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Entry-Level Nursing Interview

15 Questions and Answers by Kelly Burlison
| Kelly Burlison, MPH, is an experienced professional
with over ten years of experience interviewing in the health care field.

Question 1 of 15

What inspired you to pursue a career in the nursing field?

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Entry-Level Nursing Interview Questions

  1. 1.

    What inspired you to pursue a career in the nursing field?

      Nursing is not a profession that is meant for everyone and the interviewer is asking this question to learn more about the candidate's motivation behind pursuing a career in nursing. A career in nursing can be both physically and emotionally challenging and it takes a person with compassion and a willingness to care for others in their most vulnerable states to be successful. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should answer honestly, but focus on their passion for people and caring for others. A more successful answer would include a specific personal experience the candidate had in their life that inspired them to pursue nursing as a career.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "I have always wanted a career where I could help people, but when I first started college, I wasn't sure exactly what that meant. However, after volunteering at a hospital one summer, I was drawn to the nursing field. I feel like nurses are the backbone of the clinical system and not only do they keep the system running, they provide care to patients and their family members when it counts the most. Once I decided on nursing, I never looked back, and so far, it has been one of the best decisions of my life."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "I am a career changer, as I worked as a corporate accountant in the hospitality field for over a decade. However, when my mother was undergoing treatments for cancer sever years ago was when I was inspired to pursue a career in nursing. Seeing the nurses care for my mother so compassionately through all stages of her cancer treatment made me realize I needed to devote my career to something more meaningful. I have nothing against accounting, it is a great career, but I feel like my time will be better spent if I am caring for others in my career instead of sitting behind a spreadsheet."

  2. 2.

    What was the most challenging part of your nursing education?

      Nursing school, at any level, is a very challenging endeavor. Students often struggle with various parts of their nursing education in itself, such as learning to create care plans, but also may struggle with the workload itself. The interviewer is asking this question to determine if the candidate can identify their greatest challenge while pursuing their nursing education. When answering this question, the candidate should be honest about their struggles while pursuing their education and identify what challenged them the most. A successful answer to this question would not only include a summary of what challenged the candidate but also specific details of how they overcame the challenge.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "The greatest challenge I faced while I was in nursing school was learning how to create an effective care plan. This is something some of my classmates mastered with ease, but I really struggled. It seemed like no matter how much work I put into the care plans I was creating, they were always wrong. At one point, I thought I was going to have to change my major because of how much I was struggling with care plans. But, instead of giving up, I put in extra work, met with my professor, got extra help from a teaching assistant, and soon, I was able to master care plans as well."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "Being an older student and a career changer, the most difficult part of nursing school for me was balancing my the full time job I had to maintain, my full time courseload, and my family obligations at home. It was a very difficult few years, and there were times I wondered if I would be able to do it for the long haul. However, when felt like giving up, I would recenter myself and refocus on my goals, and that would give me the motivation I needed to carry on."

  3. 3.

    What was your favorite clinical rotation during nursing school?

      Nursing education programs include clinical rotations, better known as clinicals, which are supervised clinical sessions where students gain real-world nursing experience in rotating specialty areas. Clinicals give students the ability to apply the concepts they have learned in the classroom and allow students to get an idea of what specialty areas of nursing they may want to pursue after graduation. The interviewer is asking this question to identify which specialty areas of nursing the candidate may prefer. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should identify which clinical rotation was their favorite and why.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "My favorite clinical rotation was in family medicine. In fact, I liked family medicine so much, I was able to go back towards the end of my clinicals and work an extra week in the clinic. I enjoyed family medicine the most because I got to work with patients of all ages, not just one age group. I also like the fact that patient visit their family medicine practitioners often, which means the nursing staff has the opportunity to get to know the patients and form relationships with them. I hope that I will be able to work in family medicine, since I enjoyed it so much during my clinical rotations."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "Going into my clinicals, I thought I would enjoy oncology nursing best, since oncology nurses initially inspired me to go into nursing. However, now that my clinicals are over, I can honestly say that labor and delivery was my favorite rotation. It isn't that I didn't enjoy oncology, but the excitement, challenges, and unfortunately, even the heartbreak of labor and delivery made it feel like much more of a team environment and one I could see myself working in."

  4. 4.

    Aside from your clinical rotations, tell me about your experience caring for patients.

