Can classroom simulation exercises increase student confidence in answering behavioral-based interview questions?
- Job interview preparation is vital for nursing students and is an important part of transition into the workforce.
- Designing a low-fidelity simulation exercise can assist nursing students in becoming more prepared and confident for upcoming job interviews.
Nursing students need a wide range of skills—including the ability to interview well against a pool of other nursing applicants—to transition into employment. How do students gain the confidence to succeed in a job interview? Many studies have reported positive results with simulation in nursing education, such as improved knowledge and increased confidence, but little evidence exists about the effects of simulation when used in conjunction with behavioral-based interview exercises.
Based on feedback from one of Barton College’s partnering hospital systems about poor nursing student performance during job interviews, the hospital and the college designed a low-fidelity simulation activity using role-playing to help prepare senior nursing students for upcoming job interviews.
The behavioral-based interview structure allows job candidates to demonstrate their potential for success by providing specific examples of how they handled similar situations in the past. This interview approach is based on the assumption that past behavior is a good predictor of future behavior.
The questions are intended to discover the analytical thought processes used by interviewees to problem-solve and frequently are unrelated to nursing knowledge or experience. Healthcare organizations understand that nursing students have met the minimum educational requirements to graduate; behavioral-based interview questions focus on qualities—beyond nursing skills—needed to carry out the roles and responsibilities of the position.
More interviewers are using behavioral and situational questions to evoke a critical-thinking response from interviewees, and nursing students unaccustomed to this approach may find themselves overwhelmed. The joint venture between the hospital and the school allows students to practice their interview skills before their first real interview.
The purpose of interview simulation is twofold: Allow students to adequately prepare for their job interviews and increase the chances of a job offer.
Using a pre- and post-test approach, we measure students’ confidence levels before and after the simulation. A total of 52 students agreed to participate in the initial simulation activity during a regularly scheduled class period. Before the exercise, students complete a brief self-assessment tool about their current confidence level concerning the behavioral-based interview process. On a four-point Likert scale (0 = no confidence, 1 = slight confidence, 2 = moderate confidence, 3 = high confidence), students are asked to answer the following questions:
- I am confident in my knowledge of behavioral-based interview questions.
- I am confident in myself when I speak to a group of strangers.
- I am confident in my ability to answer questions on the spot.
- I am confident in my professional appearance.
- I am confident in my ability to do well in a job interview.
Students are told that they will re-evaluate their confidence levels after the simulation ends. The setting is a simulated office complete with a roundtable where the interviews take place. In addition to the office surroundings, a simulation script was developed with many of the questions commonly asked in this type of job interview. For example:
- Tell me about a time when you had to use your presentation skills to influence someone’s opinion.
- Give me a specific example of a time when you had to conform to a policy with which you didn’t agree.
- What is your typical way of dealing with conflict? Give me an example.
- Tell me about a time in which you performed outstanding customer service.
- Tell me about a time when you made a mistake and how you handled it.
- Describe a time when you struggled to build a relationship with someone important to you.
Students participating in the exercise rotate between playing the interviewee and interviewer, with an average of five interviewers to one interviewee. To make the simulation as realistic as possible, distractions are introduced at various stages of the interview, including an interviewer arriving late, a telephone ringing during the interview, and an interviewer who appears uninterested in the interviewee. One interviewer is played by a representative from the hospital who specializes in recruitment and retention. She provides immediate constructive feedback after the exercise is complete; we also seek audience feedback on how the questions were answered.
Students are coached on how to approach difficult questions and how to phrase answers more positively using the STAR (situation, task, action, and result) interview response technique. After completing the simulation, students re-evaluate their confidence levels using the same four-point Likert scale questionnaire that was administered before the simulation.
Since the inception of the simulation exercise, the results have been overwhelmingly positive. Students have remarked in course evaluations that the exercise is one of the most informative to date. Many students have reported that they didn’t know about behavioral-based interview questions before the simulation and that they owed their success in the interview process to the exercise. In addition, feedback from the hospital has improved, and nursing students from the program have received compliments on their interview performance.
The most significant areas of improvement before and after the exercise include the students’ confidence in their knowledge of behavioral-based interview questions and their confidence in the ability to do well in a job interview. The least significant area of improvement relates to professional appearance, which is expected because the exercise focuses on the interview technique rather than appearance. Appearance and dress are discussed with the students, but at a later time and not as part of this specific simulation. (See Measuring confidence.)
Preparing students for success
Nursing educators strive to promote nurse graduates’ learning and confidence but are unable to prepare them for every real-life event or scenario they may encounter. However, educators can use simulation to prepare students to transition into the world of nursing, including searching, applying, and interviewing for their first real-life nursing experience. Nursing programs and healthcare organizations should work together to create a process that helps identify the best candidates for vacant positions.
Randy Hamm is an assistant professor of nursing at Barton College in Wilson, North Carolina.
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