How to Answer Nursing Behavioral Interview Questions

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When preparing for a nursing interview, it’s important to take extra steps to make sure that you are able to effectively communicate your capabilities. Nursing is a multifaceted profession so it is important to highlight your best skills, personality traits and expertise during an interview. Learn what nursing behavioral interview questions are and review examples of behavioral interview questions that are commonly asked during a nursing interview with sample answers.

What are nursing behavioral interview questions?

Behavioral interview questions are reflective, situational questions that require the candidate to provide specific examples from their professional nursing experience. These types of questions often begin with phrases like ‘Give me an example of a time when’ or ‘Tell me about a time when.’ Because of the nature of the questions, the responses usually come in the form of anecdotes that showcase the candidate’s ability to work through a problem or situation.

Why do interviewers ask nursing candidates behavioral interview questions?

Interviewers ask behavioral questions in nursing interviews because they are hoping to gauge how the candidate handled past experiences so that they can better predict how they would approach similar situations in the future. These types of competency-based questions are designed to evaluate your ability to perform the various responsibilities and tasks that are essential to the job and the field of nursing. In other words, the interview wants evidence that you have successfully and competently filled this role in the past.

Tips to answer nursing behavioral interview questions

Here are some steps you can take to adequately address behavioral interview questions during your next nursing interview by using the STAR method:

  • Situation. First you’ll want to describe a specific situation that will exemplify your competencies. It can be helpful to brainstorm possible stories to recount before your interview.
  • Task. Second, you should describe the specific goals that you had or what you were hoping to accomplish in the described situation.
  • Action. Next, clearly outline your role in the situation and the steps that you took to accomplish your task.
  • Result. Finally, describe the results of your actions. If the result was negative, try to reframe it in a positive way by mentioning what you learned or gained from the experience. At the end, reconnect your answer to the original question and the behavior that was being evaluated.

When answering behavioral interview questions, it’s a good idea to research and utilize a technique such as the STAR method.

Common behavioral questions asked in a nursing interview

Here are some examples of popular nursing behavioral interview questions with sample answers:

Describe a time when you had to manage a hostile patient. What was your strategy and how did it turn out?

Interviewers ask these types of questions to evaluate a candidate’s ability to care for someone that is uncooperative and resisting treatment. To effectively handle these types of situations, a nurse must possess patience, communication skills and interpersonal skills along with the ability to successfully resolve conflict. When answering this question, provide a detailed anecdote that highlights the steps and procedures that you used throughout your time caring for the difficult patient.

Example: ‘A few years ago I was treating a patient with a head injury that had become extremely defiant. They refused to take their medicine and would occasionally turn to violence if they felt threatened or scared. I took extra steps to make sure that the patient understood every aspect of their day and even put up pictures of the staff that they would come in contact with so that they would recognize that they were there to help. In the end, the patient began to trust us and was much more compliant.’

Tell me about a time when you developed a technique or protocol that improved patient care in your workplace.

Observation and assessment are key in the field of nursing. Interviewers want to know that you are able to take initiative, think critically and develop solutions when you recognize a need, which are all abilities that are extremely valuable to employers.

Example: ‘In my last position, we were using an antiquated system for maintaining patient records that was recorded manually and stored in paper files. This had the potential to open us up to miscommunication and lost files but it was also very time consuming, which decreased all of our productivity. I began researching cloud-based solutions for record-keeping that would allow all of us to access the patient’s health history and treatment plans from anywhere in the facility. After presenting my findings to the office manager, they decided to adopt the system and the entire staff was thrilled to have a more modern and adaptable solution.’

Give me an example of a time when you were in a stressful situation at work. How did you handle it?

The healthcare industry can lead to stressful and even traumatic work environments so it’s imperative that nursing professionals have established techniques to help them manage anxiety and maintain emotional health. When answering this question, make sure to spend time listing the resources and strategies that you use while at work as well as in your free time.

Example: ‘When I was working in the emergency room at my last hospital there was a major accident nearby that brought in over ten individuals at one time that were in critical condition. It was very easy to feel frantic and overwhelmed realizing that all ten patients needed immediate care when we were already having a busy shift. Before I began to triage the patients, I closed my eyes, took a deep breath in, counted to ten and then let my breath out slowly. This always helps me calm my nerves, recenter and refocus on the task at hand. Though I have strategies that I use while at work, I have also found that it’s important for me to take steps to maintain my emotional health during my time off. I make sure to meditate and exercise daily to relieve tension and take part in activities that fill me back up, such as reading or spending time with my loved ones.’

Tips to prepare for a nursing interview

Here are some tips that will help you prepare for your next nursing interview:

Research the employer

Begin your preparation by spending some time researching the employer. This will give you some insight into the organization’s mission, values and needs, allowing you to tailor your answers so that they better align with the organization and its goals.

Collect sample questions

Identify behavioral interview questions that are commonly asked in nursing interviews. Though general behavioral questions can also be helpful, industry-specific interview insight will better prepare you for your interview. Most of the questions are designed to target key performance abilities, such as your ability to take initiative, your adaptability, your ability to work well within a team and your coping skills when dealing with stress or conflict.

Prepare possible responses

It is always helpful to rehearse your answers to possible interview questions ahead of time to ensure that you communicate your abilities and experiences in a way that is clear, concise and that showcases your expertise. Using a technique, such as the STAR method, can guide you while crafting effective responses.

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