You want the job, you need the job, and you know you are the best candidate to fill that open position. Now that you’ve finally been called in for a job interview, you’re starting to get nervous.

What can you do to ace the job interview and make yourself stand out among the sea of other great candidates?

A successful job interview takes a lot of research, preparation, and practice, says Theresa Mazzaro, RN, BA, CHCR, a nurse recruiter with Adventist HealthCare.

If you are a new grad, don’t assume your lack of clinical experience is detrimental. “Don’t forget any of your other experiences you have had outside of clinicals,” says Mazzaro. Many new grads have worked in retail or in the food industry and have gained some relevant skills (e.g., customer service, managerial) that are applicable to the world of nursing, she says.

More experienced nurses should be aware of making sure they tell the whole story of their experience. Don’t assume they know what your job as an ER nurse entails. Tell them how many different roles you have mastered and what your responsibilities include. There’s a difference between being a supervisor of one person or 50. They won’t know that unless you tell them.

Look the part when you arrive. It’s better to be over-dressed than under-dressed for a job interview. Make sure you are tidy—brushed hair, clean fingernails, toned-down makeup and perfume, no stains on your clothes. Keep to the conservative side as well—no low-cut shirts or short skirts.

Be ready for a whole range of questions, says Mazzaro, and especially for behavior-based interview questions. That means doing some Google searches for common behavior-based questions that might come up so you can formulate and practice clear and compelling answers.

“You don’t always have to give an answer based on your clinical experience,” says Mazzaro. But you do have to make sure your reply answers the question. Generally, these types of questions have two parts: the action and the outcome. For example, tell how you implemented a charting plan that increased unit efficiency by 30%. “Really be prepared to give examples,” says Mazzaro.

Don’t assume your resume tells your whole story. Details matter in an interview. “If you’re an experienced nurse, we all know you can administer meds,” says Mazzaro. “But what have you done for the safety of your patients? Are you on any councils?” The interview is the time to get more into the depth of your skills. Yes, you are an ICU nurse, but tell them more—that you’re a surgical ICU nurse and responsible for the recovery of open-heart surgery patients and then explain even more, says Mazzaro. Doing so helps an interviewer see how your skills fit with the organization’s needs.

You should research the company long before the interview day. What is their mission? Do they have a value statement? Have they just received any kind of award, or did they just achieve magnet status? This knowledge helps you formulate your answers so you can show how your values align with theirs.

Of course, you want to know all this, but you have to be careful not to appear arrogant about your research, says Mazzaro. “You can say, ‘I was just curious about something I was reading,’” she says. That helps you broach the topic without making it obvious that you spent hours on their website.

Practice your answers at home, but Mazzaro says bringing notes to the interview is okay. Don’t read from them, of course, but scanning them to make sure you have included all the important points is fine. Ask about how the unit stays current and a little bit about the team and the culture. After all, you are trying to gauge if this job will be a good fit for you as well.

And, be ready for a long haul. Today’s interview process is lengthy and often includes a panel interview, possibly a shadowing time, and even tests and assessments.

To really impress your interviewers, come prepared with a portfolio that includes your resume; your transcript if you’re a recent grad; references and all contact information; and copies of any certifications, awards, and letters of recommendations you may have. Having all that information at your fingertips (even if they don’t need all of it) shows your attention to detail and your professionalism.

After the interview, thank your interviewers—all of them—with a follow-up thank you note. You can send an email, but Mazzaro says the personal touch of a handwritten note is better. She has even seen some people fill out notes before they leave and hand them to the receptionist on their way out. “These are the kinds of serious personal touches that can make or break you,” she says.

Although you might be the focus of the job interview, it’s your responsibility to let your interviewer know how you can help them and make a positive addition to their organization. “Talk about how you are going to be a part of that team,” she says. “That’s what’s going to drive it home.”

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Julia Quinn-Szcesuil

Julia Quinn-Szcesuil is a freelance writer based in Bolton, Massachusetts.
Julia Quinn-Szcesuil
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