CareerProfessional Development

Ace that interview!


You just landed an interview for your dream job. Or you’re a new graduate ready to test the waters. Even if you love your job and think you’ll never have to interview again, the unexpected could happen. That’s why everyone needs good job interview skills.

Impress from the get-go
To land an interview in the first place, you need to make a good impression with your cover letter and résumé. Before you send them, though, think one step ahead. If your résumé gets the response you want—a callback from a recruiter—what will that person hear on your answering machine or voice mail? Does your greeting project a professional image? Imagine a recruiter’s impression on hearing, “Yo! You’ve reached Party Central. Leave a message. Catch ya later!”

If your message is less than professional, change it. Try something like, “You’ve reached Mariel Johnson. Please leave your name, phone number, and a brief message, and I’ll get back to you as soon as possible. Thank you.” If a family member or housemate could pick up the call, tell them how you want them to answer the phone and stress the importance of getting the caller’s name and phone number.

Anticipate questions
You’re bound to feel anxious before your interview. One way to decrease stress is to think of questions the interviewer is likely to ask. Put yourself in his or her place: What would you ask? Just as important, think about how you’d respond. For instance, say you’re asked, “Suppose a 13-year-old girl was just admitted with abdominal pain. Her stepfather refuses to leave the room so you can admit her. How would you handle this, and why? How have you handled similar situations in the past?”

Jot down the questions you think you’ll be asked, and then write thoughtful responses. Read your responses from time to time so you won’t be caught off guard or have regrets about how you should have responded.

Also, jot down questions you’d like to ask the interviewer. For instance, what do you need to know about the position, the unit, and the facility?

Just a phone call away
Although an in-person interview is the norm, some recruiters and employers use phone interviews to screen applicants first. If you agree to a phone interview, keep these tips in mind:

• Have your résumé, questions and answers, and references at your fingertips.
• Keep your voice animated. You may be smiling and nodding during the phone call, but the listener can’t see this. So be sure to sound cheerful and alert. To generate a more animated voice, you might even stand up or lean forward slightly. Avoid reclining.
• Smile into the phone to make your voice sound warm.
• Speak clearly.

Coffee, tea…and interview
Sometimes, interviews take place in restaurants during a meal or over coffee. Even though this setting is more relaxed, remember you’re still being scrutinized. You’re there to show you’re the best candidate for the position—not to satisfy your taste buds. With this in mind:

• Don’t order food that’s messy or difficult to eat (that means no spaghetti!).
• Don’t order the most expensive item on the menu.
• Avoid ordering items that are priced daily.

Etiquette dictates that the employer pick up the tab. But play it safe and make sure you have enough money in case the employer is etiquette-impaired. Also, bring along a professional-looking folder with a copy of your résumé and references, in case the interviewer forgets to bring the copies you sent.

Sometimes, an interviewer is less than professional—for instance, more interested in a meal at the employer’s expense than in the interview. It happens! If the conversation becomes more social than professional, ask one of your prepared questions to refocus the discussion.

The body doesn’t lie
People judge each other in the first few seconds they meet, so be sure your handshake makes a good impression. A “wet-noodle” handshake signals lack of confidence or dislike of physical contact—certainly not qualities one seeks in a nurse.

To convey self-assurance, shake hands firmly and make good eye contact. Clasp the other person’s hand securely, hold for 3 to 4 seconds, and release. Holding someone’s hand too long can make that person uncomfortable and may send the message that you’re too aggressive.

Make sure you look marvelous!
Dressing inappropriately sends an inappropriate message, such as:

• I don’t care what you think.
• I’m too lazy to dress appropriately.
• I don’t know any better.

Wear clothes that are clean and pressed and shoes that are scuff-free. A woman may wear a pantsuit but should avoid clothing that’s too trendy. Consider a classic, tailored suit. A black, brown, or navy suit is perfect, but don’t be afraid to wear a color that’s more flattering. Avoid loud colors, though. You want your expertise and experience to speak louder than your clothes.

If you plan to wear a new suit, take it for a test drive before the interview. If you can’t sit in it without the skirt riding up too high, ditch it and find another outfit. Your clothes shouldn’t distract the interviewer or you.

For a finishing touch, wear jewelry that’s classic, simple, and quiet. Avoid noisy jewelry.

After-interview actions
Immediately after the interview—as soon as you get off the phone or get into your car—jot down your thoughts and impressions. What did you learn about the job and the organization? What are the challenges? How do you see yourself fitting into that organization?

When you get home, send a thank-you note to the interviewer. Be sure to spell the interviewer’s name correctly and include his or her professional title. Use the note as an opportunity to reiterate your assets. Here’s an example:

Dear Ms. Hunter,

I enjoyed meeting you on September 15th and learning more about the nursing department at Big City Hospital. The department has always had a reputation as progressive and forward-thinking. Hearing more about its goals and achievements confirmed for me that the reputation is well-deserved.

I was also pleased to learn that the hospital is seeking Magnet status. As you know, I was a member of the Magnet committee at Good Fortune Hospital when I lived in Massachusetts. I would love the opportunity to bring my skills and experience to Big City Hospital’s Magnet journey.

Thank you for meeting with me, and I look forward to hearing from you soon.

No stress, just success
Job interviews can be stressful and uncomfortable. But they don’t have to be. Understanding how to handle the interviewing process will subdue your stress and help you focus on what’s really important: the opportunity to showcase your experience and expertise.

Selected references
Borgatti J. Frazzled, Fried…Finished? A Guide to Help Nurses Find Balance. Borgatti Communications; 2004. Available at: and

Drummond ME. Fearless and Flawless Public Speaking with Power, Polish, and Pizazz. Toronto: Pfeiffer, Inc; 1993.

Emily Post Institute. Available at: Accessed September 12, 2006.

Joan C. Borgatti, MEd, RN, is the owner of Borgatti Communications in Wellesley Hills, Mass., which provides writing, editing, and coaching services. Her website is

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