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Preparing for a job interview: Nurses as negotiators

By: Phyllis H. Horton, DNP, MSN, RN, CNE

Assess, research, and reflect as you prepare for your next job interview.


  • Preparation is key to a successful nursing job interview and should include a self-assessment.
  • Know your personal and professional goals and ensure they align with the organization’s values.
  • Practicing with a colleague can help enforce positive behaviors and eliminate negative ones.

Nurses are natural negotiators—we negotiate with patients, families, physicians, and other members of the healthcare team as we advocate for care excellence. However, many of us are reluctant to place our personal needs and interests on the negotiating table. Preparing for a job interview gives us the opportunity to review our personal negotiation skills as we plan for tomorrow.

The American Nurses Association’s Bill of Rights for Registered Nurses states that nurses have the right to “freely and openly advocate for themselves and their patients…” and “negotiate the conditions of their employment….” As caregivers, we tend to put our personal needs behind the needs of others. A job interview requires that while we consider the employer’s needs, we also have to examine how a new role will fit our professional goals and our personal lifestyle and needs.

Begin at the end

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, wrote in Habit #2: “Begin with the end in mind.” He also said, “Make sure your ladder is up against the right wall before you start climbing.” In other words: Spend time considering exactly what you want to achieve. Before climbing your wall, you must anchor your ladder with foundational data that identifies who you are and where you want to go. This data must include a realistic self-assessment, organization research, and reflection on your negotiating objectives.


A self-assessment of your education, skills, and accomplishments will help you prepare for negotiating with employers. Consider using a professional portfolio to spotlight your accomplishments. A portfolio is a standardized way of storing information that describes your competence to practice. It should include documentation of your nursing education, skills, goals, and achievements. The content might take this format:

  • title page
  • table of contents
  • introduction with a professional mission statement
  • professional curriculum vitae or résumé
  • professional licensure and certifications
  • record of practice hours
  • professional development activities
  • performance evaluations (optional)
  • professional organization memberships.

An excellent description of an ePortfolio can be found here.

Research the organization

Learning about the organization before the interview will help you determine how well your education and skills match the position’s requirements and your goals and values match the organization’s culture and mission. Other information you might find helpful include:

  • specific state and area employment data from theS. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which can be found here.
  • name of the person you’ll be speaking with in the negotiation (to help establish rapport)
  • the organization’s social media profiles (LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook) for recent news and to get a sense of its culture and the people who work there.

When you know more about the hospital or practice, you can reflect on your personal goals and clarify your needs.

Reflection and objectives

As you reflect on your personal goals, consider the following:

  • Does the job match my interests and skills?
  • Will this position help me reach my career goals while providing job security?
  • Can I manage a longer commute for additional benefits?
  • How much flexibility do I need?
  • Does the organization offer educational benefits such as tuition reimbursement and opportunities for specialty training?

You can learn a lot about negotiating from the business world. Remez Sasson, the author and creator of, says that successful people use their imagination. In other words, they build mental images of their goals. Norman Vincent Peale, an author known for his work in popularizing the concept of positive thinking, put it this way: “Change your thoughts and you change your world.” He believed that we’re capable of greater things than we realize when we have confidence in our own powers.

As you imagine your negotiation goals, consider more than just a higher salary. For example, schedule flexibility for a nurse with many home responsibilities may outweigh monetary compensation. A nurse who’s a single parent may have health insurance with family coverage at the top of the must-have list. Nurses seeking higher education will likely want tuition reimbursement. When thinking about your commute, remember that a short commute may enhance your personal life but a longer commute to the right job might present advancement opportunities. Considering these benefits (and others) will help you find a job worth negotiating for.

As you prepare for the negotiation, think about these positive and negative behaviors:

Positive Behaviors

Brush up on professional etiquette

· Arrive early with your phone and other devices silenced.
· Introduce yourself with a smile.
· Sit up straight and adjust your chair (if possible) so you’re at equal height with others.
· Don’t interrupt when others are speaking.
· Ask questions at the appropriate time.
· Dress professionally, avoiding casual wear.
· Never point with just your index finger—it can be perceived as aggressive. Instead, point with an open palm and keep your fingers together.

Be willing to compromise

· Generate a number of options (for example, work schedule flexibility, willingness to work during holidays or on weekends), and consider the employer’s needs.
· Keep in mind that you want to build a relationship of trust, understanding, and respect.

Stay calm and speak in a professional manner

· Ask questions without interrupting.
· Be sensitive to the time to stop negotiating.

Know your worth

· Research the market value of the job and reflect on your professional portfolio.
· Consider accepting a lower salary for benefits that are important to you, such as more vacation time or reimbursement for association dues or national conventions.

Practice with a trusted colleague

· Go through the negotiation session once, twice, or more as needed for confidence and clarity.

Negative behaviors

Don’t let emotions guide your approach

· Anger derails negotiations.
· Freezing (your mind goes completely blank) will hamper your ability to communicate clearly. Take your time and pause for a few seconds to collect your thoughts if this happens.

Don’t use confrontational language

· Be aware of how your voice and tone may be perceived by others.
· Choose words carefully to clearly represent your thoughts and expectations.

Resist intimidation tactics

· Stand your ground with respect.
· Use assertive communication.

Avoid talking too much

· Give the other person time to respond.
· Be a good listener.

Don’t get personal

· Business is business. Don’t discuss personal needs or offer information not relevant to employment.

Beware of negative or aggressive body language

· Staring can be perceived as confrontational.
· Use the proper amount of eye contact. Avoid looking away when the interviewer is speaking, and use direct eye contact when you want others to take you seriously. Smile inside and your eyes will relax and display friendliness.
· Avoid crossing your arms across your chest; it can be perceived as a negative response.
· Recognize signs to continue, pause, or stop. Embracing silence will help you avoid impulsive answers. If you start repeating yourself, stop and allow the interviewer to control the pace of the discussion.

Closing the interview

The end of the interview gives you a chance to make a lasting impression. A simple “Thank you for your time” and “I’m looking forward to hearing from you” are sufficient as you smile, maintain eye contact, and address the interviewer by name. Remember that this may or may not be the time to discuss salary. Wait for the hiring representative to bring up the subject; typically, salary negotiations are delayed until the formal job offer. When you do discuss salary, avoid mentioning a specific figure. Instead, if pushed, use your data (salary ranges) gained from your research of the organization and region. And beware of emotional responses. Phases such as “I deserve…,” “I need to make more than in my previous position,” or “I can’t accept less than…” may end with poor results. A final point to remember: Sending a follow-up thank-you note or email may significantly improve your chances of getting the job.

Imagine your future

Your professional portfolio is complete. You’ve researched the organization and prioritized your goals and objectives. You’ve practiced negotiating, paying special attention to the essential positive and negative behaviors. And your ladder is against the right wall.

Phyllis H. Horton is a retired nurse educator in Eden, North Carolina.


American Nurses Association. Bill of Rights FAQs.

 Covey SR. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Restoring the Character Ethic. New York: Free Press; 2004.

Hannans J, Olivo Y. Craft a positive nursing digital identity with an ePortfolio.

Am Nurse Today. 2017;12(11):48-9.

Peale NV. The Power of Positive Thinking. New York: Prentice-Hall; 1952.

Sasson R. Successful people use their imagination. Success

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