Common nursing interview questions, answers and tips

Here at Pulse, we know that your interview is a prime opportunity to sell yourself to a potential new employer. Whether you are just getting started with your career, or are an experienced nurse, we understand interviews can be daunting, so we want to ensure you’re as prepared as you can be to secure your next role.  

That’s why we’ve put together this handy guide on nursing interview questions, using all our knowledge of the healthcare sector to help you make the very best impression.  

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It’s important to note that your interview questions are likely to differ depending on whether you are applying for a temporary or permanent role. Don’t worry, we will explain this now for you… 

Temporary vs permanent nursing interviews

Here at Pulse Nursing, we offer temporary roles for nurses and carry out our interviews through an online tool called HireVue. The interview questions within this tool are dependent on the roles you apply for and are tailored to specific vacancies.  Later in this guide, we will talk you through the topics and nursing interview questions you can expect when you apply for one of these roles.

For permanent roles, you can expect your interviews to be conducted in the more traditional way, and not over the HireVue tool.  You will of course be asked nursing interview questions specific to the job you are applying for. In this guide, we will give you a good oversight of the typical questions that are asked in your average permanent nursing interview, and how best to answer them. 

Let’s start with those questions most commonly asked in a nursing interview

Below are some of the more common, and general, healthcare interview questions you are likely to be asked no matter the setting, environment or seniority. It’s important you prepare for these just as much as nursing-specific questions as it demonstrates a well-rounded and considered response. 

Remember these are nursing interview questions you are especially likely to be asked when applying for a permanent role: 

  • Tell me about yourself/your experience… 
  • Why did you apply to us? 
  • What appealed to you about this position? 
  • Why are you leaving your current role? 
  • What do you know about our organisation? 
  • What motivates you? 
  • What are your strengths/weaknesses? 
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years’ time? 
  • How do you manage stress? 
  • How do you organise your time? 
  • Can you explain any gaps in your work history? 
  • What level of support do you expect from your employer? 
  • How soon can you start? 
  • What’s your experience of…
    • Working in a fast-paced environment? 
    • MDT meetings/reviews? What were your contributions? How did you perform?
  • What is your understanding… 
    • Of the NMC? 
    • Of the CQC? 

Here’s how you can confidently answer common nursing interview questions

Keep your answers relevant and concise.  

Also, as early on as you can, ask the interviewer to describe the specific position and duties of the role. The interviewer will hopefully then describe exactly what they think are the most important aspects and challenges of the job.  

From then onwards, you can relate your skills and experience directly to the job you are interviewing for, helping to demonstrate how you are the right person for the role.  

How to answer questions about your previous nursing experience

A question such as “tell me about your experience” can be answered in a range of ways. Think carefully before answering as the interviewer may be looking for a certain piece of information. Don’t be afraid to ask for specifics, such as “what would you like to know about my experience?” This will give you a much better chance of answering the question well. 

How to answer questions about why you’re looking for a new role

Remember to always speak positively about former supervisors and experiences. For example, don’t say: “My last job was the worst experience of my life! I learned very little and my supervisor was always criticising me.” Instead, say something more along the lines of: “My last role was very interesting yet challenging. It helped me to identify what sort of team and style of supervision I prefer.” 

How to answer questions about your strengths and weaknesses

When asked to talk about your strengths and weaknesses, you may feel like you want to either play down your successes or shy away from talking about areas of improvement. It’s important to understand that your attitude and how you discuss these areas matter far more to the interviewer than the actual strengths and weaknesses themselves.  

When it comes to weaknesses, as long as you show that you have recognised them, and are improving on them, then the interviewer will know you are capable and open to learning and developing.  

When talking about your strengths, go for it! Sing your own praises, and don’t just list them. Make sure you link them to clinical practice. For example, talk about how a particular strength means you provide fantastic care to patients. 

Context is key, and honesty along with a willingness to learn and improve goes a very long way. 

How to answer nursing-specific and conflict resolution scenario questions

It is very likely that you will be asked a range of competency-based interview questions. It is best to provide real-life examples as the basis of your answers. Avoid talking in broad terms, being too general or using your imagination when replying to interviewers. Instead, you should prepare some specific situations from your life as examples when answering this type of interview question. Try to focus on why you made certain decisions, how you implemented these decisions and why certain outcomes took place.   

To help you get thinking about what these scenarios could be, we have gathered some of the common questions that are often asked: 

  • “Describe a time when you were faced with a stressful situation that demonstrated your coping skills.” 
  • “Tell me about a time when you had to go above and beyond the call of duty in order to get a job done.” 
  • “Tell me about a time when you had too many things to do, and you were required to prioritise your tasks.” 
  • “Tell me about a situation where you had to challenge the choice of care being given to a patient by another healthcare professional – what did you do?” 
  • “What would you do if you were asked to give an intravenous drug in an unfamiliar trust?” 
  • “What would you do if a carer wasn’t providing adequate quality of care?” 
  • “If a service user had an accident what would you do?” 
  • “What sort of things do you think you would constitute abuse and how would you deal with this?” 
  • “What would you do if a member of staff told you something in confidentiality?” 

Answering nursing interview questions with the STAR method

The STAR method is a structured manner of responding to this style of question, where you discuss the specific situation, task, action, and result of the situation you are describing. When you are asked a situational question in your next interview, this might be the most appropriate technique to use to ensure you structure your answer in the most effective way: 

Situation: Describe the situation that you were in or the task that you needed to accomplish. You should describe a specific event or situation, not give a generalised description of what you have done in the past. Be sure to give enough detail for the interviewer to understand. This situation can be from a previous job, from a volunteer experience, or any relevant event. 

