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Uncensored Thoughts of a Nurse Interviewer: From Inside the Interview Room

10 Insider Tips to get hired as a new grad Get hired as a new grad- 10 Insider tips

This past week I was part of a panel that interviewed new graduate RNs for spots in our nursing residency program. Twenty-six RNs interviewed for twelve positions on Med-Surg and Telemetry.

Click to get the Ultimate Guide to landing your nursing job! All the insider tips!

Click to get the Ultimate Guide to landing your nursing job! All the insider tips!

The twenty-six RNs had been narrowed down from over three hundred initial applicants. I want to share what I saw and thought from an interviewer’s point of view, to help you. (note: The examples  I  give are composites and not real.)

These tips are from new grad RN interviews, but can be used for all interviews.

What they brought


Some applicants brought one page resumes (good), most on heavy weight paper (nice). One applicant really stood out by bringing a two pocket folder with resume and letters of reference inside, and a business sized card of her in her graduation cap affixed to the outside. Nice, creative touch!

nursing interview, interviewer, nervous job interview

Try to relax. Remember you were selected over others for this interview!

More than one applicant did not bring enough resumes for everyone. Bringing your resume to an interview is not required, as we already have a copy in your master application packet, but if you choose to bring your resume, make sure you have plenty of  copies.

Most used a “Personal Summary” (better) instead of an “Objectives” statement. Here are two examples:


Best Personal Summary:

Seeking challenging new graduate position in acute health care.”

Worst Personal Summary:

To obtain a position as a Registered Nurse with opportunities for professional development while providing excellent healthcare and customer service utilizing clinical skills, critical thinking, and evidence-based practice in conjunction with management, leadership, and organizational skills from previous professional experience.”

Did your eyes glaze over a bit on the second one? Mine did.


Oh, dear. He misspelled the name of our hospital in his Resume

Few of my fellow interviewers actually read any of resume handouts during the interview. At most they got a five or six second glance.

But even though a resume handed out during an interview may not count for you, it can still count against you. I actually saw one with a glaring typo, and another with lengthy gaps, and conflicting dates in their employment history. See my post on Resumes.

Reference Letters

Personally, I read reference letters carefully, for what is said, and for what is not said. I give extra weight to those written by Clinical Instructors.  I find Clinical Instructors to be credible. They’ve had ample opportunity to see you under stress, and they’ve watched you interact with classmates and patients.

First Impression


First impressions can seal the deal

From the moment you enter the room, you are under constant scrutiny.

The first 90 seconds are critical. Quick judgements are made about you in that time, including “Will you fit in here?”

In two cases, my inner voice said “Hire this person” before they even sat down. 

Interview presence can be learned. It’s how others read your personal energy, vibe, aura, whatever you want to call it. First impressions are a function of  facial expression, body language, bearing, appearance, and confidence.

Your body is telling us all about you. Before your voice speaks.

A couple of people who projected warmth the instant they walked in the room scored bonus points. After all, you are going to be working with patients, and we want to know you are kind. Project openness and warmth.

Be humble. Humble but confident. Visualize yourself getting the job as a mental warm-up activity, but don’t be cocky. It’s more than what you say, it’s how you say it. One candidate seemed to communicate that we would be lucky to hire her and of course we were going to because of her lofty academic goals and achievements. Guess what? No one likes cocky.

Be open. One candidate held herself so tight and closed that I have no idea who she really is. It would be a big risk to hire her and put her out on floor, right?  She could be wonderful, or she could end up being a Queen Bee, or worse. We need to know who we’re getting. You need to tell us who that is.

Be calm. Pre-game nerves? Nerves are natural, but remember, we already like you. We picked you. You’re here because you have potential, we’ve seen it, and now all you have to do is bring it home. (Being nervous is not held against you. We know it’s natural, friend!) Advice?  Practice relaxing techniques beforehand.

Be Savvy but don’t gush

Show that you are savvy enough to have done your research about our organization and mission statement, yes, but be brief. Don’t belabor each and every service line, new building, etc. You will look desperate, and it will seem contrived.

We don’t need you to tell us that we are Joint Commission Accredited and that you are amazed by that accomplishment.

