Healthcare is one of the most in-demand positions in the world right now, for obvious reasons. Few roles are as sought-after as that of the nurse practitioner, whether the candidate is a newcomer fresh out of medical school or an experienced nurse with a decade of practice at their back.
While many facilities can’t afford to be picky during these crucial times and staff shortages, it’s still essential to ensure that the people you hire are well-suited to your environment. Whether they’re trained on your EHR system, familiar with your regional policies, or just licensed in your state, you need to conduct an interview to get a feel for them.
Here’s a list of important questions you should consider asking during the interview.
Questions for Entry-Level Nurses
These questions are good options for nurses who are fresh out of medical school or who have only a year or two of experience under their belts.
Keep in mind that different candidates may have different experiences before deciding to take up nursing as a career. Some might have gone into nursing school directly out of high school and have decided to pursue the career immediately. Others might be making a career change after long years or decades of another profession or after a significant life event made them reassess their priorities. Always remember that context is important to the questions and their answers.
Where would you like to be in five years, professionally?
This question can give you an idea about the goals and trajectory of the candidate. Do they want to stick with general nursing and become a senior nurse? Do they want to move into critical care or the ICU? Do they want to work specifically with pediatrics? Do they intend to move on to informatics, administration, or management? The best choice is to hire a nurse who can follow a career within your facility, rather than needing to leave in a few years to progress.
Do you belong to any nursing organizations?
Membership in a nursing organization or union can impact the considerations you must make when hiring the candidate. However, membership also shows a dedication to the career and to long-term, continuing education above and beyond what is necessary to maintain licensing. These are ambitious and valuable candidates.
What is your strongest clinical skill? Tell us about it.
Entry-level nurses don’t typically have a lot of experience under their belts. The way they answer this question can give you an idea of where they’re excelling and where they might need work. And, if they mention a skill they likely wouldn’t be experienced enough to excel in, it can make you question other aspects of their resume.
How do you feel when encountering diversity in patients you care for?
Nurses and healthcare providers need to fight systemic biases and personal biases in their treatment and are sworn to provide care for everyone, regardless of personal feelings. Whether encountering a member of a dramatically different culture or just someone who reminds the candidate of a bad ex-partner, how they separate themselves from the situation and provide care anyway can be very important.
How do you handle a patient who disagrees with you?
Nurses are front-line workers and have to deal with many people in some of the most stressful, painful, discomforting, or unfamiliar situations they have ever experienced. A nurse needs to be capable of expressing compassion and expertise with vulnerable people without letting it get to them. A good answer to this question involves a time the nurse found common ground with their patients to build rapport and trust.
What was your favorite clinical rotation during school?
This question can get combined with the first one. Clinicals are a series of rotations through different medical specialties, both for the purposes of cross-training and building familiarity in many areas of expertise, and in showing a prospective nurse what each area of practice entails. The one that the nurse picks as their favorite is the one they’re most likely to want to move into as they grow their career, so finding a candidate that fits with the specialties and openings in your facility can be essential for retention.
Why did you choose to pursue nursing as a career?
This question gives you insights into the motivations of your chosen nurse. Nursing is incredibly demanding, both physically and emotionally, and many nurses suffer from burnout very quickly if they aren’t truly passionate about what they do. Good answers often reflect life experiences or focus on the reward of providing care and assistance to people and doing good in the world.
How do you deal with burnout in your career?
Burnout is a genuine risk with nurses, especially nowadays during this time of staff shortages. While a lot of the burden of mitigating burnout comes down to actions taken by the hospital administration (such as adequate staffing, compensation, flexible hours, and not throwing nurses under the bus), being able to cope with stress appropriately is a huge benefit for a nurse. Look for answers that indicate they know how to de-stress, take time to themselves, and set boundaries to preserve their mental health.
Questions for Nursing Leadership
You won’t always be hiring front-line nurses and newcomers to the career. Nursing has seen a ton of turnover in the last two years, including many nursing leadership and administration workers. You may be spending a significant amount of time looking for candidates to take over leadership roles, and you want to ensure that the candidates you select are the best possible people for the positions. Here are some questions you can ask of more experienced candidates applying for leadership roles.
What sort of experience do you have in leading a team or group?
Those applying to work in leadership positions should, one hopes, have experience in management or leadership, at least for a small team. Whether they’ve been temporarily in charge of the unit, have experience as charge nurse regularly, or have worked as a middle manager before applying to a higher-level management role, you want to hear about their time in those roles. Ask further questions about the challenges they faced and the steps they took to overcome them.
Tell me about a negative situation you’ve encountered and how you turned it into a positive one.
