Updated 12 June 2020
The NHS relies on a variety of staff to operate effectively. Job roles are varied, from those on the front line such as medicine, nursing, midwifery, dental care and emergency response, to non-clinical supporting posts including administration, IT and finance.
To be successful in your NHS interview, you should fully understand the role you have applied for and how it fits into the wider service.
You should also conduct thorough background research, practice your interview technique, and prepare answers for general interview questions.
In addition, you’ll need to prepare for specific questions relating to jobs in the NHS. With such a broad range of roles on offer, the exact questions will vary. That said, there are many that are likely to crop up in all scenarios.
This question may also be phrased as “Why do you want to work for the NHS?” or “Why do you want to work here?”. It's designed to establish your motivations for choosing the NHS in particular, your understanding of its culture and ideals, and how well you’ll fit into the organisation.
When forming your answer, as well as describing what you will gain from the role, also refer to what you intend to bring to the service in return.
Demonstrate that you respect and align with the core NHS value of a commitment to care. Show you have the desire to work in a highly challenging environment and are dedicated to continued professional development, to raise standards of service delivery.
“I strongly identify with the ethos of the NHS and believe the best way to use my skills is to contribute to the continued delivery of accessible healthcare.
“The opportunities for ongoing training and development will allow me to move forward, while remaining an integral part of a committed team of professionals.
“I am passionate about quality patient care and, despite the many challenges it faces, believe the NHS to be the best environment in which to truly make a difference to the lives of others.”
Regardless of the role for which you are applying, this is one of the most important NHS interview questions, as the organisation takes a strong values-based approach to recruitment.
Ensure you are familiar with and can express commitment to the following six principles:
To prepare, try to think of a few examples of when you have demonstrated each of these six principles in your work or personal life.
As far as NHS job interview questions and answers go, this is perhaps the most telling when it comes to your understanding of the inner workings of the NHS, the realities and challenges of the role you are applying for, the future of public health and how external factors impact on the organisation’s ability to deliver.
The best response to this question will be timely and based on current affairs. Funding, staff shortages, rates of pay, working conditions and the allocation of resources are all challenges for the NHS. You must be up to speed on the particulars of each at the time of interview.
Beyond financial and political challenges, there are also many social factors affecting the NHS, such as an ageing population and the impact of poor lifestyle choices, including the rise of diseases like diabetes and obesity.
Proving that you have a sound knowledge of how external factors continue to present new challenges will show that you appreciate the service as a whole, and are not solely focused on your role within it.
As stated, the NHS takes a value-based approach to recruitment. It looks for staff that support its ideals, and work to its moral and professional standards.
Of course, role-specific skills and experience are important, but if you’re at interview stage, it has likely been determined that you hold these.
Instead, focus your answer on the qualities that the six core values of the NHS demand:
You may also be asked NHS competency-based interview questions, which will require you to describe situations where you have demonstrated these qualities in action.
This NHS interview question requires in-depth research. You should be able to demonstrate a good understanding of primary and secondary care, and the roles of Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), NHS trusts and foundation trusts.
You should also take the time to familiarise yourself with the NHS Long Term Plan, a document published in 2019 that outlines priorities and goals for the next 10 years.
Also note that there are structural differences across the NHS in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, so you’ll need to thoroughly research the particulars of your area and understand how they relate to the wider framework.
If you have any contacts already working within the NHS, ask them for guidance to help develop your understanding of its operations.
It’s also vital that you’re familiar with the workings of your own chosen department, and the role it plays in the service as a whole.
Your response doesn’t have to relate to a healthcare-based role, but it must demonstrate that you can remain effective in a pressurised environment.
Use the STAR technique to formulate an answer that sets the scene, details your approach and ends with a positive result.
“Throughout my time at university, I had to learn to deal with both financial and academic pressure. Personal circumstances meant that I had to balance part-time employment with study, which became increasingly difficult in my final year.
“Ultimately, I had to take a step back to assess my priorities and make a plan to manage my time effectively. Through approaching my responsibilities strategically, I was able to turn the pressure to my advantage. Knowing I had a limited time to complete academic tasks really helped to focus my mind.