But- if you are familiar with our culture, and you can speak to it, illustrating how you are a good fit, that’s great. Really great. As long as you’re genuine.

What do we really want?

Competent RNs with good attitude who are loyal.

nervous, interview

Try not to be nervous! We already like you, we asked you here!

We want to know you. We love hearing a bit about outside interests, such as the candidate who is also a musician, and another who interprets for the deaf at his church.

Show us some personality. Don’t be timid. Remember that stories will be remembered, so talk in stories.

Instead of saying “I excel at customer service”, say

One day in clinical I had a Spanish-speaking patient. He was nervous and waiting for his daughter. It was the end of our shift, and time for post-clinical conference, but I just knew it wasn’t a good time to leave him. I asked my instructor if it would be OK if I stayed over long enough to continue translating for him, until his daughter arrived. I’m fluent in Spanish.

She said it would be alright, and I stayed at his bedside until his daughter came. It turned out he was embarrassed to ask for a urinal and I was able to get one for him, and provide privacy. I really like when I have a chance to help someone like that. I’m the one who feels blessed.”


Here’s a secret: We want you to succeed!

If you live out of area, you have an extra challenge. You have to reasonably convince us that you are not going to leave in two years and go back to Location More Desirable. If you say that you have family or a love interest in our area (and we believe you), that helps.

We don’t want to be distracted by your appearance

What I  recall most about one applicant is her mega thick upper lid eyeliner, but not much of what she said. While she talked, I found myself wondering why she found it attractive, how did she put it on, what kind of brush did she use to get it that thick, did it take two strokes or three, why was it an ashy light brown color and not black?

Another very attractive applicant with lovely hair and makeup wore a white, shirtwaist, button-down blouse. The blouse looked casual, as if it had been worn and washed many times, it was neither sparkling white nor crisp, and she had blouse gaposis at right about the V1 electrode placement level. Ooops. Test your outfit for wardrobe malfunctions ahead of time by standing, walking, and sitting in it.


Don’t let make-up, hair or clothing be a distraction

Nicely styled hair and light makeup help women look their best. Overdress just a little bit. Being overly overdressed shows you do not know the culture.

One man wore a suit that looked too small, with a tie that was choking him. It was distracting because he looked uncomfortable. At the end of the day, it was regrettable that the tight suit was my strongest memory of him.

THE BOOK EVERYONE IS TALKING ABOUT! Proven insider tips to landing your nursing job!

We haven’t even gotten to the interview itself! Keep reading the following posts to find out what we asked, and how they answered.

How to Answer Common Interview Questions and  Behavioral Interview Questions

  • There are classic interview questions you must prepare for. Read how to best answer this important and common question: “Tell me about yourself.”
  • You also want to prep for the “Why should we hire you?” question.
  • Mostly we focused on behavioral questions, and listened carefully to those responses. They really helped us to see the real person. While you can’t predict behavioral questions like you can the common interview questions, you can definitely prepare for them. Read how at “Behavioral Interview Questions.

Who stood out


Be genuine

What makes you stand out- a firm handshake. Shaking each interviewer’s hand. Genuineness. Eye contact, projecting a humble confidence. Personality. Stories and examples! Making us laugh.

It was exciting because we found some wonderful new grad RNs to join our work family. I hope you stand out when you interview! Good luck!

Related posts:

Do Not Give This Answer to the “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?” Interview Question

Tell Us About Yourself

Why Should We Hire You?

The Secret Nurse Managers Look for in an Interview


What are your interview concerns? How about your tips from your interviewing experiences? I would love to hear from you! Leave me a comment.


Until next time friend,




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.

17 Comments on Uncensored Thoughts of a Nurse Interviewer: From Inside the Interview Room

  1. Hi Beth, I really enjoyed your article. I just want to say as a current nursing student, that I have had to struggle to find employment that works around my ever-changing school schedule. I wouldn’t necessarily discount an applicant who had to quit several jobs during NS. For the more mature applicant I would be more worried about wether they were able to keep steady employment before NS. I think a shaky work history during NS might just signify that the individual’s dedication to school superceded their commitment to a dead-end part time job.

