Less Common Nursing Interview Questions (Part 1 of 4)

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    Many local job markets across the United States contain multiple job seekers competing for relatively few available positions. As a result, hiring managers are screening applicants like hawks and asking tougher interview questions than ever before to weed out the masses of candidates. This article is the first of a four-part essay on how to answer difficult nursing interview questions.

    Last year I wrote a three-part essay on how to answer the most common nursing interview questions. My three different articles list some of the more conventional, commonly-asked questions along with suggestions on how to answer. Please feel free to click on the website links below if you wish to read my previous pieces on answering common nursing interview questions.

    How To Answer The Most Common Interview Questions
    A Few More Common Interview Questions (Part II)
    More Common Nursing Interview Questions (Part III)

    Due to the current economic situation, many local employment markets across the United States contain a multitude of job seekers in competition for a very limited number of positions. To weed out the excessive number of qualified candidates, human resources personnel and hiring managers are scrutinizing applicants more closely and asking tougher interview questions than ever before.

    Without further delay, here is a list of tough interview questions that you might be asked. Some of these questions are very odd and unconventional, but they all have a specific purpose.

    You have a recent gap in your employment history. Why haven’t you worked in more than a year?

    Employment gaps are becoming increasingly common for both new grads and very experienced nurses in many competitive job markets. Some professionals will suggest you lie and say you took time off for personal reasons, but lying only masks the toughness of local employment markets. Some interviewers are clueless about how rough things really are out there for job-seeking nurses. After all, some of these people have not personally looked for work in years.

    So, my advice is to be honest. If you’ve been actively seeking work, reply: “I have submitted more than 100 job applications without any callbacks. I have also applied to smaller employers in person. However, I’ve been maintaining competence in the profession by keeping my BLS, ACLS and PALS certifications current and through attending nursing seminars.” Indicate you are actively taking steps to keep your fund of nursing knowledge fresh in anticipation of returning to work.

    If you really did take time off for personal reasons such as child-rearing, school, personal illness or other issues, you will also want to be forthcoming and honest about circumstances that have kept you out of the workforce. Most importantly, clearly express an eagerness to return to work.

    If you could choose between living alone in a mansion on a deserted island or dwelling in a crowded apartment with multiple people, which living situation would you pick?

    This is obviously an unconventional question. It is also a roundabout means of discovering if you are a team player or a lone wolf. Here’s a clue: interviewers definitely prefer to hire nurses who enjoy being around people and working in teams to get the job done. Although the deserted island may offer gorgeous views of the sea and an opulent mansion, I assume the interviewer hopes you’ll favor living in the company of others. This is your time to come across as a team player.

    Discuss a time when you provided excellent customer service.

    In case you’re unaware, many healthcare facilities in the US are becoming hyper-focused on customer service. The results of patient satisfaction surveys impact Medicare reimbursement, so interviewers are on the lookout for candidates who will satisfy patients and families. If you have never held a nursing job, talk about a time when you went above and beyond to please someone in a non-nursing job, at school, in your public interactions, or while volunteering.

    How would you occupy your personal time if you did not need to work for income?

    This off-the-wall interview question is an underhanded way of finding out about your personal values. The interviewer certainly doesn’t want to hear that you would spend your time as a beach bum drinking cocktails on the shores of Bali. “I would visit patients at children’s hospitals and nursing homes” is a statement that displays your devotion to others. “I would open clinics in developing countries where the need for preventive healthcare is greatest” would also work. In other words, do not come across as a selfish, unmotivated person. Give the impression that you are a motivated individual who has compassion for others.

    Discuss your greatest regret and the lesson you learned from it.

    Please avoid the temptation to claim that you have no regrets, because the interviewer will know you are fibbing. You will also want to refrain from discussing a major regret. Instead, bring up a minor regret related to work or school such as, “I regret never having taken organic chemistry during college. I thought inorganic chemistry would be a less difficult course, and this guided my decision making back then. However, I have grown personally and professionally, and I love being stimulated by an intellectual challenge these days.”

    If you could become any animal, which one would you choose to be?

    Believe it or not, but this question is actually being asked by interviewers who represent many different major corporations. One of the site moderators was asked this question recently and states she was caught off-guard. It's not a newer question, either. In fact, my father recalls being asked this exact same question in 1985. By the way, he responded that he would choose to be an elephant due to the strong family ties.

