursing (DON), and Executive Director of Nursing. Building on the foundations of a senior nurse, recruiters look for managers who also possess business acumen, are professional role models, coach and mentor staff, hold skills in conflict resolution and negotiation to promote collaboration between staff, and have a networking ability.

Nurse managers often have one or several postgraduate qualifications in their specialty area while those in higher positions should have recognised management or other relevant qualifications, be working towards a management qualification or have significant management experience.
Nurse managers will be asked questions relating to the management of HR, budgets, rostering, training, clinical issues, support processes and conflict resolution.

Questions for nurse managers can include:

  • How do you motivate your nursing staff?
  • How do you mentor nurses?
  • What is the full-time equivalent (FTE) for this area?
  • How much autonomy do you give nurses when it comes to making decisions about patient care?
  • What are your professional goals?
  • How would you demonstrate leadership within the wards while maintaining clinical standards?
  • Provide an example of how you get people to work together?
  • What are the biggest issues facing nurses?
  • What are the hospital’s targets and what would you do in this role to help the hospital meet those targets?
Ms Powne says nurse manager applicants should be strong advocates of self-development, both for themselves and for other staff in their unit. “I’d want to know how they would see their role in developing others and the people underneath them,” she says.

Interview panels are looking for a candidate’s life experiences to shine through, Ms Fox adds. “We want to know - what have they done in their career, what have they achieved clinically, what have they achieved professionally and what have they achieved organisationally? We want to know that they understand the organisation, they understand the profession, they understand the clinical requirements and how they put that together as a package.”

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