Do I Wear Scrubs to the Interview? And Other Job Search FAQs for Nurses
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You've completed your nursing degree, passed your boards, and landed an interview at a healthcare organization. Congratulations! But to put those nursing skills into practice, you've got to ace that interview. Here are some of the top questions nursing job candidates need to know before stepping into the interview.
Should I Wear Scrubs?
The short answer is: No.
"Nursing is a profession, and applicants should dress professionally," says Carrie Silvers, MSN, RN, who is a clinical instructor and course chair for the RN-MSN program at the University of Arizona College of Nursing.
That doesn't mean a full suit is required, but at least plan to dress business casual in slacks or a skirt and a dress shirt. Any more casual is too casual.
What Will They Ask Me?
Of course, you'll get the typical interview questions about your skills and experience. But you should also expect to be asked about why you decided to enter the field and what you're looking forward to in your career. While those may seem like simple questions, how you answer them can really matter.
"People should always say what the truth is, but they should spend some time thinking about how to phrase or frame whatever that answer is," says Rae Ellen Douglas, a nursing recruiter with Kaye Bassman International. That means describing a detailed, meaningful experience that inspired you to become a nurse, rather than just saying, "I've always known I've wanted to be one."
"Some heartfelt thought should go into some of these questions," Douglas says.
(Here are some of the more common nursing questions hiring managers ask in interviews.)
Will I Have to Demonstrate My Practical Nursing Skills?
You can leave the stethoscope at home. Your interview will most likely take place in an administrative office or boardroom. No one is likely to ask you to take their pulse or start an IV. While you're likely to be asked about your clinical practices, you shouldn't expect to have to show them off.
How Much Should I Know About the Hospital or Organization?
"Everything that can be found," Douglas says. "Everything" goes beyond scoping out the hospital or organization's website. Check their quality indicators on Healthgrades.com, like how many staff vacancies there are, what the rate for sepsis is, and the rate for site infections.
"Those are things that show that you've done your due diligence and prepared yourself," says Douglas. "It'll help you stand out from the crowd. Not everybody does this."
If you happen to know someone who works there, adds Silvers, that's even better.
"Nurse-to-nurse, find out what it's like to work a particular facility, and what the management is like," she says. "What's the camaraderie like on the unit? Do the nurses work together?"
Should I Be Honest About My Career Goals?
If your career plans include becoming a nurse practitioner in a small-town private practice, you might be hesitant to say so during your interview to be a floor nurse at an urban hospital. Why would they want to hire someone who's not going to stick around?
But the most important thing, Douglas says, is honesty. And there's a way to be truthful about your aspirations without sounding like your eye will be on the exit from day one.
"You can say something along the lines of, 'I'm committed to being a floor nurse for the next few years, and I'm considering what further education might look like,'" she says.
What Should I Bring?
This question comes up for job candidates in all industries, and this is one category where the answer for nurses is similar to everyone else: bring nice, clean copies of your resume, any letters of recommendation you may have, and "a good attitude, timeliness, and cellphone that is turned off," Douglas says.
If you find out you'll be interviewed buy a panel of interviewees—not uncommon in large organizations like hospitals—Silvers recommends bringing copies of all of those materials for everyone there.
"And a list of prepared questions," she adds.
What Questions Should I Be Prepared to Ask?
Right. About those questions. It's important not to forget to come up with questions of your own. And asking good questions shows the interviewer that you're a thoughtful, curious, and serious candidate.
Douglas recommends nursing job candidates ask the following questions:
- "What's the culture of this particular department like?"
- "What is the staff-to-patient ratio at this time?"
- "What type of mentoring is available to new nurses?"
"They should be questions that somebody really has to think about to answer," she says. "It's always been my belief that a staff nurse is interviewing the person hiring as much as they are being interviewed."
Armed with these answers, we know you got this. You already know you're an excellent nurse. With proper preparation—and these insider tips—those interviewers will know soon it, too.