      While required clinical rotations that are a part of nursing education programs ensure entry-level nurses have hands-on practical experience, employers like to see additional patient care experience on a candidate's resume. This experience does not have to be nursing experience, especially for entry-level nursing, but can be experience as a nursing assistant, care partner, paramedic/EMT, hospital volunteer, or other position that provides direct patient care. Having this additional patient care experience gives entry-level nursing candidates a competitive edge over candidates without such experience. The interviewer is asking this question to determine if the candidate has additional patient care experience and to what extent, if they do. When answering this question, the candidate should be honest about their experiences providing patient care, as their skills doing so will be reflected in their job performance once hired.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "Once I decided to change my major to nursing, I obtained my nursing assistant license and got a part-time job at a nursing home. The last two years I was in college, I worked at the nursing home and cared for patients by changing them, bathing them, helping them to the restroom, taking vital signs, and getting them up to socialize and attend daily activities. It wasn't the most glamorous job, but it allowed me to get experience caring for patients and I was able to care for some great people at the same time."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "My official experience caring for patients is limited to my clinical rotations, as I had to maintain my full time job as an accountant while in nursing school. However, while do not have additional official experience caring for patients, while my mother was undergoing cancer treatments, I was her primary caregiver. I was there to care for my mother on her best days, her worst days, and all days in between. I know this isn't what you are looking for, but I believe this experience will help me empathize with the patients and family members I am caring for when they are facing their best and worst days as well."

  5. 5.

    Where do you see yourself in your nursing career in ten years?

      This question is essential for the interviewer, as they are asking it to determine the career path the candidate intends to pursue within the nursing profession. If the candidate eventually wants to pursue a career as a nurse anesthetist, then the interviewer may not want to hire them for a position at a family medicine clinic. The interviewer is asking this question to ensure the opportunities they have available at their organization matches the career goals of the candidate. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should be honest about how they would like to see their nursing career unfold, and not merely tailor their answer based on what they think the interviewer may want to hear.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "Since I enjoyed caring for the elderly patients at the nursing home while I was working as a Certified Nursing Assistant, I would eventually like to pursue a career as a geriatric nurse practitioner. However, I will need to obtain several years of experience in bedside nursing before I can do so. I hope to be able to go back to nursing school for my master's degree in about five years, but until then, I am looking forward to working on your geriatric unit as a floor nurse."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "Since I am technically inclined, I hope to one day get involved in nursing informatics or quality improvement. This is something I am very interested in and hope to be involved in, even if it is just at the level of my unit. While I look forward to gaining entry-level nursing experience over the next few years, I hope that I will eventually be able to expand my practice to working with data and quality improvement projects."

  6. 6.

    What do you feel is your strongest clinical skill, and why?

      Entry-level nurses, most of the time have minimal experience working clinically and using their newly licensed skills. The expertise these nurses have is typically limited to the time they spent in their clinical rotations. While clinical rotation experience is limited, nurses can practice their clinical skills during this time, and usually finish these rotations with a few strong clinical skills. The interviewer is asking this question to determine how comfortable the candidate is with their clinical skills and how advanced their strongest clinical skill is. To successfully answer this question, the candidate should be honest about their strongest clinical skill, even if it is not very advanced. When explaining why the particular skill is their strongest, the candidate should describe their experience in conducting the skill and how they have been successful.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "Even though I am a new nurse, I feel that my strongest clinical skill is starting an IV. In my class at nursing school, I was able to master this skill with ease, and before any of my peers. In my clinical rotations, I never had an issue starting IVs, and during one of my rotations, my preceptor asked me to help her start an IV on a patient that she was struggling with. My preceptor was a seasoned nurse who had over two decades of experience, and while she couldn't find the patient's vein and start the IV, I was able to with ease. While I have a lot of room to improve on my other clinical skills, I feel like starting IVs is one I have already mastered."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "I am capable of performing many clinical skills at this point in my training, but I feel most comfortable taking and monitoring my patients' vital signs, such as taking their blood pressure, pulse oximetry, and evening assessing their pain levels. At first, it was difficult for me to trust myself in my ability in taking vital signs, but through my clinical training, I became much more comfortable with myself. While this is not the most advanced skill I could have the most strength in, I feel that it gives me a good foundation to build upon as I get more experience in nursing."

  7. 7.

    Describe your strongest non-clinical skill that will be most beneficial to you in your nursing career.