    The interviewer is asking this question for two reasons. First of all, they want to see if you can think quickly. Finally, they want some clues about your underlying personality and work ethic. The animals to which we are attracted can speak volumes about our character. Personally, I’d answer that I would choose to be a German shepherd because they are dependable, admired, full of life, assertive, and good workers who are eager to learn.

    Good luck with the job search. Stay tuned, because this four-part essay has three more upcoming parts to complete the whole.
    Last edit by Joe V on Jun 12, '13
    DeeaCatalina, RN/CM, BlueBird1233, and 15 others like this.

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  2. About TheCommuter, ASN, RN

    TheCommuter is a moderator of allnurses.com and has varied workplace experiences upon which to draw for her articles. She was an LPN/LVN for four years prior to becoming a registered nurse.

    TheCommuter has '9' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'acute rehab, long term care, and psych'. From 'Fort Worth, Texas, USA'; 33 Years Old; Joined Feb '05; Posts: 28,528; Likes: 42,011. You can follow TheCommuter on My Website

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    17 Comments so far...

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    Great article!
    oanarn2015 likes this.
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    Great! I read your 3 part article - it was fun and extremely helpful. Thanks.
    Last edit by kabu on Jun 12, '13 : Reason: l
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    Great strategies, as always Commuter.
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    I'd be a cat - always ready and able to relax; vigilant at a moment's notice, and willing to surrender completely to love (ever start petting a napping kitty?)
    Anyway, great article! Very helpful advice.
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    This is a great article! I've been tossing the idea around in my brain for a few months of trying to get back into hospital nursing. I feel like I'm getting a little stagnant in private duty & need more stimulation. This is exactly the type of information I need to have if I'm to be able to compete in this job market.
    I'm also updating my resume with some great suggestions I've found.
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    Love the article overall ... but I disagree with a few of your suggested responses. In particular, the one about what you would do with you time if you didn't have to work. Personally, as someone who does interviews, I would be turned off by the answers you suggested. They seem to "fake and beauty contestent-ish" to me -- too much like an answer someone would be coached to say. I would hope for an answer that seemed more genuine, and certainly look for consistency in the applicant's response with other things that I know/learn about them.

    My answer would be a little less "definite and rehearsed" sounding. I would start by saying something like, "Gee, I'm not sure. I would probably do nothing for a few days just to get my bearings and enjoy my new-found freedom. But in the long run, I know I would become bored if I didn't have something to do .... and I would want to contribute to my community in some to give my life meaning. I would probably start looking around at local charities to see what opportunities were available ... probably focusing on children, health care, or health education, as those are skills I have from my nursing caring and those are areas I have cared about for many years. I would also relish the opportunity to learn new things -- perhaps take a class or do some independent study on my own. I enjoy learning new things and I would not want to feel as if I were becoming stagnant. Perhaps I would take up a new hobby, such as ..."

    For the "alone in a mansion" or "in a crowded apartment" question, I would not start my answer by choosing either one. I would comment on the advantages/disadvantages of each one -- the need for peace and quiet to think clearly, the need for companionship, the possibility of connection with others when living in an isolated area, etc. I would show a deeper understanding of the question than just pick one. You see, there is no 1 right choice to that question ... or any of the others, either. They all give you a chance to talk about the deeper issues -- and that's why they make good interview questions. So don't just try to pick the "right one" -- discuss the issues.

    I don't trust the people who give me answers that sound rehearsed and overly definite. I would want to "see and hear" the candidates thoughts on the question ... the process they go through in deciding what to do with their time. That would tell me more about them.
    neemo, elkpark, krazievi3t6url, and 11 others like this.
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    Quote from llg
    Love the article overall ... but I disagree with a few of your suggested responses. In particular, the one about what you would do with you time if you didn't have to work. Personally, as someone who does interviews, I would be turned off by the answers you suggested.
    Thank you for your feedback. Since you regularly conduct job interviews, your opinion on this topic is immensely helpful.
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    I also ask the question, "Do you fear the unknown?" What I'm looking for is the person who tells me they enjoy a challenge and that while the unknown can cause some anxiety, it can also be exciting to explore it and learn from it. Just so you know, I never hire the person who answers, "Oh yes, who wouldn't be fearful?!"
    poppycat likes this.
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    Just a question about the response for a greatest regret/lesson. You wrote to not say anything too intense, but would if the greatest regret is something the interviewer will eventually find out about (something on record)? And I am wondering if the interviewer would think it is rehearsed if the interviewee stated their certain criminal history (whatever it may be) is their greatest lesson? Please reply, any advice would help me (and I'm sure others too)...Thanks for the article.

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