Nursing Interview Questions

Updated 30 October 2019

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Nursing is a challenging career, but a rewarding one as well. Long hours and emotional stress are juxtaposed with worthwhile and heartwarming moments.

Nursing is not a profession that suits everyone and, at interview, an employer wants to make sure you have the resilience, patience, adaptability and commitment to be able to succeed in the role.

To begin a career in nursing, you will normally need to study for a nursing degree or take a nursing degree apprenticeship. On qualification, you will need to register with the Nursing & Midwifery Council (NMC).

Nurses are in high demand and you can expect to be in a job soon after you graduate. Starting salaries for NHS nurses are around £24,000 per year.

There are many different roles available to nurses; you can choose to specialise in areas like health visiting, occupational health, neonatal or general practice nursing. Whatever role you choose, you will soon attend your first nursing interview as part of the application process.

Nursing interviews are likely to include general interview questions like, “What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?” and, “Tell me more about yourself”. To prepare thoroughly for these, take a look at our article on common interview questions.

These will be followed by nursing-specific questions designed to test your interpersonal skills, nursing knowledge and other key competencies.

To help you prepare, here are 10 nursing interview questions you might be asked during an interview.

1. Tell Me About a Time You Dealt with a Patient Who Was Unhappy with Their Care

Dealing with unhappy patients is vital to being a good nurse, so it is likely you will be asked a question about this. The interviewer wants to know that you have the skills necessary to defuse stressful situations and remain calm, compassionate and professional.

Tips for answering the question:

If you have worked as a nurse before, you will probably have a few examples at hand. If this is your first nursing job, it's fine to talk about a time you helped an unhappy customer or colleague.

Choose an example that demonstrates your problem-solving skills and your high levels of care and compassion. You should convey the fact that, despite the patient perhaps not being reasonable with you, it didn’t affect the level of care you gave and you remained calm and respectful.

Remember, show that you understand the need to closely follow protocol – demonstrating that you always follow the correct procedure and don’t try to take things into your own hands.

2. How Do You Handle the Stress of Working as a Nurse?

The interviewer expects you to say you can handle stress at work, but you need to give some examples of ways you manage that stress.

The employer needs to know that, no matter what happens, you have the tools to be able to take care of yourself and perform at your best.

Tips for answering the question:

Show that you recognise that stress is inevitable in a career like nursing and that you have proactive strategies in place to deal with it. You could describe ways that you avoid stress at work (ensuring you are organised, making lists and prioritising jobs) but you will also need to show that you have coping strategies in place:

  • Perhaps you do breathing exercises or go for a run after work.
  • Maybe you bake or go to the gym.

Try to use genuine answers – think of a time you were particularly stressed, and then think about how you coped at the time and wound down afterwards.

3. Are You a Team Player?

Being a nurse involves working in a team to get the best possible result for the patient. Interviewers will want to know that you have the skills necessary to be a good team player.

These skills might include:

  • Empathy
  • Maturity
  • Communication
  • Problem-solving
  • Conflict management

Tips for answering the question:

A positive response is to say that you enjoy working in a team because you are interested in hearing different viewpoints, ideas and solutions to problems that you wouldn’t necessarily have considered. Here you demonstrate your willingness to listen to and learn from others.

Try to think of an example of a time that you worked with others to achieve a good patient outcome. This could be liaising with senior doctors on patient care or diagnosis, working alongside fellow nurses on a busy shift, or working with a patient’s family to support them.

4. What Are Your Career Goals?

When asking about career goals, interviewers are looking to get to know you and your future plans a little better. This will help them assess whether this is the right role for you. Make sure you consider how a potential role fits into your plans before applying.

Tips for answering the question:

Try and be as honest as possible, while being careful not to jeopardise the interview. For example, if you are being interviewed for a job in a city hospital, don’t say that your goal is to work in a tiny village medical centre where you know every patient’s name without having to read their notes.

Focus your career goals on your desire to excel and prove your worth in the position you are applying for. Show that you have considered how this role, in particular, will help you develop your nursing skills through experience or training.

Use this question as an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment and motivation to being the best nurse you can be, and demonstrate your research by describing how this role will get you there.

5. What Three Words Would Your Friends Use to Describe You?

This is a variation on the question “How would you describe yourself?” or ”How would others describe you?” but it is more tricky as you are restricted to just three words.

This question is designed to find out more about you, as well as determining whether you understand the key competencies for the role. Therefore, ensure you have done your research before your interview and have picked words that are tailored to the role.

Tips for answering the question:

Hopefully, you have presented yourself as a caring, dedicated nurse. Giving three words like ‘ballsy’, ‘ruthless’ and ‘bullish’ are likely to make the interviewer reconsider the sincerity of your previous answers and doubt your suitability for a career in nursing.

