35+ Common Nursing Interview Questions and Sample Answers [2020]

After completing your Registered Nurse program (completed nursing school), passed the NCLEX exam, and received a state RN license to practice in the state, you’ll need to prepare for your nursing interview. Interviewing with a hospital, private practice, or other surgical facilities that require on-staff Registered Nurses is relatively similar.

The interview process may contain interview questions specific to the nurse practitioner role or nursing job. Your interviewer or hiring manager may ask a behavioral question or behavioral interview questions at any point in the nursing interview. These are questions that have you share a stressful situation at work and how you overcame or resolved it.

It may be part of your job interview process to take a phone interview with the hiring manager, nurse manager, recruiter, or interviewer. You should prepare for all of the following nursing interview questions, whether it’s an in-person interview or phone interview.

nursing interview questions

According to Eileen Williamson (MSN, RN) at Nurse.com, a great nurse is defined as someone who can “practice kindness, emotional stability, empathy, caring, trustworthiness, compassion, and being able to connect on a personal level.” Besides, Eileen goes on to say that “strong communication skills using critical-thinking skills effectively, having attention to detail, and being able to adapt to changing scenarios or situations on the fly” are vital competencies and characteristics of a great nurse.

Traditional nursing skills include organizational skills, empathy, patient care skills, patience, and communication. But Portia Wofford at Nurse.org goes on to add that valuable soft skills for a nurse can include “time management and networking skills.” Portia goes on to explain that “The healthcare industry is all about collaboration and an interdisciplinary approach. Developing the aptitude of networking and being able to work in groups and contribute seamlessly is excellent for career advancement and improves the level of care for patients.” Additionally, a study conducted by the Adler Group and LinkedIn shows 85% of jobs were secured through networking.

What is a Hiring Manager Looking For?

A hospital administrator or hiring manager is going to be looking for the key skills, core competencies, and traits that make a great nurse. The administrator is looking for a candidate they feel will be accountable, trustworthy, and can provide high-quality patient care. In addition, being able to handle themselves in stressful situations and not losing their patience.

Additional skills include:

  • Communication skills. Nursing assistants and orderlies must listen and respond to patients’ concerns. They also need to share information with other healthcare workers.
  • Compassion. Nursing assistants and orderlies help and care for people who are sick, injured, or need aid for other reasons. They need an empathetic attitude to do their work.
  • Patience. The routine tasks of cleaning, feeding, and bathing patients may be stressful. Nursing assistants and orderlies must be able to complete these tasks with professionalism.
  • Physical stamina. Nursing assistants and orderlies spend much of their time on their feet. They must be able to perform tasks such as lifting or moving patients.

Nursing Interview Questions & Answers

Below are questions that can be asked in a nursing interview. These common interview questions should be studied, and as a job candidate, a prepared answer should be practiced in advance of the interview.

Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult patient.

Sample answer: I was in nursing school, and we were working with patients who needed a high degree of attention. The patient was feeling uncomfortable and started to show aggression. I called in the other nurses and physicians for help immediately.

Why is this interview question asked? Dealing with patients is a core part of the nursing position. Not all patients will be friendly. Because of the chronic issues or ailments, some patients can be stubborn, upset, angry, or unwilling to work with the hospital staff and registered nurses.

Tell me what you found the most interesting while getting your nursing degree.

Sample answer: Learning about anatomy and physiology and how that impacted our patients. To expand on this, it was about learning holistic medicine. I wanted to understand how behaviors or food choices can compound issues in our bodies. What I learned is that this is something that can be easily overlooked: diet, exercise, other habits that we have as humans. Being able to look at a patient holistically is a skill.

Why is this interview question asked? Passion is an important part of any job. With regard to nursing, passion is even more important. Nursing jobs are not always "easy" and can require the employee to have a strong will and patience for the role. Employers and hospital administrators want to know that the employee and nurse is passionate about the role.

Tell me what you know about our healthcare organization.

Sample answer: It appears you value the patient's care the most. Since you hold your standards to every state regulation and the fastest emergency room wait times, this makes you one of the best healthcare organizations in the state. I appreciate the level of patient care the practitioners provide. I have been a patient at this hospital myself. And have seen the level of patient care first hand.

