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Help with Psych interview-should I be honest?

Nurse Beth   (148 Views | 1 Replies)
by Nurse Beth Nurse Beth, MSN (Columnist) Educator Writer Innovator Expert Nurse

Nurse Beth has 30 years experience as a MSN and specializes in Med Surg, Tele, ICU, Ortho.

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Dear Nurse Beth,

I am a ten year experienced RN in Medical/ Surgery and Rehab. I have an interview tomorrow at a Behavioral Health Facility. I have not used much in the mental health field, yes, sending suicidal patient to the Psych floor after stabilizing. I am wondering what to review and how honest I should be about my lack of knowledge or experience in MH.
Any advice you have for the interview is greatly appreciated.

Dear Wondering,

Here's the thing. They are not looking for expertise in Behavioral Health in you, a candidate with no Behavioral Health experience. Be honest and candid about your lack of experience. It's the right thing to do, and being candid is refreshing and attractive. 

They are looking to see if you'll be a good fit, and looking for certain characteristics.

My sister is a hiring manager in Behavioral Health, and here's her advice:

"The most obvious question-why Psych? Managers are looking for passion for the field. Also, some personal experience with mental illness- a friend, volunteering, family. When asked about nursing in general, compassion should be at the top of the list. Also some assurance that the candidate can be professional-not to take "verbal abuse" personally. I put that in quotes because it's part of the illness, to be expected. I don 't think it is verbal abuse. Since Psych is everywhere, expect to be asked about interactions with "difficult" patients and describe how it was handled."

You must also be prepared for standard situational and behavioral interview questions, such as  "What are your greatest weaknesses?" I give examples of all such interview questions in my book below, including what not to say.

Here's an example:

What are your greatest weaknesses?

"I'm wanting to improve my communication skills, specifically around setting boundaries for patients. The other day I was assigned a patient everyone else was saying is difficult, and no one wanted the assignment. I greeted him respectfully and explained everything I was going to do.

Later in the day, his doctor did not show up as planned, and he verbally attacked me, saying "B***h! You pretend to be nice but you're with them! You're  a liar like everyone else!"

I didn't really know what to do, but I was mindful of where the exit was, for my safety, in case it escalated. I then calmly said "It is not OK to use that language with me. I can see you're upset. Do you want to talk about it?" Actually he did then talk to me- a lot! I felt that I gained some trust with him. I'd like to learn more about how to set therapeutic boundaries".

Now, I am not saying to use this made-up example. I am saying that:

  • Stories are remembered in interviews. Tell a short story and you will stand out among other candidates.
  • Give an example of a weakness that is germane to the role, but not critical. For example, do not say "I'm not good at public speaking" because it is not relevant, and it will be seen as a cop-out. Likewise, do not say "I can't calculate medication dosages" because it is critical. Finally, do not say "I'm a perfectionist" because it is a cliche.
  • Segue to the positive. Use this question to highlight a strength. In the above example, I mentioned safety first, anticipating that awareness of safety and de-escalating a situation would be seen positively.
  • Indicate what you are doing to improve your weakness. It might be taking a class, attending a seminar, or seeking a mentor.

I hope these tips help you, good luck!!

Best wishes,

Nurse Beth

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Quote

I have an interview tomorrow at a Behavioral Health Facility. I have not used much in the mental health field, yes, sending suicidal patient to the Psych floor after stabilizing. I am wondering what to review and how honest I should be about my lack of knowledge or experience in MH.

I would take the tack of appropriately noting whatever related experience that you do have and then convey interest in becoming involved in further care of those scenarios. General theme: I've encountered situations such as [x, y, z acute psychiatric condition], and have been involved in [process of evaluating patient/maintaining safety/initial therapeutic interventions, etc] - I'm very interested in the part of it that I don't get to be involved in on a regular basis.

This is a perfectly acceptable approach and I've been offered jobs based on it. It's a way of being positive and straightforward about the fact that you don't have specific experience in that role, but you do have a little bit of experience that you will apply in order to augment your interest in the population served and the type of work that is done in that area of nursing.

There is no reason to even think in terms of being honest or dishonest. You don't have full-on experience--how exactly would you lie about that?

And, discussing whatever small amount of applicable experience you do have, is no being dishonest. Just don't make yourself look ridiculous by overstating.

Neither overstate nor understate. Above all, convey interest.

Good luck

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