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The College of St. Scholastica

One of the most difficult aspects of achieving career success is pinpointing which field is right for you. Once you’ve narrowed the pool to nursing and completed the required schooling, many might think the hard part is over—but that’s not always the case!

You still have to ace that nursing interview.

There are unexpected questions to prepare for, industry knowledge to brush up on and application protocol to adhere to—and all of that is in addition to dressing for success and practicing a firm, confident handshake. At this point, you may even be wondering if there is a way to truly prepare for your nursing interview.

This two-part article series is the resounding “Yes!” you’ve been seeking.

We enlisted several nursing and recruitment experts to divulge their most effective tips and tricks to knock your interview out of the park. From direct insight into what healthcare employers are looking for, to what questions you can expect and even red flags to avoid at all costs, let our specialists guide you one step closer to landing the job you’ve always wanted.

“A true interview for a nursing candidate should go beyond the fact that they have the education and some training,” explains Todd Spohn, director of healthcare at Talent Plus. “Skills and knowledge can be taught, but the natural talent a person brings to the table is foundational in having the very best people in nursing.”

So let’s dive into the host of qualities healthcare employers can’t ignore! And be sure to check out part two next month for questions to expect and red flags to avoid during your interview.

What are employers looking for in a great nursing candidate?

1. Humanism

“There are so many things that work together to create a good nurse,” Spohn says, “but the cornerstone for all of those various factors is that they have the natural talent to become a great caregiver.”

It’s no secret that nursing is a career path for people who are passionate about helping others, but many healthcare employers would agree that they value empathy over sympathy. A great nurse is one who can put him or herself in the shoes of the patients and, by extension, offer the highest quality care and support throughout their healing processes.

“Nurses need to be present, be with the [patient] and advocate for their decisions within the complexity of healthcare delivery,” explains Paula Byrne, DNP, who serves as chair of the traditional nursing program at The College of St. Scholastica.

2. Dependability

There is more to being a dependable healthcare provider than showing up for all of your shifts and completing the assigned tasks—especially when you’re new to the field. “Be willing to commit to two to three years at one place,” urges Carmen Kosicek, award winning author and MSN nursing career coach. “I would not hire someone who has a different job every 12 months or less.”

It seems the experts are aligned on this one.

“If you say you want to leave in a year to pursue a specialty field, you won’t get hired,” says Veronica Carmack Gasper, adjunct faculty member at Glendale Community College and director of nursing at Banner University Medical Center. “Employers want to hear that their investment in your training and orientation will pay for itself.”

3. Strong critical thinking skills

Quality nursing will inevitably include a lot of thinking on your feet. Whether it’s a patient emergency, an electronic glitch or prioritizing in the midst of a heavy patient load, critical thinking skills are crucial.

According to Kosicek, “A great nurse is someone who can take the content they’ve learned and incorporate it with time management, humanistic care and leadership across the healthcare spectrum.”

Gasper adds: “Demonstrate that your book knowledge translates into real experiences.”

4. Proactivity

Completing nursing school and accruing the certification for your sought-after position is a good sign to potential employers, but they want to see more than that. Healthcare organizations are looking for people who go above and beyond to achieve personal and career success.

“Employers are looking for tenacity, talent and demonstrated commitment,” Gasper says. “Candidates who are members of the National Student Nurses’ Association, who hold student leadership positions or who have recommendations from instructors will stand out.”

5. A hunger to learn

Successful professionals in any field know that you’re never done learning. Nursing school is extremely effective in preparing our future nurses for on-the-job work, but there will always be an element to this career field that you can’t learn in a classroom.

“What a great nurse will be, they are becoming during their first two years as ‘new nurse graduates’ ” says W. Mason Preddy, an independent healthcare consultant who has years of experience recruiting and retaining RNs in hospital settings.

Preddy begins his nursing interviews by assuring candidates that if hired, they will not be immediately thrust into a nursing unit and set loose to care for patients. “No amount of nursing school would ever prepare a new graduate for anything close to that scenario,” he explains.

As a new nurse, be open to encountering hosts of new healthcare experiences that you can both learn from and adapt to. “Nurses need to develop an ability to be life-long learners—to stay current on trends that impact their daily decisions,” Byrne adds.

Do you fit the criteria?

There are many ways to prepare yourself for a successful career in nursing. Utilize the resources available to you through student associations and seasoned faculty members, but don’t forget to consult the advice from our panel of healthcare and recruitment experts as you move closer toward your nursing career.

If you align with the qualities these experts look for in great nursing candidates, don’t get lazy—there’s still some more work you can do to prepare for that first interview!

According to Spohn, all students considering the nursing field should first consider the following questions:

  • Do you naturally want to help someone when you see them in need?
  • Do you have great attention to detail in terms of executing the recommendations of medical professionals?
  • Can you multitask and be resourceful when you encounter a problem you’ve not experienced before?  

If you can answer “Yes” to these questions, be sure to stay tuned for part two of our mini-series, which is set to appear next month. Our panel of experts will outline several tips to prepare for your first interview, including questions you should expect and common mistakes to be sure you avoid. 

In the meantime, take a look at nine nursing specialties that are in high demand as a result of the nation’s nursing shortage.