In today's marketplace, experienced nurses have almost unlimited choice of job options. The best way to make sure that you get the position you want is to have a good interview. Here are some tips to help you.
An additional element to consider is whether you are applying for a new job at the facility where you presently work. That situation requires some more effort on your part to ensure that you don't ruffle any feathers and present yourself in the best possible light.
Look at the policy on intra-hospital transfers in the facility's personnel manual. Confirm your understanding of how it works with the human resources coordinator or manager. Follow the procedure, showing respect for your current manager and following the defined chain of command.
Depending upon the size of your current hospital, you may or may not know the hiring manager of the new unit. By following the chain of command, you may be able to obtain an "informational interview." That is a pre-application, fact-finding interview in which you can get to know the other unit and other manager without first making an application for transfer. This is a low-risk process for everyone—you, your current manager and your potential new manager.
- Prepare your credentials.
Have a perfect, complete résumé in a folder along with the other documents you may need.
Bring your nursing license, BCLS/ACLS card, proof of any certifications you hold, and copies of certificates from any advanced training programs you have completed, driver's license, immunization record and social security number with you. Have them quickly accessible for copying. Or, if you really want to make an impression, have several copies of all documents already copied and ready to provide to the human resources department and the hiring/interviewing manager.
Bring a copy of your most recent skills checklist, demonstrating your clinical competencies. Update using a different ink color, if you have developed additional skills since the last official record was created.
Prepare a typed reference list complete with names, titles, current addresses, and telephone numbers of previous managers and personal references. Make sure you have the most current information for these people!
Have at least two copies of your references with you—one to leave with the human resources department, and one to leave with the hiring manager. (You may bring along reference letters, but most employers will use them only to supplement the references they will obtain and not as a substitute for them.)
You may be asked to give permission for a criminal background check. The permission form may ask you to list all of your addresses for the previous five to seven years. Have those addresses with you!
- Anticipate the questions you will be asked.
Anticipates and create answers to some of the most standard questions: How would you describe your skills as a teamplayer? What will you do to get along with difficult staff members? How do you plan to handle problem patients and/or families? What will you do when your unit is short-staffed and you have to give a treatment that you have never done before?
Develop and practice an answer to the question: "Tell me a little about yourself." This question is designed to test your judgment. The interviewer does not want a chronological biography, or any self-deprecating remarks. The correct answer is one that gives the interviewer insight into what unique skills, talents, and attitudes you can bring to the unit. Be prepared to define those, and to give examples to substantiate your claim. For example, if you plan to talk about your team-playing or team-leadership skills, give an example from your current or previous nursing experience that validates your self-assessment.
If it has been a while since you have been on an interview, or if the thought makes you queasy, ask a friend or relative who is in a management position or who is familiar with the interviewing process to do a "mock" interview with you, asking the thought-provoking questions they would ask of their candidates. Don't be afraid to pick someone tough. He or she will likely be much tougher on you than will the hospital interviewers.
- Practice answering the tough questions.
Consider that you are being interviewed because the manager has a problem. There is a vacancy. It is no doubt causing stress for the manager and the other workers on the unit. Be prepared to give examples of your ability to be a part of the solution to the problem.
As an experienced nurse, what type of assistance and support will you need to get up to speed? What special attitudes do you bring with you that will help you quickly carry your own weight on the unit? (If you have done an accurate/honest self-assessment before deciding to apply for this position, you should be able to answer these questions easily).
Anticipate and create answers to some of the most standard questions, such as:
A. Describe and give examples of your skills as a team-player?
B. What do you do to get what you need from difficult doctors?
C. How do you handle problem patients, families?
D. Be prepared to answer several scenarios, such as
...What will you do when the unit is short-staffed?
...When you have to supervise a float that does not want to be here?
...When you get three emergency admissions at shift change?
Practice answering the questions until they feel "right" to you. "Right" means that the answers accurately reflect your skills and personality, not what you think the interviewer wants to hear. Be true to yourself. Otherwise you may find yourself hired, but in a position that does not fit you well.
If you have had an unpleasant experience in your current or previous clinical setting, what did you learn from it? Be prepared to answer questions about negative situations positively! Do not speak negatively about a previous employer—institution or manager. Even if the hiring managers share your opinion, making negative comments always creates a poor first impression. Even if you are applying for a new job because of an untenable current work situation, rehearse ways to avoid airing "dirty laundry." Always take the high road! It marks you as a mature individual, one who can let go of past negative experiences for a better future.
- Plan to make a great first impression.
Studies of decision-making behaviors by human resource professionals and hiring managers reveal that most make a decision to hire or not within the first 30 seconds after meeting the candidate. This is why dress, grooming and a great smile are critically important. In a mirror, practice greeting your interviewers. Practice a firm handshake and winning smile. Sound silly? The old adage is true, "You only get one chance to make a good first impression." Practice it until you get it where you want it. If you are not accustomed to "meeting and greeting," this exercise will be worth your time!
Here are some other "first impression" tips
What are you going to wear? Until you know the personality of the hiring manager, and the corporate culture of the hospital, play it on the conservative side.
