Even the most experienced nurses suffer from interview nerves. The more you research the role and prepare, the more confident you will feel and the better you are likely to perform. Don’t just focus on what you hope will come up, think about how you will answer questions that you hope won’t be asked.
We’ve teamed up with Cathy Taylor, careers advisor for the Royal College of Nursing (RCN), to help you answer five difficult interview questions
1. What’s your greatest weakness?
If asked to name a weakness, think in terms of having a ‘developmental need’ that you are addressing. ‘For example, if delegation is an issue, describe how you have already made improvements and how you feel the period of mentorship offered by the new role will further develop your confidence,’ says Cathy.
‘If you lack experience with a particular procedure, give details of the short course you plan to take to improve your technique. This way, you show self-awareness and turn a negative into a positive.’
For example: “In the past I had a tendency to take on too much but since attending a short course on time management, I now spend ten minutes at the start of each shift planning and prioritising tasks. I’ve also learnt how to delegate and feel much more confident supervising health care assistants.”
2. Name a national initiative in nursing/health care that you feel passionate about.
Employers don’t expect you to be aware of every healthcare initiative out there, but it’s a good idea to research one or two recent developments in healthcare policy. Information is available online, including at http://www.rcn.org.uk/, and you should be aware of major initiatives, such as the NMC’s revalidation project.
Cathy says: ‘NHS employers are now working on Value Based Recruitment (VBR) following the Francis inquiry. Familiarise yourself with how your values and behaviours fit with the NHS organisational values.
‘You should feel comfortable talking about the Chief Nursing Officer’s 6Cs initiative (care, compassion, courage, communication, commitment and competence) and be prepared to give examples of how you put these into practice.’
3. What do you understand by the term ‘diversity at work’?
Sometimes, it’s the simple-sounding questions that trip up candidates. If you’re asked about your understanding of diversity at work, the interviewer is looking for more than just “treating everybody in the same way.”
‘Don’t think just in terms of answering questions. Instead, prepare a number of “stories,” which you can use to talk about different issues. In this case, most employers will expect you to discuss equality of access to services (it helps to have a general awareness of relevant legislation) and the importance of treating colleagues with support and respect,’ says Cathy.
‘You may also want to talk about a time that you witnessed or demonstrated diversity awareness on the wards. Or, if relevant, you could talk about how your own background, upbringing and culture may affect your interactions with those who are different to you.’
4. Name a work situation where you made a mistake or things didn’t go to plan.
When an interviewer asks about a work situation that didn’t go well, they are looking for a candidate to demonstrate three things: 1) self-awareness, 2) an ability to learn and improve, and 3) an indication of their communication style/team work and attitude.
‘The importance with these kinds of questions is to focus on the positive,’ says Cathy. ‘Take an example from your current or a previous role, and focus on what you learnt from the experience and how you would do things differently now.’
For example: “When I started out as a staff nurse, I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of advocating for the patient. One day, a junior doctor was struggling to find a vein when taking blood from a patient. Eventually a more senior doctor was called. I could see that if the junior doctor had used a pillow to support the patient’s arm, he would have found it much easier. If the same thing happened now, I would have the confidence to halt the procedure and take the doctor to one side to share the benefit of my training and experience – and so save the patient any more distress.”
5. How do you explain your gap in employment?
Hiring managers are trained to spot inconsistencies and gaps on your CV. Don’t leave employers guessing. If you haven’t worked for a period of several months include a line to explain what you were doing, for example “full-time carer to my mother” or “extended period of maternity leave.”
‘You should be prepared to talk about any gaps in employment, and indeed any other issues an employer might pick up on from your CV, such as only staying in a post for a short time,’ warns Cathy.
‘If you’ve been job hunting for a while, you should make it clear that this has been your decision, rather than an inability to find work. For example, you might say: “My work is very important to me. I don’t want to take any nursing job, I’m looking for a position where I can use the skills and experience I have gained and continue to develop in the future.”’
If you can turn negatives into positives when answering difficult questions and have several stories to draw upon for “tell me about a time when…” questions, you will be in a good position to perform well.
There are of course many more potential questions that you may get asked during an interview. Watch the following video for more info, and don’t forget to check our main site for current nurse job vacancies.
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