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How to prepare for interviewing nurses

Posted by: Lynn Sedgwick

Long-winded, time-consuming and hard work; if any of those words spring to mind when you hear the phrase ‘interview process’, you’ll be relieved to know that there is a better way. An
interview checklist streamlines the process - whether you’re hiring experienced senior staff or newly qualified nurses, a clear process and list of requirements ensure you hire the best for your department, surgery or care home. 

Because it’s not just how the candidate performs in the face-to-face interview that matters. Employers need to prepare too. NHS budgets are tight and mistakes cost money. And the implications of not hiring the right people doesn’t just cost a lot in recruitment fees, it puts patient lives and health at risk; indeed, clinical negligence claims are on the rise for the first time in five years, according to the BBC. The pressure on hiring managers to get it right is clear.
From the very start of the process to the end, an interview checklist will prepare you and your recruiter, help you determine whether the interviewees are a good fit, and ultimately make an offer to the best nurse. We’ve broken down the ‘interview process’ into three steps to success: preparation, the interview itself, and decision making. 


Successfully hiring the right nurse requires preparation. There are two main aspects to this:

  • Timings - Don’t try and rush the process as you will increase the risk of making a hasty decision. This is especially important if you’re conducting multi-stage interviews, or there is a practical element. Ensure that the timings of the interviews work for all involved in the hiring process and leave enough time for note comparison and decision making.
  • Communication - Decide what role your recruiter will play; will they simply advertise the vacancy, screen candidates by phone or conduct initial interviews? Clarity on who is responsible for what will result in a much smoother process.
    Make sure there is a good two-way flow of information with your recruiter, whether they are in-house or external. Establish how information about candidates will be passed to you – and how often. Too infrequently and you may miss out on candidates, too regularly and it may be too piecemeal. 
  • Pareto Principle - The Pareto Principle is the idea that 80% of possible effects will come from 20% of the possible causes. Also known as the 80/20 rule, the Pareto Principle can be applied to interviewing, with the candidate speaking for 80% of the time and the interviewer for 20% of the time. This allows the candidate to answer questions fully, which helps give a better insight into suitability for the role.

The interview

An effective interview process will help those candidates that fit your criteria to shine and will reveal those that are not such a good match. But it can only be effective if careful thought has been given beforehand to what’s required of the successful candidate.

Before the interview, look over the CV and note any areas you want to ask about. For example, gaps, achievements and why the candidate is moving. Notice how the candidate talks about their current employer; any unprofessional comments are likely to be a warning signal. 

On the day, general opening questions build rapport and paint a fuller impression of the individual than is provided by their CV. Enquire about their experience; the more demanding and senior the role, the more detailed the questions. Ask about specific times when they have used a skill or responded to a situation. Ask questions also that will help you assess personality and soft skills. In an intense, demanding team situation it’s important to have a good group dynamic. Be clear amongst colleagues and recruiters what skills are ‘nice to have’ and what’s ‘need to have’ – check these off throughout the interview.

Competency-based interview questions give the candidate a chance to answer fully, helping to keep the interview in line with the Pareto Principle. Here are some example questions and responses:

“Describe a situation when you had to work under pressure? How did you approach it? What was the outcome?”

 Nursing can be challenging and often requires quick-thinking. Listen out for positive action and problem solving – the way in which the candidate used their professional experience to work around the issue is likely to be very telling. Even if the outcome was not successful, observe whether the candidate maintained a positive attitude or learnt anything. 

“How do you keep updated with your knowledge of your therapeutic area and working environment?”

Listen out for candidates that take an active role in expanding their knowledge and staying on their professional toes. If you’re looking for people you can rely on, a vacant stare is not a great sign. 

“Give me an example of when a mistake you made provided you with a learning experience?”

Everybody makes mistakes, so a reply to the contrary should raise the interviewer’s eyebrow at the least. In nursing, mistakes can be the difference between life and death; look out for genuine learnings that show the candidate has made a change so it won’t happen again.

For instance, the question “Tell me about a time when you had to cope with a particularly demanding task?” provides space for the candidate to explain a stressful or difficult challenge they have faced and also gives you an idea about their skills, experience, behaviours and attitude. Expand upon this by asking follow up questions such as “How did you approach it?” and “What was the outcome?”. 

Finally, asking a candidate about their career aspirations and progression gives you an idea of how they see themselves in your organisation. An assured answer also demonstrates that the candidate has a clear vision for their own progression – and this clarity of vision could be beneficial to your team and patients too. 

The aftermath

Space for reflective thought is important, and it’s a good idea to take some time to compare notes with colleagues and your recruiter. Wait until you’ve seen all of the candidates before jumping to any conclusions – if interviewee number two impressed you and swung your vote, that’s great. But what if the last person on the list is even more suitable?

Finally, relaying the information to candidates – and being able to make a swift offer once the decision has been made – is the last piece of the puzzle. Decide what the process will be for feedback to unsuccessful candidates – and who will deliver it. And once you’ve reached the end of your checklist and are ready to say a resounding ‘yes’ to one lucky candidate, who is the best person to make the offer? Your recruiter will be able to help, although it may be more personable coming from the interviewer or the nurse’s new direct manager.

Working through a process before, during and after will ensure the interview goes smoothly and provides the result you’re looking for. Our interview checklist has all the tips and information you need to successfully hire the best nurses. Click here to contact us or call 01772 259 121 to request your copy. 

And if you enjoyed this blog, you may also like to read our blog on retaining and attracting Nursing staff. Don’t forget you can register a vacancy with us online or give us a call to see if we can assist.

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