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Interviewing Skills

Like nursing, interviewing is an art, not a science. There are things you can do to strive toward excellence and there are things you can do to improve your outcome. Would you like to perform better in an interview? Would you like to be better prepared to answer tough questions? Do you monitor your presentation skills? Do you know how to find out if any concerns have arisen in an interview? Do you want to improve your chances of getting an offer? Print this page if you like, or read below to improve your chances.

The two most important questions come at the beginning and at the end of an interview. The important question to ask at the onset of an interview is designed to give you more information. The more information you have, the better you are able to address any questions that may come your way. So ask, "Can you tell me a little about the position?" or "What are the three most important things that you would like for me to accomplish in this position?" If you can gain information as to what problem needs to be solved and what they are looking for you to do, then you can tailor your extensive background to fit the needs of the employer. You are still the same person, but now you are one who can distill their life into an hour-long interview. Just as important is how you conclude the interview. It is most often a good idea to wrap up by asking, "Now that we have had a chance to talk, are there any concerns that may have arisen in our time together?" This gives you an opportunity to address any challenges while they are still molehills, before they turn into mountains. There may be a typo, or something that needs further explaining on your resume. See separate web page on resume preparation. There may be an unexplored gap in your employment history that is easily discussed. If you cannot overcome an apparent obstacle, try to compensate with additional strengths or benefits. For example, "Yes, in 1980, I did have a job for only one year. You may have noticed though that since then I have held positions for seven and eight years consecutively."

Remember: Employers want results! Be sure to emphasize any accomplishments you have achieved in your career. Did you decrease expenses, increase revenue, decrease absenteeism, improve morale? Try to quantify your results in either a percentage or dollar amount. Yes, healthcare is a business. If you can let your prospective employer know how much you have to contribute to their organization it can improve your chances of reaching your goal.

Do you want the job? Ask yourself: What are three things that impressed you about the position? What impressed you about the company? Can you visualize yourself actually working there? On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the highest, how much do you want the position? Why? Can you work with these people? Do you have any unanswered questions? If you address these concerns before and during an interview it can help you to evaluate whether or not this is the right move for you professionally. The qualification process can actually help you to land in a place that will best fit your needs, and thus improve your chances for increased stability.

The Basics

People accept people emotionally first and justify logically later. The decision whether or not to hire is made within the first fifteen minutes of an interview, with the rest of the time spent logically justifying this emotional decision. Your credentials, your experience, your professional background have gotten you in the door. Remember that people hire people, not qualifications. Often there are a number of qualified candidates interviewing for most good jobs. The person they hire will be the person they feel will most be able to work well with the team. One national survey indicated that education and experience are 35% of a hire, while chemistry is 65%. Look for shared experiences, common backgrounds, or working relationships. Look for ways to improve chemistry.

People are more sold by conviction than by persuasion. Quiet enthusiasm radiates eagerness to become part of the team. The fine line between enthusiasm and desperation is of interest. People want to know that if they make you a fair and competitive offer that you will accept it. If at some point you know you really want the job, let them know. Think People! Know your field of expertise, but think people.

Often you may meet a number of people, all of whom have different agendas. The CFO may want to talk money. Personnel may want to talk stability. The staff nurses may want to know whether or not you will support them on what they know is right. The doctors may want their patients to receive the best care, and to be notified of critical situations. Try to think of what each person is after. With each answer, stay consistent to yourself, while remembering the issues that confront your interviewers each day.

What is my objective?

If you have a face to face interview the objective is to get an offer. If you think an offer is forthcoming, your objective is to raise your perceived value in an effort to increase any compensation package that may be forthcoming. If at some point during the interview process you decide you cannot accept an offer, if extended, professionally withdraw your name from consideration. Your professional search consultant would actually rather hear you say "No" early on in the process after you have gained initial information, than at the altar. If you know after a telephone interview, or even before, that you could never accept the offer, do not go any further. Keep looking for something that is the right fit.

The Interview

Remember to get the employer to describe the position or their expectations. The key is to get detailed information from the employer, so that you may address any questions in relation to their needs.

Ask what the number one priority is for this job on any given day. This leads into your accomplishments. Use mini-stories. These are concise, well thought out illustrations that you can give as examples of how much you can contribute, what you have accomplished, or how you can solve their problems.

Ask what they would like to see you accomplish in a year. This gets the employer involved. To answer this question they actually have to envision you doing the job, and doing it well. You may also ask if there are any obstacles to reaching this goal, which can allow you to further discuss your abilities to meet the employers needs.

Ask about the interviewer's background and track record, and why they like working at this company. This can help you get an idea if this is the place you want to work.

Be prepared to ask a number of questions that you can use to both show your expertise, and also to further explore the environment. Good questions can also indicate your sincere interest in an opportunity with the hospital or clinic.

Compensation and Benefits

Do not talk about compensation, benefits or salary. This is like walking on eggs. If you state a salary requirement that is too low, you could have cost yourself thousands of dollars. If you say a price that is too high, you may have priced yourself out of the market. You may state your current salary if you are forced. It is most always fair to say, "I am open to a fair and competitive offer based upon my qualifications and my experience and based upon what I can do for you!" This allows you to dance around the touchy salary question, and lets you lead right back into selling yourself and what you have to bring to the table. It may make you feel better to know that in an interview, there is often time set aside with Human Resources to explain compensation and benefits packages. This is an appropriate time to discuss vacation, or paid time off, retirement benefits, and health insurance. The key is to not give the person you will report to the impression that money is your biggest motivator.

Ask for the job! (Here are some phrases or questions that you may find helpful)

  • Do I have the qualifications that you are looking for in this position?
  • If everything goes well, can we conclude our business today?
  • What is the next step? (This is good for a telephone interview)
  • So that I might better understand the evaluation process, how do my qualifications, and experience compare with the people you are considering? (address any challenges)
  • I am prepared to accept an offer, if you are prepared to extend one.
  • I just want you to know that if you extend an offer that is fair and competitive, I will accept it.*
    *This last statement is my personal favorite for two reasons. Firstly you indicate to the employer that you will accept the job if it is fair and competitive. It is easier to offer a job, if there is confidence that it will be accepted. Secondly, there is an out. If the offer is not fair and competitive, you have an escape clause.

Send a follow-up letter

  1. Thank them for their time, and mention that you enjoyed meeting them.
  2. Concisely remind them of why you are the best person for the job.
  3. Ask for the job, or another interview.

This profile may have reminded you of some things you already knew, and to put your selling hat on. Interviewing is a game, and knowing the rules in advance can help a lot. I wish you well in your endeavors towards Advanced Practice excellence!


Interviewing Skills was authored by Ted Young, the President of HealthCare Consultants, a search firm which is dedicated to nurses and which is primarily devoted to helping Advanced Practice Nurses. HealthCare Consultants, as a firm, insists on making you the star of the show. More information on HealthCare Consultants can be obtained by writing:

Ted Young
HealthCare Consultants
8700 Monrovia, Suite 310
Lenexa, KS 66215
Phone: 800.913.9684
Fax: 913.438.2335


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Content copyright 1996 Ted Young

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Last updated: April 23, 1999