Travel nurse sitting in an interview with three healthcare professionals
Career Development Updated September 15, 2022

By  Megan Krischke, contributor

The 10 Hardest Nursing Interview Questions and Answers

Are you seeking a new employment opportunity? Your nursing interview may be the make-it-or-break-it moment in your job search. Luckily, with preparation, you can be ready to face the toughest nurse interview questions out there. 

To help prepare you to answer common nursing interview questions and secure the nursing job of your dreams, we spoke with Summer Bryant, DNP, RN, CENP, CMSRN, who serves as president for the Academy of Medical Surgical Nurses and works as a healthcare management consultant.

Bryant was also a nurse manager at an academic medical center in the Midwest for many years. She managed a staff of more than 40 nurses and typically interviewed around 10-20 nurse candidates each year.

The nurse interview is a pivotal step for both the job candidate and the hiring manager, according to Bryant, and it is important to be prepared. In the list below, she shares the most common nurse interview questions she would ask, and what she and other hiring managers are looking for in a great answer.    

10 Common Nursing Interview Questions

1. Why do you want to work here (at this hospital/health system)?

In this nurse interview question, which is often her first, Bryant is looking to find out not only that nurses have taken the time to learn about the organization, but what is particularly attractive to them.  

“Sometimes people won’t have an answer to this question and if other parts of the interview are great, I will still hire them.  But I am looking for people who particularly want to work at this hospital.”

2. What are your values?

“This is one of my newest favorites [among nurse interview questions],” Bryant explained. 

“While there aren’t exactly right and wrong answers to this question, I am looking for someone with values that are either shared by our current team or which will augment our current team. If their values are really different, they wouldn’t enjoy the team any more than we would enjoy working with them.”

Bryant reflected that if the candidate answered this nurse interview question by only mentioning superficial things, it could sway her opinion.  

She also noted that candidates should have the same concerns about what values are promoted and upheld in the workplace of their potential employer.

“I would suggest that candidates ask this question of the people interviewing them, to find out if they think the team is a good fit for them,” she added.  

3. What drew you to the nursing profession?

Some nurse managers might ask this common nursing interview question in place of the one about values, or as a follow-up question. It also gives the candidate the opportunity to tell more of their personal story.

The hardest part about answering why you want to be a nurse is that you need to be honest, without sounding trite. “I just want to help people” is a phrase that has been heard far too often in nurse job interviews.  

So think about the real motivators in your own life, practice what you want to say, and keep it relatively short. 

4. Tell me about a time when you inadvertently caused conflict?

A similar type question that some manages might ask is, “Have you dealt with a family or patient who was displeased with your care? How did you handle it?”

These types of nursing interview questions may make some candidates uncomfortable, but they are asked for a purpose.

“I follow this question up with, ‘What would you do differently if you had to do it over?’” Bryant remarked. “A great answer to this question shows self-reflection and a willingness to improve.” 

5. What can you bring to our team?

“I ask this question because it provides them with an opportunity to share their unique strengths that may not have already come up in the interview,” she explained.  Nurses might want to provide specific examples of how they contributed to their current or previous team as part of their answer.

6. What are your weaknesses? What is your area of greatest opportunity?

“I actually don’t like this question all that much and only use it when necessary. It might actually signal to the interviewee that the interview isn’t going that well,” Bryant commented.

But how should you respond if you are asked this common nursing interview question? 

“Of course you want to spin your weakness into a positive and/or show that you are willing to invest in your own self-improvement.”

7. If I called your previous supervisor, what would they tell me about you?

“I get all kinds of good stuff out of this question because applicants know that I can verify their response,” Bryant noted. “To answer this appropriately you need to be very honest. Hopefully, there are positive things and the supervisor will substantiate that.” 

“But they may have also had a difficult relationship with a prior supervisor and this gives them a chance to speak to that and to explain what steps they did to try to improve the relationship,” she continued. 

8. How would you define a nurse leader?

“This is an important question because all nurses are leaders. Even if they aren’t formally leading their peers, they are advocating for their patients and looking for ways to improve the practice,” she said. “I want to know how a nurse thinks about leadership.”

The worst answers to this nurse interview question, in Bryant’s opinion, would be those that show an attitude that the manager should be fixing all their problems.   

9. What are your career goals? 

“For many nurses, working in med-surg is a starting point—and that is fine.  But I want to know where it is that they want to go. Is there another specialty they are hoping to move to? Are they interested in getting certified, or being involved with the unit or joining professional organizations?” Bryant explained.  

You don’t have to have your entire nursing career goals planned out, but a little thought and self-reflection can help you be ready for these types of nursing interview questions and answers.

10. What questions would you like to ask me/us?

Bryant offered this tip: be prepared to be interviewed not just by the nurse manager, but by other members of the unit. 

“When you meet with other staff nurses, this is a great time to ask questions like how they work together as a team or how many patients they have each shift,” she stated. “You will spend more time with the other staff nurses than the nurse manager so you want to make sure it is a good fit for you.”

Nurse managers and staff will expect that you have done some research, so be prepared with a few relevant questions about the facility, unit and/or job.

Other Common Nursing Interview Questions

In addition to the questions above, a job candidate may want to prepare answers to a variety of other common nursing interview questions, such as:

  1. How do you address questions from a patient’s family and friends?
  2. What are some ways you strive to improve communication with patients and family?
  3. How do you handle stress on the job?
  4. What are your strategies for handling a difficult patient?
  5. How do you handle working with a difficult co-worker?

 

Again, think through your answers ahead of time and imagine what a hiring manager is trying to discover when they ask each question. You may not be able to anticipate every question that you will be asked, but that’s okay. Listen carefully to each question, and do your best to provide a thoughtful, honest answer.

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