“I also learnt that I needed an outlet for stress, which is why I took up running. I find it helps to clear my head and boost positivity, so I can handle pressure effectively.”
Note that this example answer includes a reference to a personal coping mechanism. This shows that you take a proactive approach to stress management.
The NHS is a highly stressful environment to work in. Staff are often under extreme pressure, which can result in tension and confrontation.
A key quality of a good employee is the ability to stay calm and not let personal feelings or challenges interfere with quality standards.
Again, your example can be from any previous employment, provided you clearly demonstrate good interpersonal skills and strong conflict management.
“In my previous position, I was tasked with coordinating a small team of employees from different departments to deliver a project to a tight deadline. As work progressed, it was apparent that one individual was failing to complete their work on time and the wider team were becoming frustrated as a result.
“As it was a group project that required strong teamwork, this issue needed to be resolved quickly, so I called the individual in for a friendly chat. It transpired they had been receiving conflicting information from colleagues and, as such, were finding it difficult to fulfil their role.
“It was clear there’d been a breakdown in communication, so I called a team meeting to discuss progress and clear up any misunderstandings. Allowing everyone to speak openly cleared the air without anyone facing blame.
The project was put back on track and the rising tensions disappeared. Communication improved and the team pulled together to complete the project on time.”
The key purpose of the NHS is to provide quality care to all service users at every level. To be successful in your NHS interview, you’ll need to show commitment to this value.
It may be that you don’t have a workplace example to give in response here, in which case it’s perfectly acceptable to describe a personal situation, such as caring for a family member or loved one.
The key thing is to remember the NHS core values and provide an answer that shows kindness and compassion.
“I have been the designated first aider at my current place of work for two years now. This involves responding to the needs of both staff and the public.
“A short while ago, an elderly lady collapsed in a busy public space. She was alone and became very distressed. I immediately called for assistance in clearing the area for privacy.
“She was showing signs of disorientation and felt sick, so I asked a colleague to call for an ambulance, relaying information while continuing to comfort her. I maintained a calm conversation until the ambulance arrived to ease her distress.
“On arrival, the ambulance crew decided it was necessary to take her to hospital. Thankfully it was nothing serious and she came back to thank me a few days later.”
This is one example of a situational NHS interview question. Its purpose is to allow the interviewer to determine how you would react to a scenario in a real working environment.
Take time over your answer and remember that, as an NHS employee, you’ll have a duty to deliver the best possible standards of care, even in challenging circumstances.
A good answer will recognise that there will be guidelines in place for dealing with situations like this and considerations of patient and staff safety must be taken into account.
“My approach would be to meet aggression with patience and understanding. It’s important to remember that patients are often in stressful situations and their anger is not a personal attack.
“I would calm them by being attentive and listening to their frustrations, ensuring that I took every step possible to resolve the situation. Communication is key, so I would clearly explain my course of action and let them know their needs were a priority. If the situation were to worsen, I would follow guidelines and seek further assistance.”
This is one of the NHS interview questions more tailored to front-line staff. You’ll be working in an environment where these situations will often present themselves, and you need to show that you’re prepared.
When answering this question, it’s important to acknowledge that you’re human and will inevitably be affected in some way, but it’s how you handle these effects that counts.
“When you make a commitment to care, you ultimately open yourself up to distressing situations. I think it’s crucial to remember that everyone around you is in the same boat and, while they may react differently, your team are there to support you.
“You can’t shut yourself off from emotions. Compassion and empathy are key qualities of a good NHS employee. Instead, I would be open about my feelings, take time out to deal with them, and seek additional help when needed.”
Whatever role you’re applying for, it’s crucial to be fully prepared for your NHS interview. Keep in mind the key competencies that all employers look for and take time to read through plenty of general interview advice.
In addition to the example questions above, you may also be presented with NHS interview scenario questions, whereby you will be given a hypothetical clinical situation related to your chosen area and asked to explain the best course of action. These questions will be aimed at those applying for front line clinical roles. However, you will not be asked to perform actual medical treatments at interview.
As with any interview, it’s also advisable to have a few questions of your own prepared. This is not only interview best practice, but it also shows that you have a vested interest in the NHS and your potential future role within it.
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