  2. Hi Beth, Really enjoying your website. Is it appropriate to try to follow up in a few days after applying for a new grad nurse residency position? What would be most beneficial to emphasize in this follow up….possibly to re-iterate 1-2 important points from the cover letter and to check on the status of their candidate interview selection process? Also, as nurse recruiter or nurse manger names are never listed anywhere, what is the best way to go about finding the proper person (the one who will be reviewing my application) to follow up with for a nurse residency program? Thank you!

  3. Thanks for the great article! I am a fresh RN grad, with my first interview today. Trying to mentally prepare myself!

  4. Hi Beth,
    What I get from this article is although professionalism is expected, the most valuable asset you bring to the (interview) table is YOU. The real you and your genuine personality that exudes the compassion you have for your patients and the character & integrity you will represent as an employee. As a nurse for over 20 years, I’ve found nursing interviews are quite different from other corporate settings. Nurses already know the interviewee has been trained well, as validated through obtaining a nursing license. What the nurse manager wants to know is the individual they hire can connect with people. According to the most recent national Gallup Poll, nurses are the most ethical, honest, and trusted profession ( It’s that connection with people that makes nursing a unique profession, and what both employers and patients are looking for in a nurse.

  5. This is an extremely helpful post for those nurses who are looking to get interviewed. I love how you share examples of what works versus what does not. To me, I would imagine the best thing to do on an interview is be your best you. Be authentic, honest and in touch with your values. Thanks for sharing, Beth!

  6. Your comment about conflicting dates has me a bit worried, as a single mom, I’ve worked multiple jobs at the same time when necessary to support my family… is this an issue that would be concerning for a hiring manager and would confusing or overlapping dates of employment generally be brought up in discussion during the interview? I would hate to lose out on a great opportunity because it is thought that I was careless or mistaken about my dates of employment!

    • Hi Jen, no worries. It’s a twofold matter- presenting the work history in a neat, accurate, chronological order. OK to use “concurrently employed”- lots of people do!
      Second, just to be able to articulate what you wrote.
      The red flag is serial very short gigs (pattern), and a pattern of employment gaps (may need to be explained as could imply being terminated).
      Sorry if I wasn’t clear. Best of luck to you, Jen. I’m a fan of single moms, I raised 3 on my own. 🙂

      • Thanks Beth! I will make some space in my resume to ensure that it is clear that I worked both jobs at the same time and not that I incorrectly dated my employment history.

        Do you have any advice for addressing why I am leaving current employment? My first RN job was per diem peds home health and I am still employed there though I only work occasionally now because I accepted a full-time temp position as a District RN about two months later. I have recently begun applying for jobs again because this position may or may not be renewed (depending on budget issues) and is scheduled to end in June. I had a little rebuff on a recent interview because I am looking for work prior to this position ending. How can I best convey how important it is that I find a new full-time permanent position without sounding like I’m just a flake with commitment issues? Would it be appropriate to offer to sign a contract for a minimum length of time, say two or three years? I have mixed feelings about leaving before the end of the school year, but it is a scary proposition for me to wait until the last minute to look for work and hope something else falls into place for me. Thanks again for your earlier advice.

        • Hi Jen,
          I’m surprised that you had negative feedback about searching for another job when your job is going to end in June. I really can’t see how that would be used against you.
          I wouldn’t offer to sign a contract as it may come across as desperate and weaken your position. (If the employer requires it as terms of employment, that’s another thing).
          Just focus on yourself, and the value you bring to your prospective employer. Try not to operate out of fear because your strengths far outweigh your weaknesses.

          The way I see it is- you worked for home health (great!) You took a temp position to gain more experience, but maintained a connection/good relationship with home health employer (good!). Consider asking both employers for letters of reference.

          Now you’re responsibly looking for a FT position.

          Good luck to you- Nurse Beth

          • Thank you again Beth, I feel much better about my position as an applicant now. I will work on shifting my focus to reflect more confidence in the career decisions I am making.


          • Good luck, Jen! I have a hunch whoever gets you will be lucky!

  7. I am also impressed by someone who knows their state nursing law and scope of practice. A new grad RN who is an eager learner, comfortable in his/her own skin and confident about their scope of practice will provide safe patient care, and quickly become a welcome part of the patient care team.

  8. Awesome!

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