Why is this interview question asked? This qualifying question shows how well prepared the nurse is. And shows comprehension of what the hospital values. This can be an effective question for hiring managers and hospital administrators as they will want the nurse to carry out the principles, procedures, ethics, and values of the hospital.

How would you handle working with the other nursing staff?

Sample answer: I value coordination and communication while ensuring HIPAA laws are being followed in everyday practice.

Why is this interview question asked? Shows whether or not the candidate has any prior nursing experience. Or comprehends what's required of the nursing role.

What do you value most in the nursing field?

Sample answer: Simply put, being able to help people! I love being able to see people improve their daily lives and their daily habits. People would always come to me with questions that they had about health, anyway. It seemed like the logical next step for me; to get into nursing.

Why is this interview question asked? Once again, a qualifying question that alludes to the passion of the nurse. It helps to ensure the nurse is going into the field for "the right reasons."

How would you ensure high-quality patient care?

Sample answer: Ensuring that each person is treated as their own unique self and their own individual means treating patients as humans and not as numbers. Philosophically, this is complicated to practice. And is something that we always have to be cautious of.

Why is this interview question asked? Shows whether or not the nurse has any prior working experience in the field. Or shows what the nurse may have learned during any clinical training or hospital hours.

What would you do if a patient were experiencing discomfort?

Sample answer: Figure out where that discomfort was coming from before administering any narcotics or other drugs. Then try to determine if the issue can be resolved without medical treatment. For example, assisting the patient with their blankets or pillows to help them with their discomfort.

Why is this interview question asked? Shows critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. It also qualifies the nurse and ensures that the nurse is aware of the regular job duties and responsibilities.

How do you make sure physicians care for each patient?

Sample answer: As an RN (Registered Nurse), I see myself as an administrator as well. Coordinating with the physician can help ensure each patient is being treated well. Or ensuring that the patient is receiving proper care in the appropriate period. Coordinating with technicians, other nurses, doctors, and hospital staff members are vital for this position.

Why is this interview question asked? Shows coordination, teamwork, and the ability to carry out strong patient care amongst the hospital staff and nursing staff.

What are some of the most important things to consider in the nursing position?

Sample answer: How not everything can be solved with a drug. We need to look more closely at what’s happening with each patient and treat them individually.

Why is this interview question asked? Shows passion and consideration of entering into the field of medicine.

Why are interpersonal skills important in the nursing role?

Sample answer: Because speaking to patients in a way that makes them feel comfortable can be very beneficial. Communication can lead to a better understanding of what the patient requires in terms of treatment. For example, if the nurse isn’t actively listening to the patient, they can miss critical information that should be provided to doctors.

Why is this interview question asked? Shows comprehension of what's required of the job duties and responsibilities. And how core competencies or traits in a nurse can play a pivotal role in carrying out high-quality patient care.

Tell me about a time you had to deal with a difficult situation and didn’t have the support of others available.

Sample answer: I was in a difficult situation in my previous job. I was working under a tight deadline but couldn’t get a few staff members to contribute to their work. Ultimately, what I did was have the deadline extended by using my communication skills. Asking our client for a day or two of more time was easy when I gave them all of the facts.

Why is this interview question asked? A behavioral question that displays the type of work performance that the future employer can expect from the nursing candidate.

What are your career goals?

Sample answer: I’d like to become a nurse manager at some point in my career. Or have some experience in the private medical sector. I believe that one-on-one medical attention is something that shouldn't only be able to be provided to the wealthy. I believe that personal care can be standardized across the United States and with all types of healthcare systems.

Why is this interview question asked? Displays acknowledgment of what the job function can provide the candidate and what the hospital or health center experience can provide in return. This question should be answered as a 5-year plan.

How would you handle a patient who doesn’t have health care insurance?

Sample answer: Determine if they needed to be treated in an emergency situation. Then, we try to have our accounting department or finance department work with them on their needs. If it’s an emergency, we should still treat the patient immediately.

Why is this interview question asked? Qualifies the nurse as comprehending what's required of the job function and how the hospital administration process works with insurance policies. Include references to training other nurses on EMR systems. Handling Medicaid reimbursements through HCAHPS scores.