      While it is important that nurses have strong clinical skills, it is also important that they are strong in other, non-clinical areas. Having strong abilities in areas such as time management, data analytics, adaptability, ethics, and communication will compliment a nurse's clinical skills and make them more successful. The interviewer is asking this question to find out more about the candidate's strengths as it relates to non-clinical skills. To successfully answer this question, the candidate should be honest about their skills and avoid simply telling the interviewer what they think they may want to hear. After identifying their strongest non-clinical skill, the candidate should describe why they feel they are strongest in the skill, using real-life examples that demonstrate their strength.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "My strongest non-clinical skill is my ability to adapt to any situation. I feel like I have always been quite adaptable, but while I was working as a nursing assistant during nursing school was when I really built upon my adaptability skills. While I worked in this position, the environment was rarely the same from day-to-day, and I was always doing something different. Many times, I would be pulled to a different unit or wing to help out, which may have been difficult for someone less adaptable. Any time this happened to me, I would take it in stride, and use it as an opportunity to learn."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "This is an easy question for me to answer, because, hands-down, my strongest non-clinical skill is time management. While I was in nursing school and was both working and going to school full-time, I really sharpened my time management skills, as I had to juggle so many things. This experience was tough at the time, but I would not do it differently, because it taught me how to be extremely efficient in my work and it showed me how many tasks I could effectively complete if I stayed focused and managed my time. I think this skill will be extremely beneficial if I get the opportunity to work with your company, because I know it is a fast-paced and demanding environment."

  8. 8.

    Our company sees patients in multiple specialty areas, and many times we ask our nurses to cross-train to different specialties. Tell me how you will approach a situation where you are asked to cross-train.

      Cross-training nursing staff members is a very common practice within hospitals and multi-specialty clinics. Cross-training provides nurses the opportunity to learn and practice their skills in different areas; however, the experience can sometimes be stressful, especially for entry-level nurses. The interviewer is asking this question to determine how the candidate will respond in situations where they may be required to cross-train. For organizations in which cross-training is essential to maintain operations, it is especially important for the interviewer to feel the candidate will be willing to do so. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should indicate that they would be willing to cross-train in other departments and describe the methods they use to learn and retain new skills. A more successful answer to this question would include an example of when the candidate was previously cross-trained in their career and how they successfully managed to learn and retain two different professional skill sets.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "I look forward to the opportunity to cross-train in other departments because I want to learn as many clinical skills as I can. If I am ever asked to cross-train, I will be eager to learn and will volunteer to help out with as many processes and procedures as I can during cross-training so I can learn and get enough practice to work independently in the other department when I am needed. If the opportunity is available, I hope I can cross-train to multiple departments, not only so I can be of help, but also so I can advance my skills."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "I would be happy to cross-train, and I would approach the situation as I have in other instances in my career where I have been asked to help out in other departments. Although my previous career was in corporate accounting, and I was primarily responsible for managing the books for my company, when needed, I also assisted with payroll, project management, and technical upgrades. Each time I was asked to assist in a different department or become involved in a project, I would research and learn as much as I could about the project so I could be well-prepared. I also had to approach these instances with a good attitude and flexibility in order to be successful. If asked to cross-train in other departments, I will draw from these previous experiences to ensure I am able to learn the skills and do the best job possible."

  9. 9.

    Nursing can be a high-stress, unpredictable, and fast-paced environment. Tell me about your previous experience working in such an environment and how it has prepared you for a career in nursing.

      Many entry-level nurses have a difficult time adjusting to the unpredictability, stress, and fast pace in which they are working under. The stress of nursing can take its toll, and it is important that each entry-level nurse be prepared for the change-of-pace in which they will soon be faced with. The interviewer is asking this question to determine if the candidate has experience in such an environment. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should describe previous environments or situations that have been challenging, stressful, and fast-paced and how they believe the situations have prepared them for nursing. The candidate should choose examples that are rooted in work experience, but if the candidate has no previous work experience, another example will be acceptable.

      Kelly's Answer

      "While I do not much past work experience that has been high-stress, I can say that many of my clinical rotations have given me an idea of how unpredictable and fast-paced a career in nursing can be. When I was on my clinical rotation in an inpatient unit at the local hospital, I really got to experience this, because there were constant acute needs from patients, alarms going off, requests coming in, and at the same time, the nursing staff had to continue their regular daily clinical and administrative tasks. Fortunately, this experience did not scare me away from the profession, instead, I feel like it helped prepare me and I am looking forward to working in such a challenging environment."

  10. 10.

    As an entry-level nurse, tell me how you will handle situations where more experienced nurses on your team may not be very welcoming or helpful to you.