Task: You have picked this situation as you had some sort of core involvement in it; describe what your responsibility was and ensure the interviewer understands exactly where you fitted in. What were your objectives and overall goal? Give specifics of your responsibilities in this scenario before you move on to what you did.  

Action: Describe the actions you took to address the situation with an appropriate amount of detail. What specific steps did you take and what was your contribution? Be careful that you don’t just describe what the team or group did when talking about a situation. Instead, focus on what you did; use the word “I,” not “we” when describing actions. 

Result: Describe the outcome of your actions and don’t be shy about taking credit for your behavior. Make sure your answer contains multiple positive results such as:

  • How did the event end?
  • What did you accomplish?
  • What did you learn? 

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Questions to ask in a nursing interview

A crucial part of an interview when applying for permanent opportunities, is to ask your own questions. Intelligent and insightful questions can help you gain clarity on the role and will also impress the interviewer.  

Here are just some of the best questions to ask in your nursing interview…

  • Having looked at your most recent report, what plans are in place to improve for the next inspection? 
  • What is the service user to nurse ratio? 
  • How many healthcare assistants are there to every nurse? 
  • Can you describe the team culture? 
  • What do you offer in terms of an induction and ongoing support? 
  • What are the opportunities for progression? 
  • What are the main objectives of this role, and how will success be measured? 
  • How is the current team structured?

Lastly, ask “Is there any part of my experience you would like me to cover in more detail to help you with your decision?” 

If they say “no”, you can leave the interview feeling confident that you have represented yourself in a positive light. 

If they say “yes” and give you a reason as to why e.g. “I have a slight concern with your ability to do x”, you can quickly overturn any hesitation or misconception by clearly reiterating your experience relating to that area. 

Temporary nursing role interview tips

If you are applying for a temporary role through Pulse, your nursing interview will be conducted via an online tool called HireVue. Our interview questions differ depending on the clinical area you are applying for so we are unable to list all the possible examples of questions here today. However, in all interviews we will ask you about:  

  • Your current or most recent clinical role and qualifications; when answering this, ensure you discuss any bank or agency work 
  • The ward, unit or area you work in, the number patients you care for and your shift patterns 
  • Any medical, surgical and/or psychiatric conditions you care for 
  • Your scope of practice and clinical competencies 
  • Your understanding of data protection and patient/client confidentiality

Dependent on the role/s you apply for, we will also ask you specific questions in relation to common conditions and complications you may encounter in your specialised clinical area. Here are some of the areas you may be asked to discuss:  

  • Seizure and head injury management in the general setting 
  • Challenging or raising concerns about others in a clinical setting 
  • Safeguarding; recognising the signs, referral process and appropriate actions in all settings 
  • Recognising the deteriorating patient, potential causes and appropriate management in the acute setting 
  • Recognising the signs and the management of sepsis in all settings 
  • Acute coronary syndrome (ACS) recognition and management in the acute setting 
  • Recognising and management of ventilator, intubation and weaning complications in the critical setting 
  • Management of diabetic complications in the paediatric setting 
  • Management and recognising the signs of the aggressive patient in the mental health setting 
  • Levels of observation in the mental health setting 
  • Understanding and purpose of the WHO surgical checklist in the surgical setting 
  • Post-operative complications in the surgical setting

We would also advise that you think about and come prepared to your nursing interview, ready to demonstrate the following: 

  • Knowledge of key clinical tasks and roles, such as:  
    • Documentation 
    • Clinical environment checks 
    • Medications management 
    • Clinical handover 
    • Vital signs
    • Evidence of current evidence-based practice 
    • A professional manner and practice in line with regulatory bodies, such as the NMC  

 Finally, we do also recommend that you research and read up on these topics, to give you the best possible opportunity for securing the role you apply for: 

  • Sepsis and sepsis management – “Sepsis 6” 
  • Data protection and patient confidentiality 
  • Safeguarding 
  • The 6 C’s of nursing 
  • Duty of candour 
  • WHO surgical checklist 
  • The role and expectations of an agency healthcare worker 
  • Clinical competencies and the agency healthcare worker 
  • Basic life support 
  • Relevant NICE guidelines in relation to your clinical field 

How to prepare for your interview

Preparation is key. Be sure to follow these tips before you get to your nursing interview to ensure that you are ready for your big day… 

  • Thoroughly read the interview confirmation sent to you by your consultant. 
  • Arrange a time with your consultant to go through full interview preparation and to ask any questions you may have. 
  • Research the employer, as it shows your interest not only in the role but in the organisation. This is particularly important for permanent interviews not conducted over HireVue. 
  • Practice for the interview using our example interview questions and any guidance given to you by your consultant. 
  • Make sure you are aware of any interviewers’ names and job titles. 
  • If the interview is in person, check the route and test-run the journey before the day of the interview. 
  • If your interview is not online, aim to get to the interview at least 20 minutes early to account for any delays – consider the time of day and weather conditions. 

What to wear to a nursing interview

No matter whether your interview is in-person, online or on HireVue, it is very important that you dress smartly to give the best possible impression to the interviewer. Of course, dress in what you feel comfortable in, but always bear in mind that first impressions count, and how you present yourself in a professional manner is just as important as the answers you give. 

Discover new nursing opportunities with Pulse

Now that you’re ready and fully prepared to take on your next interview, let’s find your next nursing opportunity with Pulse. 

As a leading recruitment agency for healthcare professionals, we have temporary and permanent nursing roles available across all specialisms, including paediatrics, theatre nursing and critical care 

Browse our latest nursing vacancies and register your interest with Pulse. When you register with us, our team will be in touch to discuss your work preferences so that we can find you your perfect role. 

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