One of the hardest things in any nursing career is to develop good nursing job interview skills. I recently sat down with a group of recent nursing school graduates from the last few years to ask them about their experiences transitioning from nursing school to nursing job.
I’ll be featuring segments of this interview in articles posted here over the next few weeks under the category “career guide.” This segment looks at questions these recent grads had wished they had asked in their first job interviews. A wise person once said, “Those who refuse to learn from the past are doomed to repeat it.” Learn from the experience of those who have gone before and remember these 10 tips for new nursing grads when you interview.
- Didn’t remember to ask any questions — The key word here is to remember! I can be the most scatterbrained person in the world sometimes. Especially when I’m in a new place and meeting new people. That is why I have become the list guy. Write your questions down and bring the list with you. That will show your prospective employer that you are organized and have a mechanism in place to get things done and not forget important tasks.
- Ask about the salary — Some people think that talking about money and salary is in bad taste and they are right, when you’re at a dinner party. The place where it is in good form and even expected is in a job interview. A good interviewer should volunteer that information but may not if they think you already asked someone else. Ask the question! What do new nurses make? How are pay increases determined? What bonuses are offered for increased education or certifications? Is there a shift differential? How is overtime handled? These are things that you want to know before you go to work on your first day.
- Nurse to patient ratio — What is the ratio of patients to nurses on the unit for which you are applying? This is important because the average nurse to patient ratio for the facility may be different than the ratio for your floor or unit. Also, ask about how that changes at night and what mechanism is in place when they are short handed.
- Ask about health benefits — What is the health insurance plan like and how are the other health related benefits like dental, mental health, and life insurance? You may make $2 more an hour at one facility but your primary care co-pays are doubled. If you have a family or small kids, that $2 an hour can disappear fast!
- Ask about perks for employees — Some facilities have become very creative in the ways they offer “value added benefits.” These are extras you get as an employee that don’t cost the facility that much per employee, but may be a great benefit to you. This goes beyond something like tuition reimbursement (although that’s a good one, too). It includes things like a workout room in the facility, or a gym membership, and even on-premises services like oil changes, dry cleaning pick-up and return, and personal shopper services. These are just some of the extra perks that one hospital might offer to attract and retain employees. When time is money, time saved is money saved and these types of perks might be valuable to you.
- Ask questions about the nurse retention rate at 1 year and 3 years — This may seem like a loaded question but you can put it in terms of how they might be addressing employee concerns. Believe me, they know these figures. That is why they are out there hiring. Ask about employee input for change, opportunities for career advancement, learning opportunities, and open door policies with management. What is this facility doing that addresses employee concerns?
- What is the UAP ratio? Find out about how many UAP (unlicensed assistive personnel) are on the floor during a shift. This is as important as the nurse to patient ratio mentioned earlier. It doesn’t do any good if there is a 1 to 4 or 5 nurse to patient ratio when there are no techs or CNAs around to help with AM care and linen changes. Find out this number, too!
- If there is a sign-on bonus — ASK WHY! The nurse recruiting rage for a while was for facilities to offer sign on bonuses to nurses as an incentive to come work there. Now this tactic has become a last ditch effort of some facilities to fill vacancies. But why do they have such a hard time filling jobs, even in a tight market? If they are willing to pay you just to walk in the door, you need to ask, “What’s the catch?” Now, I’m not saying that you won’t end up working there. If the money’s right and you go in with your eyes open, then you’ve made an informed decision. Just know the details going in.
- What is the relationship between the doctors and nurses in the facility? Is there an institutional philosophy of mutual respect? This is a hot button for many nurses. Some nurses just accept that doctors don’t treat nurses very well and look down on the nurses with whom they work. I’m not one of them. I never let someone treat me disrespectfully and I refuse to work for a company that would allow that kind of abuse in their workplace. That said, I have had very few negative experiences like this and I believe that the tone of mutual respect and teamwork is the norm in most facilities, but it is important to know your rights and how a facility handles these things.
- Ask to shadow a nurse for a shift — This falls under the category of LAST BUT NOT LEAST in this list. Once you’ve decided that you would like to work in a particular facility, do one more sanity check. Ask to follow a nurse on your unit around and shadow them for a day. Take the opportunity to see how the working relationships on the unit fit in with your style and find out how the policies outlined by your interviewer’s answers to your other questions work in real life. Other than talking about salaries, you can ask your shadow nurse just about any of the prior questions, too. This will give you the final piece you might need to decide whether this is the slot for you.
So that’s it! The top 10 questions new nurses forgot to ask but wish that they did as they started out their nursing careers. Just remember, it’s an open nursing job market out there. Your dream job may turn out to be something totally unexpected. Ask these questions to help you get there sooner and congratulations on graduating!