Words you could use might be:

  • Compassionate
  • Kind
  • Genuine
  • Loyal
  • Professional
  • Passionate
  • Fair
  • Reliable
  • Dedicated
  • Warm

You will be expected to expand on the words you choose, to explain why you have chosen them and what they say about you. Use this as an opportunity to emphasise why you are a great fit for the role.

6. Tell Me About a Time You Made a Mistake; How It Was Resolved?

The employer is looking for evidence that you have learned from your mistakes and that you can talk about them.

Tips for answering the question:

Try to use a real example of a mistake you made. But don’t be too perfect – missing a lunch break because you are so dedicated isn’t the kind of mistake they’re looking for.

Talk about the mistake you made, what you have learned from it and what you would do differently if the situation arose again. If relevant, discuss how you have changed your practice and how you have worked with others to change theirs.

7. What Made You Decide to Embark on a Career in Nursing?

Most people will answer a question like this with phrases like, “I love caring for people” and “I want to help people”. Don’t be fooled, though – this is often the question that will help the employer make their decision, so make sure you have prepared a thorough answer.

Tips for answering the question:

Try and be as honest as possible. Present a compelling narrative for how you came to decide on this career that demonstrates your passion. Don’t be afraid to include details of a person or experience that inspired you.

It might help to consider the following questions when formulating your answer:

  • What qualities is the employer looking for?
  • Why were you drawn to nursing?
  • How does nursing play to your strengths or skills?
  • What gets you excited about nursing?
  • Why do you enjoy taking care of people despite the stress of the job?

8. Tell Me About Your Proudest Moment at Work

Try not to overthink this question – it’s not designed to be an opportunity to show off, but simply to give you the opportunity to let your passion for the job shine through.

Tips for answering the question:

Your answer doesn’t have to be groundbreaking in terms of what you have achieved. It could be as simple as:

A patient was given three different treatment options by a consultant and his team, who then left the room. The patient was a bit overwhelmed, so I made him a cup of tea and we sat and discussed each option together. The patient thanked me for making him feel at ease at a time when he could have felt very alone.

The employer wants to see your caring side and your dedication to the role.

9. How Do You Deal with Patients Who Are in Pain?

This is a behavioural question designed to test how you would perform in a real nursing scenario.

The interviewer has chosen this scenario because it is one that requires specific qualities that they are looking for in a nurse.

Tips for answering the question:

If you can, give an example of a real situation where you have comforted a patient who is in pain, but here are the key points to cover:

  • Demonstrate that you are caring and compassionate when talking to patients, by describing how you would listen to the patient’s concerns and make them your priority.

  • Demonstrate your people skills by showing your ability to keep a patient calm and relaxed.

  • Demonstrate your teamwork skills by discussing the issue with the attending doctor, to double-check that they are doing everything possible to minimise the pain.

  • Report back to the patient, so that they know that you have followed through on what you said you would do.

10. What Skills Do You Consider Nurses Should Have?

This question is designed to assess your understanding of the key competencies required for a career in nursing.

Tips for answering the question:

Nurses need business skills like excellent organisation, delegation and leadership, as well as exceptional interpersonal skills to enable them to deal with patients, family members, doctors and other medical staff.

Useful competencies include:

  • Patient-centred
  • Compassion
  • Patience
  • Teamwork
  • Attention to detail
  • Diligence
  • Problem-solving abilities
  • Sense of humour
  • Stamina
  • Empathy

Be prepared to be asked to demonstrate how you meet these competencies.

Top Tips for Success

  • Don’t wait until you’re in the interview to think about how you might answer a question – prepare answers to common questions beforehand.

  • Make sure you know about the organisation you will be joining if the interview goes well. You should be familiar with the institution’s core values and goals.

  • Take your time with your answers and, if asked a competency-based question (which often starts with a phrase like, ‘Tell me about a time when…’), use the STAR Technique to avoid waffling and keep your answer on track.

Final Thoughts

Finally, it’s a good idea to have some questions prepared to ask the employer at the end of the interview. Some good examples are:

  • What is this hospital’s main goal/mission?
  • Can you tell me more about the culture of this particular department?
  • What type of mentoring would be available to me as a new nurse?
  • Do you know the staff to patient ratio at present?
  • Can you tell me about the learning and development opportunities available to me as a new nurse?

Further Reading

You might be interested in these other WikiJob articles:

10 Key NHS Job Interview Questions

A Career In The Public Sector

Top 10 Interpersonal Skills

Trickiest Interview Questions