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The Formula for Answering Situational Interview Questions

Let’s say you just landed a  interview for your dream job, as an ICU nurse! Or maybe you have an interview lined up to work in the Emergency Department.

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Congratulations! You have been selected from numerous candidates, and you now have a golden opportunity to shine.

The temptation may be to “bone up” on the specialty before your interview so they’ll  see how knowledgeable you are and hire you.

You are partially correct. You are wise to prepare, because this is where they will separate the folks who will receive a job offer from those who will not.

So definitely do prepare, but perhaps not in the way you think. Here’s what they will ask, but more important, here’s how you should answer.

Answer situational interview questions with confidence

Answer situational interview questions with confidence

The Clinical Scenario

Typically you will be presented with a clinical scenario. The details will vary according to the speciality area, but the story line will remain the same.

They will paint a picture of a patient who has a sudden change of condition and is now experiencing some kind of distress (fell, is clutching their chest in pain, is bleeding, became diaphoretic, confused, etc.).

Often you are the only person in the room when this sudden change of condition occurs. The interviewer turns to you and says “What do you do?”

Know that they are not expecting a diagnosis, nor are they testing you to see if you recall the intricacies of the Kreb cycle.

The interviewers are listening carefully  to see if you are safe, if you understand your role, and if you exhibit critical thinking

Here are the correct responses- the best candidates included all of the following (notes taken from actual Versant resindency interviews):

  • Call for help  (call RRT or charge nurse) shows your understand your role
  • Stay at the bedside demonstrates safety
  • Assess the patient (take vital signs, finger stick, etc.)  knows to apply the nursing process and doesn’t panic
  • Perform an appropriate intervention (Raise the head of bed, apply oxygen) shows critical thinking
  • Call the MD good
  • Call the MD and anticipate what he/she will order (cardiac enzymes, EKG, CXR, etc.)  better

The Clues

When you are given a patient scenario, the interviewers will give you clues to cue your answer. They are not trying to trick you.

Listen for key clinical descriptions such as “Respiratory rate of 24” and “SOB “. These are Respiratory clues for you to respond with a respiratory intervention. You might say that you will reposition your patient for adequate oxygenation, apply oxygen, consider ABGs, and/or obtain a stat portable CXR.

“Crushing chest pain”, “Clutches hand to chest” are Cardiac clues that should prompt you to obtain an EKG, assess for quality, duration of pain, consider enzymes, etc.

Remember, you do not have to mention all possible interventions, and there are not hard and fast right and wrong answers.

It is highly important to say that you will seek help from a charge nurse or RRT. That shows you are safe, and understand your role as a new grad.


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I really hope this helps you get ready for your next interview. Good luck!

Do you have any examples of common nurse interview questions ? I’d love to hear them! Leave me a comment.

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Good luck! Until next time,

Nurse Beth


About Beth Hawkes (146 Articles)
Nice to meet you! I'm a Nursing Professional Development Specialist in acute care, a writer, speaker and career columnist.

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