You’re looking for two aspects of a situation here. The first is how your candidate has handled a situation they encountered that proved to be a challenge and tested their leadership abilities. The second is how they’ve been recognized in the past for that achievement, if they have been, and how they’ve leveraged that achievement to progress their careers.
Have you ever had to convince someone to do something they didn’t want to do? If so, how did you do it?
As a member of leadership, your candidate may often get tasked with making decisions that lower-level workers might disagree with but which are important or even critical from the perspective of management. This question will give you an idea of how the candidate has managed to convince their staff to go along with a plan they might disagree with. Did they lie, use the truth, reveal rationalization or evidence they perhaps shouldn’t have? Think about all of the different considerations that can come up here.
Have you ever made and enforced a decision that turned out to be wrong? How did you handle it?
No one is perfect. However, making the wrong decision in a medical setting can lead to devastating outcomes, particularly for patients. You want your candidate to be honest here; if they claim never to have made such a decision, perhaps they’ve never truly been in a position of authority in the first place. This question is also an excellent opportunity to judge how your potential manager or administrator handles being challenged and, more importantly, proven wrong.
Describe a situation where you had to make a decision quickly, in an emergency, with incomplete information. How did it work out?
Healthcare is fast-paced, and the decisions made by nurse managers and administrators can be extremely important. Moreover, they need to be confident in making good decisions and gathering relevant information as quickly as possible. A nurse manager who isn’t confident or hasn’t made these kinds of decisions might not be a valuable candidate to hire.
What do you look for in a nurse you would want on your team?
Administrators may be tasked with building teams or making roster decisions, whether that means scheduling people to work together or becoming part of the hiring team alongside you. What does your candidate look for in a good nurse? Keep in mind that, as someone with first-hand and recent nursing experience, they may even have a better idea of what to look for than you do. Try to build and maintain awareness of the options with these questions.
Why do you want to join the leadership team of our facility?
Nurse administrators and managers are in exceedingly short supply, as many of the most experienced members of the role quit or retire. Often, these people have their pick of facilities. Why have they chosen yours? Try to get past mindless flattery like “it’s one of the best facilities in the area” and get to actual reasons. Do they think they can make a difference and improve the quality of care? Are they solely in it because they already live in the area and don’t want to move? Honesty is essential here.
What steps do you take to correct a problem when a nurse is underperforming?
Part of management is keeping your team fresh and ready to go. During the pandemic, nurses are burning out, quitting, and working under unprecedented amounts of stress, more so than ever before. How does your leadership candidate motivate, improve, or bolster their nurses? Look for answers that discuss talking to the nurse, helping them solve problems, and accommodating their needs to encourage further success, rather than “solutions” that use discouragement or negative feedback.
If you could make one significant change at your previous facility, what would it be?
Nurse administrators are best positioned to see every pain point in the entire field, above and below them. That puts them in a prime position to identify changes that, if made, could bolster patient outcomes, improve facility care, or save the facility money. Look for realistic answers here, changes that could be made (rather than an answer like “implementing single-payer healthcare,” which isn’t something a facility can do), and ideas that aren’t illegal in some way.
How do you deal with doctors who mistreat your nurses?
There’s often a division between doctors and nurses, and the lack of respect can go both ways. Dealing with these conflicts can be a crucial part of nursing leadership. How can your candidate navigate this challenge without seeming to betray one side or the other?
Conducting the Right Interviews
Interviewing to analyze a nursing candidate is a critical part of hiring, but it’s not the only part. The questions above are solely focused on understanding how the candidate fits into their career, their ambitions, what skills they bring to the table, and what ideas they have to improve patient care. You should combine these questions with more generic interview questions about skills, training, and other traditional topics.
Remember, just like hiring for any other job, aspects of a candidate like cultural fit can be just as important. Nursing adds another layer to the equation. Finding a great candidate can be difficult, and with a shortage of candidates across the nation, you can’t afford to be too picky. Neither, however, can you afford to pick a sub-par nurse and harm patients. These decisions are of critical importance, so make sure you’re doing your due diligence every step of the way.
Have any questions about how you should conduct your nursing interview process? If so, please feel free to leave a comment down below, and we’ll get a conversation started! These interview questions are a good step in the right direction, but the questions aren’t everything. Conducting your interview appropriately is critical to ensuring you can hire the best possible candidates.
Andrew Greenberg’s roots in recruiting date back to 1996. He has experience both on the agency-side and corporate-side of the staffing business, with a focus in the financial services space at companies like Bloomberg and UBS. He also has core experience with information technology staffing, and has worked for major software companies such as SAP Business Objects and IBM/Informix Software. To get in touch with Andrew, you can reach him by email or by phone at (800) 797-6160.