Tell me about your previous job experience and how it relates to nursing.

Sample answer: I had to use my abilities as a communicator and person to address others’ needs. I think that’s how my previous job and this job align. Communication is a skill that should be developed over time—listening actively and then speaking with intent. Especially while under pressure.

Why is this interview question asked? Display's comprehension of the job requirements and an understanding of the traits, characteristics, and requirements of the role.

How would you work with the charge nurse?

Sample answer: Coordination, clear communication, and planning. I would try to understand how that professional wanted to coordinate care together. Then learn about the patient's desired care requests. Then try to make the best decision I can with that information.

Why is this interview question asked? Shows coordination amongst the nursing staff and comprehension of other job titles that assist with the registered nurses.

What do you want to achieve with your nursing career?

Sample answer: I’d like to be able to have more experience with those who need holistic care.

Why is this interview question asked? Display's passion for the position and critical-thinking skills.

What appeals to you the most about the travel nursing position versus a regular practical nurse in a hospital setting?

Sample answer: Simply put, I love the idea of being able to help others when I can. I would love to be able to be exposed to multiple working environments and conditions that can provide me with a better healthcare experience. I'm open to all types of opportunities.

Why is this interview question asked? Qualifies the candidate to display what key characteristics and values are most important to them. And how that will translate to high-quality patient care and job performance.

Why did you pursue the nursing profession?

Sample answer: As a child, I suffered from a lot of ailments. It was the experience of working with a select few great nurses that made me want to pursue this career.

Why is this interview question asked? It provides the opportunity for the candidate to share more about their personal background and why they are compelled to enter into the field of nursing. Provides an opportunity for the candidate to qualify themselves through skills and experiences.

When did you know you wanted to become a nurse?

Sample answer: My path wasn’t as straightforward as others. While I knew that I wanted to pursue nursing as a profession, it took me a few years into life to realize it. I come from a long line of nurses in my family. Both my mother and my grandmother are nurses. And growing up, I felt a draw to the profession, but it wasn’t something I knew I wanted to do until after I graduated from college with another degree. It started to click for me later when I was inspired by my mother and grandmother once more.

Why is this interview question asked? It provides the opportunity for the candidate to share more about their personal background and why they are compelled to enter into the field of nursing. Provides an opportunity for the candidate to qualify themselves through skills and experiences.

What do you find rewarding about this job?

Sample answer: This is a job that is far more rewarding than others. You have the opportunity to be able to heal others. And being able to see patients go from long-term care to returning to their families is just incredible. Something is gratifying and satisfying about being able to heal someone.

Why is this interview question asked? Qualifies the candidate and determines whether the candidate has any prior job training or experience, which includes any clinical hours, externships, or other opportunities to work closely with hospital staff.

How would you deal with a patient who isn’t satisfied with your patient care?

Sample answer: In my previous job, I remember a patient wasn’t satisfied with our patient care. The first thing I needed to do in the situation was to take a step back from it. I wanted to understand what the patient was feeling. Was it my stubbornness that was blocking me from being able to see that patient care was lacking? Or was it something else? I realized the problem truly was myself. I was not feeling motivated at that time in my life. And I needed to focus back on work and the patient. I apologized to them for their unsatisfactory experience and explained to them my blockers. From there, I listened to their needs and concerns, then designed a much better path forward for delivering patient care to them.

Why is this interview question asked? Display's preparedness for the interview and ensures the candidate has read through the job description or job advertisement, understanding what's required of the job.

How do you handle the stress of this job?

Sample answer: This job demands long hours. It is something that all nurses need to be cautious of. Because of the long hours that this job demands can make it easy to slip on patient care. The best way to deal with this is to make sure that I’m not overbooking my working hours. Inform the hospital administrator and the nursing manager that I’ve worked too many hours, am feeling burn out, and need to take a breath.

Why is this interview question asked? Ensures the candidate has a plan to deal with the stresses of working closely with patients who may have a stubborn, angry, or resentful attitude toward hospital staff due to pain, chronic illness, acute issues, or others.

What is the hardest part of being a nurse?

