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How to excel at job interviews

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Like all health care professionals, nurses are expected to go through the interview process as part of their professional career development. Any interview experience is invaluable, regardless of outcome.

Whether you are recently qualified or more experienced, or whether you work in primary or secondary care, the art of interview preparation is common to all.

Any interview is a two-way process and involves both the interviewer and candidate finding out whether each party is right for one another in terms of a nursing post.

Before the interview

Nurses as individuals will deal with interview preparation in different ways. For example, some people will feel nervous about attending interviews and will have their own coping strategies to reduce anxieties such as exercising or listening to music a few hours before the event.

However, many nurses are expected to attend interviews during work time. This can make an interview situation feel more stressful. It is worth remembering that many interviewers feel uncomfortable conducting interviews, where they may be new to the process and may have had little experience.

In terms of controlling nerves, preparation is essential. Prepare what you will wear - choose an outfit that is smart and comfortable - and make sure you know where the venue is and plan your journey.

In addition, having an idea of how interviews are marked when competing with other candidates is critical. This is generally achieved through a points scoring system, which also acts as a mechanism to prevent discrimination against candidates and to ensure the employer has been seen to have acted fairly and professionally.

The system works by having an allocated number of points per question. The panel score independently for each candidate and then compare notes afterwards. So it is vital to attempt all questions.

Imagining yourself facing the interview panel, as well as you asking the questions, can be useful techniques. Think about questions you may be asked, and practise relating your answers to your personal nursing experiences.

Common questions focus on equal opportunities, problem-solving scenarios, and verbal and written communication skills. You may find it useful to practise being interviewed by a friend.

If colleagues are applying for the same post as you, make sure not to get involved in rivalry - if they get the job instead of you, they may be a good contact for future promotions.

During the interview

The art of any interview is to sell yourself to the employer in the best way, highlighting your strengths and showing how these can be usefully applied in the workplace. Employing listening skills is crucial to tackling any question, as is remaining calm. Pause before answering and ask for the question to be repeated if necessary, or ask if you can return to it later. Also, expect the unexpected question, which may be designed to test your ability to cope under pressure.

Generally the interviewer will be concerned with whether you can do the job safely as a patient advocate and how you will fit into the organisation. One common mistake candidates make is being too casual and not paying enough attention to body language during the interview.

Body language is extremely powerful and makes what people say more credible if used in the right ways. Eye contact with the interviewer(s) is a good example of this, but do not stare at them.

Nurses may also find they are interviewed for a promotion by someone they currently work with. The candidate in this instance must never assume she or he will get the job. For example, if asked about what your current role is, never say ‘Well you know what I do, don?t you?? This will score zero when using a points scoring system.

In terms of body language, a general tip is to avoid waving your arms and hands around. The less candidates do this, the more powerful they appear.

In an interview, use key phrases such as, ‘Which means that…’, ‘The benefit was…’ or ‘Which resulted in…’. These allow the candidate to link her or his experiences in a meaningful way to the job.

Be sure you can answer common questions such as those about your strengths and weaknesses. A common mistake is to start with your strengths and then fall into the trap of struggling to identify weaknesses. It is often easier to turn a weakness into a strength. For example, ‘I used to be very disorganised, but my two years of experience has taught me how to communicate well and structure my day within a team setting’.

After the interview

It is always good practice to evaluate your interview and to ask for feedback from the interviewer at a later stage, regardless of whether or not you were successful. Feedback allows us to learn as nurses and to be better equipped for future interviews.

Once you have left the interview room, go to a nearby cafe or quiet space and take 20 minutes to reflect on the experience while it is fresh in your mind. Debriefs are helpful as they allow you to determine how well prepared you were and to think about what you would do differently if you had to repeat the experience.

It is worth taking a few notes for the future. Did you get the questions you wanted? Were you prepared? How was your knowledge and technique in answering questions?

If you ensure you learn from the experience, whatever the outcome, every time you go for an interview you will be one step closer to achieving success. 

Maximising your success at job interviews

Before

Plan your journey so you arrive a little early to allow time to relax;

Rehearse potential questions you might be asked.

During

Relate all questions to your personal experiences using life scenarios you have managed;

Communicate clearly and remember the importance of body language.

After

Always insist on feedback, whatever the outcome;

Implement feedback for future interviews.

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