      On nursing teams, it is not uncommon for entry-level nurses to feel unwelcome and to feel the more senior nurses are not helpful to them. This is something administrators are well aware of, and unfortunately, it is a complicated situation to solve. It is important that entry-level nurses are aware of the dynamics they may face with more senior nurses. The interviewer is asking this question to get an idea of how aware the candidate is of such dynamics and how they will respond to these dynamics. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should indicate that they are aware of these dynamics, and rather than telling the interviewer they would attempt to change the dynamic, they should say they would not get caught up in interpersonal conflicts and instead wait until they are welcomed members of the team. A more successful answer to this question would include a specific example of how the candidate handled a similar example in their career where they were not initially welcomed.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "This would be a tough situation to be in, but I am aware it often happens in the nursing field. While I was in school for my RN, I heard many stories from my fellow students who were already working as LPNs who had previously been in similar situations when they first started working in the nursing field. Because was made aware of these circumstances early on while I was in nursing school, I have been preparing myself for quite some time. While I hope I will luck out and join a team that is very welcoming and helpful, if not, I will not take it personally and will take it all in stride. The challenges I face in this circumstance will make me a stronger nurse, and I will remember that, even on the toughest days."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "Since my cousin is an administrator, she has warned me about the environments entry-level nurses often find themselves in, so I am very well of what I may be facing. However, I have faced similar situations in my career as an accountant. In my first job in shared services. In this situation, I was not in an entry-level position, but instead a manager; however, I felt singled out every day as all the other managers on staff were unwelcoming, unhelpful, and seemed unhappy that I was there. I'm not going to lie, this situation was uncomfortable at first; but, at the end of the day, I had a job to do, and that was most important. Instead of getting caught up in unnecessary dramatics, I waited it out and eventually was welcomed in. I imagine that it will be a similar situation as an entry-level nurse, and I plan on taking a similar approach."

  11. 11.

    Tell me how you will handle a situation where you are asked to perform a clinical procedure or task that is within your scope of work but you feel uncomfortable with.

      An entry-level nurse may have a scope of work that is quite vast, especially if they are a Registered Nurse, but they may not feel comfortable performing all the clinical procedures and tasks within the scope of their license. This is not uncommon, and it is not an indication that the nurse is not skilled, but simply a testament to their inexperience. The interviewer is asking this question to determine how the candidate will respond in such situations, to ensure they will not put the patient at risk due to their inexperience. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should indicate they would ask for assistance if they are unsure of how to proceed with the clinical task or procedure, especially if it could potentially harm the patient. A more successful answer to this question would include a specific example from the candidate's career or clinical rotations where they asked for assistance with a task because they were unsure of how to proceed.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "I think it would depend on what type of task or procedure it was, but if it at all could harm the patient, I would for sure ask my supervisor or someone on my team for help. This reminds me of a time during my clinical rotations when I was working on the burn unit, and I had to change a patient's dressing. The dressing was stuck to the patient's severe burn, and since they were in so much pain, I was unsure of how to proceed. I didn't want to make the injury worse for the patient or cause the patient a significant amount of pain, so I asked my preceptor for help. I would approach a task or procedure I was unsure about the same way at my job, because my first priority is to provide the best care possible to the patient."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "If I was completely unsure of how to proceed with the procedure and if I were afraid I would harm the patient, I would stop and ask for assistance. Patient care is not something to use a trial-and-error system on, and to avoid harming the patient or putting the patient through multiple procedures, even if it would not actually harm them, I would ask for help. Sometimes asking for help can be difficult, especially when you are new and are trying to prove yourself, but at the same time, asking for help is the only way to learn and it protects those we are caring for."

  12. 12.

    How do you see yourself interacting with physicians, who sometimes can be demanding and difficult to work with?

      Physicians have very stressful jobs and are under a significant amount of pressure on a daily basis. This sometimes causes them to be short with their support staff and some of them often develop the reputation of being difficult to work with. At times, situations between nurses and physicians can become very heated and disagreements can arise. However, it is up to the nurse to facilitate a positive working environment with the physicians around them, despite any disagreements that may have happened in the past. The interviewer is asking this question to determine how the candidate will react to physicians who are known to be demanding and difficult, as it will determine how successful they will be in their nursing career. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should indicate they would not take the physician's behavior personally and would continue to build positive, professional relationships with them, even if there have been uncomfortable situations with particular physicians in the past. A more successful answer would include an example from the candidate's career or clinical experience where they dealt with a difficult physician, superior, or colleague but continued to maintain a positive, professional relationship with them.

      Kelly's Answer

      "Even though I was just a nursing assistant, I dealt with many difficult physicians while I worked at the nursing home in college. One physician in particular was extremely difficult and seemed to have a problem with anything and everything that anyone did for a patient, including the nursing assistants. There were days where this doctor would come and yell at me for patients being in the incorrect position or not being changed, even though they had just been changed. It was frustrating, but I had to take it all in stride, reminding myself that the physician only had the best interests of the patients in mind and also that he had a lot of pressure on him and was probably dealing with it to the best of his ability. If I had the pressure of a physician on me, I don't know how I would react, so I tried my best to keep it all in perspective."