Sample answer: Honestly, for me, it’s about not getting too close to the patient. It’s best not to have an emotional connection with patients that might be clouding our judgment. We have to treat the patient with optimal care. But if, for example, a patient reminds of a parent, this can cause some complications in providing proper treatment. We have to stay professional and be aware of our mental state. That is the hardest part of being a nurse.

Why is this interview question asked? Ensures the candidate is aware of the situations they can experience operating as a registered nurse as part of the hospital, emergency room, or health center.

Preparing for a Nursing Interview

It's important to prepare for a nursing interview by gathering the right pieces of background information. Understanding what the hospital administrator or hiring manager values will be useful in reciting correct and effective interview answers.

Certifications

nursing certifications

The requirements for nursing assistants vary by state. To see a full list of CNA requirements by state, view this resource.

Generally speaking, nursing assistants need to pass a state issues competency exam and be placed on the state registry. Criminal background checks are often required amongst employers. Some states allow a nursing assistant to earn additional credentials, such as Certified Medication Assistant (CMA). As a CMA, the assistant is allowed to dispense medications.

Orderlies do not need a license. However, it's common for jobs to require cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) or basic life support (BLS).

References to certifications can be assistive for the hiring manager. Certifications such as:

  • AIDS Certified Registered Nurse (ACRN)
  • Certified Pediatric Nurse (CPN)
  • Oncology Certified Nurse (OCN)
  • Family Nurse Practitioner (FNP-BC)
  • Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist (CRNA)

On the Job Experience

Referring to clinical experience or "on the job" experience can be beneficial as well. This includes:

  • Handle scheduling.
  • Train other nurses on EMR systems.
  • Handle Medicaid reimbursements through HCAHPS scores.
  • Handle patient care, blood draws, and other vital sign checks without the presence of a physician or primary care provider.

Nursing Skills

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provides helpful insight into desirable characteristics, skills, and traits of a nurse:

  • Critical-thinking skills. Registered nurses must assess changes in the health status of patients, such as determining when to take corrective action.
  • Communication skills. Registered nurses must be able to communicate effectively with patients in order to understand their concerns and evaluate their health conditions. Nurses need to clearly explain instructions, such as how to take medication. They must work in teams with other health professionals and communicate patients’ needs.
  • Compassion. Registered nurses should be caring and empathetic when working with patients.
  • Detail-oriented. Registered nurses must be precise because they must ensure that patients get the correct treatments and medicines at the right time.
  • Emotional stability. Registered nurses need emotional resilience and the ability to cope with human suffering, emergencies, and other stressors.
  • Organizational skills. Nurses often work with multiple patients who have a variety of health needs. The ability to coordinate numerous treatment plans and records is critical to ensure that each patient receives appropriate care.
  • Physical stamina. Nurses should be comfortable performing physical tasks, such as lifting patients. They may be on their feet for most of their shift.

Nursing Interview Tips

Below are nursing job interview tips.

  • Study the nursing position in detail. Use the job description or job advertisement (sometimes referred to as a "job ad") to get an idea of what the hospital administrator or medical facility is seeking from a qualified Registered Nurse.
  • For those who don't have any prior work experience, use test scores as a way to show passion for the position and a desire to advance a career.
  • Practice answering interview questions in advance of any job interview; an interview answer should be recited in 90-seconds or less to keep the interviewer engaged.
  • Study the future employer and their definition of patient care. Review the employer’s patient ethics and refer to these general practice standards as part of the interview answer.
  • Start the conversation with an ice breaker question. This is an informal question between the hiring manager or the hospital administrator and the candidate. It can be a fun way to begin the interview and can assist with guiding the chemistry of the conversation.
  • Understand who is conducting the interview. Researching the hospital administrator or the staff member who is conducting the interview can be helpful. Understanding their academic history, work history, or other accomplishments can be assistive in developing a connection with the interviewer. This can be useful when starting the interview or when reciting interview answers. Interview answers can be "positioned" to speak to the interviewer's point of view, perspective, and values.

Review job duties and responsibilities

Lastly, it can be beneficial to review the job duties and responsibilities of a registered nurse in advance of any job interview. This can assist the candidate in preparing answers that show comprehension of the job function and ensures the hiring manager that the candidate (with or without prior experience) is aware of what's required of them.

