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5 Common nursing interview mistakes

Are you getting interviews but no job offers? You might want to take a closer look at the messages you’re giving employers. Julia Sinclair-Brown, a career coach specialising in the medical and healthcare sectors, reveals five common interview mistakes that could be costing you the job.

1. You don’t provide evidence of your strengths

When asked to comment on your strengths, don’t simply list the qualities you think the employer wants to hear. ‘You need to provide examples to support the claims you make,’ warns Julia.

‘Think about three qualities that are relevant to the job and provide evidence to support each point. For example, you might say: “I am an excellent communicator and able to build good rapport with patients. I have received great feedback from my patients who describe me as empathic, a good listener, and say that I take time to explain procedures clearly.

‘“I also communicate well within my team, and am respectful and actively listen to others’ opinions and will consider those in my own contributions. I’m able to diffuse conflict situations quickly by not immediately responding in an equally agitated tone. I’ve found that actually giving a calm and measured response can make an enormous difference towards quickly reaching a compromise or creative solution where both sides are happy with the outcome.”’

2. You don’t show enough enthusiasm for the job


Many nurses fail in interviews because they don’t convey enough enthusiasm for the job.

‘Sometimes nerves can make you concentrate so hard on what you want to say, that the delivery comes across as flat,’ explains Julia.

Expect to be asked why you want the job, or why you chose nursing as a career. Julia says: ‘By planning, but not over-rehearsing the question, you can sound keen and passionate about the role.

‘Think about the aspects of the job that interest you and be authentic in your answer. For example, if your mother was a nurse and you were greatly inspired by her dedication and stories that she recalled about patients that she helped, then bring that into your answer.

‘You might also focus on the fact that you have a passion for science, and that you are continuously learning and that there is now great scope for nurses to become highly qualified. Or you might discuss the opportunities for travel and how you want to work with people from different cultures.

‘Try to make three or four different points, so that you give a well-rounded, thoughtful answer.’

3. You talk badly about your previous employer


No matter what has happened between you and your previous employer, never badmouth a person or organisation you have worked with. Even subtle hints and facial expressions can leave the interviewer with a negative impression.

‘When asked why you’re leaving your current job, there is always a way to put a positive spin on a negative situation,’ says Julia.

‘You might say: “I’ve learnt a lot from my current role and feel proud that I’ve made a difference in helping to set up a new outpatients clinic, but I’m now looking for a new challenge in nursing, to broaden my horizons and gain further skills in a teaching hospital. I am ambitious and keen to progress and believe that I have the right skills to make this job a success.”

4. You use humour inappropriately


Some questions can catch you off guard if you haven’t prepared for them. Don’t make the mistake of cracking a joke just to say something.

‘The etiquette with humour is not to use it, unless the interviewer has initiated it and even then, just smile politely but don’t add any further comments,’ warns Julia.

‘If asked where you see yourself in five years’ time, don’t jest: “retiring and finally taking up the piano/chilling on a beach/doing your job!”

Think about what the employer would like to hear. Julia suggests: ‘“In five years’ time, I aspire to be highly knowledgeable in this specialty and very familiar with how the trust operates. I really enjoy helping others to develop, so would hope to be in a managerial role where I can use my skills and knowledge to benefit the nurses in my team and ultimately help to deliver excellent patient care.”’

5. You blame failure or a mistake on others


It is never advisable to show lack of responsibility for failures that have occurred – and in nursing this is even more important.

‘Duty of candour is now so drilled into healthcare workers that you are expected to be transparent, honest and reflective of mistakes. Failure to do so can mean instant rejection,’ warns Julia.

‘Try to demonstrate a quality of responsibility in every answer. If, for example, you failed to get the grades you wanted first time to undertake a nursing degree because you didn’t work hard enough, don’t say, “I had a bad tutor,” or “my cat died.”

‘Instead take ownership for what you didn’t do, such as preparing well in advance, being proactive in gaining the knowledge that you were lacking, taking a mature approach to your studies rather than partying. Say how you’ve developed now in terms of your work ethic and what you’ve learnt about yourself because of that mistake.

‘Nobody expects you to be perfect but employers are looking for individuals who are self-motivated and willing to improve and develop themselves,’ adds Julia.

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