  13. 13.

    Because nursing is a very challenging career, many nurses face burnout. How will you prevent from becoming burned out?

      The interviewer is asking this question to determine if the candidate is aware of nursing burnout and if they are already preparing themselves for the prevention of such. Burnout is a significant concern in the nursing industry, as nurses often become burned out from the stress, emotional toll, and long hours that are required of them. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should indicate that they are aware of nursing burnout and provide examples of ways they are preparing themselves to mitigate burnout. A more successful answer would include an example from the candidate's career where they avoided getting burned out in a job or project by using specific techniques.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "While in nursing school, I became very informed of nursing burnout. I never really thought about burnout before, so when I first learned of it, it was quite a surprise. However, while I was doing my clinical rotations, I quickly saw why nurses become burned out so quickly. Being a nurse can be very stressful, tiring, and emotionally taxing, and if you don't do something to counterbalance these things, you will get burned out. I am big on being mindful, practicing yoga, and taking care of my overall wellness. I feel if I continue to focus on these elements of my life, I will be able to stay more in tune to my nursing career and prevent myself from becoming burned out."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "As an accountant, I have experience working in a career with a high burnout rate. However, I have always been able to avoid becoming burned out by not allowing work to consume my entire life. While work is important and I am completely dedicated to my job while I am working, I spend a lot of time volunteering outside of work to other causes that are important to me. The time I spend volunteering allows me to decompress and focus on something else, which prevents me from becoming burned out at my job. When I become a full-time nurse, I intend to continue my volunteer work, which I think will help prevent me from becoming burned out in my nursing career as well."

  14. 14.

    Most nursing positions are not your typical nine-to-five jobs. Tell me about your willingness to work non-traditional hours.

      Many nursing jobs require evening and weekend shifts, especially in inpatient facilities, rehabilitation facilities, emergency departments, and urgent care facilities. Because of this, nurses are not guaranteed a typical nine-to-five schedule. For new nurses, non-traditional work schedules can be a difficult adjustment, especially if they are consistently working evening shifts. When answering this question, the candidate should be honest about their feelings and/or concerns about working non-traditional shifts. An effective answer to this question would include a candidate's open and honest opinion that they are willing to work evenings and weekends during their nursing career.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "Since I have been working as a CNA for a couple of years, I already have experience working evenings and weekends; although, I have never worked the night shift. I find that things slow down a bit late in the evenings, and it typically isn't as stressful. Because of this, I hope that I will have the opportunity to work nights for the first few years of my nursing career, so I can get my bearings during the slower time. When I get more experience, I may feel more comfortable with moving to days, but as of now, I am happy to volunteer for evenings."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "I'm used to working long hours and weekends, especially during the first quarter of the year; so, working non-traditional hours won't be much of a change for me. However, I do have a family and I have commitments with my children, so if I am expected to work evenings or weekends, I will need to know in advance. Otherwise, I am completely open to it, and I don't foresee it being an issue."

  15. 15.

    Nurses typically work long shifts, often working 12-hour days rather than the traditional 8-hour workday, and oftentimes are required to work overtime. Tell me why you think you are prepared for these long days.

      The nursing profession can be exhausting due to the long-hours nurses are expected to work. Many times, to staff inpatient care facilities, nurses are scheduled for 12-hour shifts, and due to the nature of the job, they often are not able to leave at the end of their shift, so they end up staying longer and accruing overtime. The long hours required from nurses can be a difficult adjustment for new nurses, especially if they are unprepared for such. The interviewer is asking this question to understand if the candidate is prepared for the long shifts they will face as a nurse. To effectively answer this question, the candidate should talk about why they feel prepared for the long shifts, using examples from their life of how they have endured long days. A more successful answer would include specific examples from the candidate's professional career where they have successfully worked long shifts.

      Kelly's Answer #1

      "I feel like I will be able to handle the long shifts as a nurse because I was in a similar situation while I was in nursing school. While in school, I worked my shifts as a certified nursing assistant and went to school at the same time; often on the same day. So, most days, I had to juggle school, class, studying, and my personal life. There were many days where I had commitments for more than fourteen hours a day. I feel that this busy life has prepared me for the nursing life, and I will be able to endure the long, stressful shifts."

      Kelly's Answer #2

      "While my career as an accountant is much different than my nursing career will be, it has very much prepared me for the long, stressful days that I will have in my nursing career. As an accountant, especially during the first quarter of the year, the days were very long and stressful. Again, I understand that nursing is different, as it is more physical and patient lives are in your hands, but I have experience working multiple sixteen-hour days in a row, and I feel this experience has well prepared me for the long days of a nurse."