Below are sample job duties and responsibilities to assist with preparing for an upcoming nursing job interview.

  • Assist patients with general healthcare needs.
  • Communicate with the charge nurse regarding patient health care.
  • Transport patients as needed (ambulatory and other transportation needs).
  • Check the vital signs of patients within the nursing home.
  • Communicate and coordinate with the nursing staff (and certified nurse aides) to ensure each patient is provided care regularly.
  • Operate medical equipment to ensure residents receive prescribed regular and basic care.
  • Ensure daily living of the patients is the highest quality of life possible.
  • Assist with the charge nurse and licensed practical nurse (LPN) with helping patients in a variety of administrative style duties.
  • Answer call bells and make rounds.
  • Provide post mortem care.
  • Reposition patients and residents in a bed or char.
  • Assist in ambulation requirements and needs.
  • Assist with personal and dental hygiene (as part of ADL's).
  • Transfer the patient to and from the bed or chair or other locations within the facility.

Prepare for behavioral interview questions

Behavioral interview questions begin with "Tell me about a time.." and prompt the candidate to recite a previous work experience that displays core competencies, characteristics and traits of the candidate.

As a candidate, when you hear a behavioral interview question, consider answering using the STAR technique or “STAR Response”. It is defined as:

Situation — Explain what the issue is.

  • What is the problem?
  • What needs to be accomplished?
  • What restrictions are present?
  • What business outcomes are expected?

Task — Describe the responsibilities needed.

  • What needs to be done?
  • Who needs to be doing these things?
  • How soon do they need to be done?

Action — Describe the steps that need to take place.

  • The explicit decision to take an action.
  • The choice of taking action.
  • The action is strictly defined.

Result — Describe the end result.

  • The business outcome.
  • The result of a client or customer.
  • The result of the team.
  • The response of the team or the customer.

Ask questions at the end of the interview

Asking questions to the hospital administrator or staff can be a great way to show engagement and interest in the position. Questions regarding training, requirements, or other on-the-job experience is a great way to display a passion for the open position and a willingness to learn.

Below are sample questions to consider asking the administrator at the end of the job interview:

  • Can you tell me what you personally value about the company culture here?
  • What are some of the short-term goals for the role?
  • What are some of the long-term goals for the role?
  • How would I be able to apply my problem-solving skills in this role?
  • Can you tell me more about what the onboarding process is like for this role?
  • What do you think the work-life balance will look like for this role?
  • When looking at me as a candidate, what do you think the team will value the most?
  • What are you most concerned about when it comes to myself as a candidate?
  • What skills do you feel every candidate should have in this role?
  • What is your personal management style?
  • Can you tell me more about what the hiring process has been like for this role?
  • What follow-up questions would you ask if you were trying to get hired in this role?
  • What competencies do you feel the team will value the most?
  • What are the long-term plans for the department or team I'm going to be working with?
  • What strengths and weaknesses do you feel this role should have more of?
  • What common interview questions would you advise someone to stop asking?
  • Give me a one-word answer of how you would describe the company's culture.
  • What goals should I have as a candidate in this role?
  • What are your goals for this role?
  • What are the goals the team has for this role?
  • What’s the biggest challenge you could see me getting enthusiastic about in this position?
  • What career advice do you think the previous employee in this role would want to provide me?

Don't stop the job search

Don't stop a job search until the administrator has provided a job offer. This is a common mistake amongst job seekers. Because an interview is secured does not mean that a job has been secured. Continue to send a unique resume and cover letter to other nursing positions.

Top nursing job boards

Browse available nursing positions on these job boards:

Related Hiring Resources

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Nursing Cover Letter Example and Writing Guide (+ No Experience Letter) [+ Free Template]
5+ Nursing Resume Objectives (Examples)
Director of Nursing Job Description
Nursing Aide Job Description
author: patrick algrim
About the author

Patrick Algrim is an experienced executive who has spent a number of years in Silicon Valley hiring and coaching some of the world’s most valuable technology teams. Patrick has been a source for Human Resources and career related insights for Forbes, Glassdoor, Entrepreneur, Recruiter.com, SparkHire, and many more.

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