Prepare to dress professionally, as if you were interviewing for a business position in a conservative organization.
What does "conservative" mean? It varies around the country. Ask your most image-conscious nursing instructor for advice about what to wear. If you do not own anything "business conservative," you may be able to be sufficiently tailored in slacks and a blazer.
Whatever clothes you choose make sure they are impeccable. Freshly cleaned and pressed!
Also, be sure your shoes are in good repair, and freshly polished. Yes, this matters. Hiring managers pay attention to the details, as they are usually a good reflection of the candidate's attention to detail as an employee.
- Getting dressed
Limit nail decor, makeup and jewelry. Remember that hospitals are traditional and conservative. After you have proven yourself as an excellent clinician and reliable employee, then you can test the waters with your individual style, but not now.
Style your hair so that it stays off your face, out of your eyes—as it will need to be when you are doing patient care.
Do not wear perfume, after shave or any scent to interviews. Many people are allergic to scents, and triggering an allergic reaction will certainly get you off to a bad start!
Before you walk out the door for your interview, put yourself in the position of the hiring manager, look at yourself in the mirror, and ask, "Would I hire me for this position?" Fix what you need to fix for that answer to be "yes." Practice your smile!
- Out the door...
Leave early. There may be a traffic jam; you may have trouble finding a parking place, or the interview room.
Allow yourself double the time you think you will need. Punctuality isn't everything, but it is a major consideration as the hiring manager wonders, "Can I trust this person to be on time to work?"
If you are a smoker, do not give into the urge. If you are interviewing with a nonsmoker, the smell of smoke on your clothes and breath can give a negative first impression.
- Greeting your interviewer
Offer a firm handshake and look the interviewer straight in the eye during the initial greeting.
Take a quick look around the interviewer's office and make an appreciative comment about something personal that you see. This demonstration of "other-orientation" will help both of you settle in, and gets the interview started on an upbeat note.
Make frequent eye contact throughout the interview.
- On the hot seat
Interviews are always stressful, even for the most seasoned nurse applicants. It is natural to be nervous, and OK to say so. Do not worry if you stumble on your first sentence or two. It's possible you may not have interviewed for several years.
Between practicing for your interviews, and your experience and expertise, you may be able to answer most questions easily. Even so, restrain yourself from rushing to answer.
Listen carefully to the question to be sure you are responding to what is being asked, not to what you anticipate will be asked.
Take a breath, and take your time with each subsequent answer.
- Your turn
Make the most of the time you are given to ask questions, and keep in mind that you are still under evaluation.
Most interviewers will give you a chance to ask questions. Do not take their time to ask questions that are answered in the hospital's personnel literature, such as scheduling of vacations, health care benefits, etc. (However, be sure to get these important papers before you leave the hospital.)
Use this precious time to ask questions about the unit, current developmental projects, and how you would be oriented and assimilated into the existing work group.
Be sure to talk about any professional association memberships you hold and any committees on which you have served. Mention anything you have written or classes you are taking to improve your skills.
Take an opportunity to volunteer for EXTRA WORK (No, we're not kidding! This is your chance to convey your interest and aptitude for clinical specialist or management positions if you aspire to those now or in the future.)
Inform the hiring manager of your interest in extra responsibilities such as committee or task force memberships. Express your willingness to take advanced training in subjects needed to fill-in clinical competencies on the unit.
Ask for a tour and the ability to meet some of your peers. Use this experience to get a feel for the unit.
- Is there a match for you here? If so, ask for the job.
If not, do not ask for the job. The most important indicator of job success and satisfaction is how you feel about the job and company. If it doesn't feel right, move on to the next interview opportunity.
Few applicants follow-through on their interviews with personal notes. However, these indicators of interest and thoughtfulness are powerful devices that reinforce a favorable impression, and can win the job for you. So, if you want the job:
Differentiate yourself from the other applicants by sending a thank you letter. Do this immediately after your interview.
Hand-written or computer-generated? It doesn't matter, but neatness and accurate spelling does!
Use high-quality paper, either a plain note card or bond paper.
Chatty or strictly business? Neither - make it focused but friendly.
Thank the interviewer(s) for their time and consideration.
If you remembered to inquire about current challenges (also known as problems) the manager or unit is facing, mention a specific contribution you can make to a resolution. This is dynamite!
ASK FOR THE JOB! Stress the match between the needs of the hiring manager and your skills and personality.
Mail, hand-deliver, or even fax your letter so that it arrives within 24-hours after your interview.
- What if you don't want the job? Write the note anyway.
Hiring managers will appreciate your courtesy in taking yourself out of the pool of candidates.
Despite its large numbers, "movers and shakers" in the nursing profession have close networks. This small act of consideration may result in the manager's willingness to assist you in finding another position that is a better fit for you within the same hospital, or within your clinical specialty in another hospital in the area.
- Haven't heard anything?
Call to convey your interest and to ask if there is anything else you can do to be the candidate chosen. Find out when the decision will be made.
Call again the day before the decision is made. In that call, wish the hiring manager great success with the hire, even if you are not the one selected. This demonstration of graciousness may be the nudge that throws the decision your way.