By Tamsin Rutter

The Guardian, May 24, 2017 —

Recruiters reveal what they ask when hiring new staff – and the answers they hope to hear

Compassion and communication, respect and resilience, accountability and adaptability – a good nurse possesses a daunting set of qualities. If you’re newly qualified, how can you convince employers you have what it takes?

We asked those responsible for hiring band five nurses to tell us how they identify the right candidates. Here, they reveal some of the most common interview questions, as well as tips on how to answer them.

Why do you want this job?

The first question is usually broad. Candidates shouldn’t go into lots of detail but obviously shouldn’t give an answer that’s too short. If they’re newly qualified, they should think about what brought them into nursing in the first place. Why that specific branch of nursing … did they work there on a placement?
– Wendy Preston, head of nursing practice, Royal College of Nursing

Why do you think you’re a good nurse and how can you evidence this?

They have got to show integrity and honesty, and also courage – we want to know they’re going to be a good advocate for their patients. They need to show they work according to the values of the six Cs– care, compassion, competence, communication, courage and commitment.We incorporate scenario question during the interview that will assess a nurse’s integrity. For example: “If you witnessed a nurse administering an incorrect drug, what would you do?” We ask for examples and to provide evidence from their career to date. Their answer will show their thinking processes and whether they know the right procedures to follow.We also understand the value of a happy team, so we want someone who can demonstrate they work well in a team and have a positive, can-do attitude. We want enthusiasm to shine through – you can see when someone’s energised by the work they do.six Cs

– Ann Duncan, matron, Royal Marsden hospital, London

What does compassionate care mean to you and how do you deliver it?

I’m looking for someone who wants to care. I can teach you any skill, with help from my team, but caring and compassion is inherent. Answers often include kindness, empathy, treating the person as I would want myself or my family to be treated, listening to what it is the patient perceives as the problem and addressing that issue (often different from the clinical issues requiring nursing care).
– Jo Thomas, director of nursing and quality, Queen Victoria hospital, Sussex


‘I can teach you any skill, with help from my team, but caring and compassion is inherent.’ (Photograph: Medic Image/Getty Images/Universal Images Group)


It is often good to ask a nurse if there has been a time they felt they were unable to give compassionate care and explore their answers. This can give us a good insight at interview. Examples staff have given include exhaustion, abnormally busy, low morale, poor skill mix/staffing levels, poor teamwork, challenging or abusive patients or relatives. Clearly we do not want this to be the norm for a nurse but understand there may be barriers to giving compassionate care all the time. We are looking for honesty and self-awareness. It is important to listen to what they say and how they say it.
– Ann Duncan, matron, Royal Marsden hospital, London

How have you dealt with conflict in the past?

Interviewers are looking to see that the nurse can de-escalate a situation, that they know some basic conflict resolution strategies – such as taking people away from the area, sitting them down, finding out the root of the problem – and that they know when they need to escalate to a senior member of staff.
– Wendy Preston, head of nursing practice, Royal College of Nursing

What makes a good shift?

We want to hear about the delivery of safe, effective care, and we want it to be documented and evidenced. We don’t want them to believe that high numbers of staff always equates to the best care. Some days, you will be short, but that doesn’t mean they are the worst shifts. It’s good when they say they know the importance of breaks and having catch-up time with staff.
– Ann Duncan, matron, Royal Marsden hospital, London

There’s usually a question on resilience. We have to bear in mind that retention of staff is difficult and we want to encourage nurses to stay in the profession. Interviewers will want to know how they manage their time, cope with stress, stay hydrated. The best answer would be about work-life balance.
– Wendy Preston, head of nursing practice, Royal College of Nursing

What are you most proud of in your nursing career to date?

Even though some of them have been student nurses they will have moments they are proud of, and we ask them to give an example of when they went above and beyond for a patient. We want to hear a personal story and we want them to be illustrating that they are kind, caring and compassionate, and that they are prepared to do everything they possibly can to ensure safe and effective care.

The stories can vary from nurse to nurse, but we will be able to hear and see if a nurse has genuine pride in their work, and we’ll gain an understanding of what is important to them.
– Ann Duncan, matron, Royal Marsden hospital, London

Tell us about a mistake you have been involved with

Often they will talk about someone else’s mistake, not theirs. It’s good if they talk about their mistake, what they’ve learned from it, what they’d do differently, how they have changed their practice, how they have worked with others to change their practice. Interviewers will be looking for how they use evidence in their practice and how they learn from things.
– Wendy Preston, head of nursing practice, Royal College of Nursing

What would others say about you in three words?

This is an end-of-interview question. I’m looking for someone who is self-aware, but also whether the three-word description matches the answers and examples they have given to the other questions. Some answers I’ve had in the past include loyal, compassionate and fair; genuine, caring and professional; equitable, passionate and reliable.

The point of the question is to assess how effective the individual is in seeking feedback and reflection, and whether they can articulate this in single words. Being able to answer can demonstrate that you have the insight and maturity to seek the opinions of others. A follow-up question, depending on the seniority of the role, might be: have you changed your practice as a result of feedback from others?
– Jo Thomas, director of nursing and quality, Queen Victoria hospital, Sussex

Do you have any questions for us?

Often people are flummoxed and say no, but it’s good to be prepared with a couple of questions. A good question to ask, if it hasn’t come up, is about what kind of preceptorship programme, or learning and development, can they offer. If you have got any holidays booked, this is the time to say it.
– Wendy Preston, head of nursing practice, Royal College of Nursing