September 18, 2020  |  Purdue Global

Interviewing for a nursing job has changed throughout the years. Advances in technology, like applicant tracking systems and virtual interviews, are now common. 

Another trend is the growth of behavioral-based interview questions. “Behavioral-based interview questions are increasing in number and frequency, especially in nursing,” says Georgianne Summer, DNP, BSN, RN, AGACNP-BC, the lead faculty member in Purdue Global’s acute care nurse practitioner (ACNP) program. “We filter everything we see through our past experiences. As an interviewer, knowing that and asking these questions tells you a lot about a person and how they may cope with a situation in the future.”

Here are some things nurses should know about behavioral-based job interview questions, what to expect, and how to prepare.

What Are Behavioral-Based Interview Questions?

Behavioral interviews assess what you have done in the past, not what you say you might do in the future. This allows hiring managers to assess you more objectively. The premise is that past behavior is the best indicator of future behavior.

“A behavioral-based interview question asks you about past behavior experiences or responses in a certain situation or a given scenario,” Summer says. “Besides predicting future behavior, an interviewer also gains insight on someone's ability to be a leader.”

Preparation is key for handling behavioral-based interview questions.

How to Present Yourself in an Interview

There are a few things nurses can do to make sure they are prepared for behavioral-based interview questions. This preparation is useful for any job interview situation.

Check Out the Employer’s Website

Research to learn not only about a company’s or medical facility’s history, but also about how the company presents itself. This will give you insight on how to tailor your answers to align with the company’s vision.

Focus on the Job Description

Think about how your experience and skills align with the description. This can help you show how you’d excel in the job.

“Look at keywords,” Summer says. “Are they looking for a problem-solver, a leader, a team player? Those areas are definitely going to be turned into behavioral questions. Be prepared to speak to various skill sets you have that pertain to each of these roles.”


Most questions asked in interviews are the same (see below for categories you can expect). Practice having responses and anecdotes ready to go. You could also think of examples to address responsibilities and challenges listed in the job description.

“Prepare success stories for the most common topics of behavioral-based nursing questions, which include teamwork, problem-solving, leadership, skills, and performance under pressure,” Summer says.

If you’re applying for a job you’ve never held before, such as a supervisory position, talk about what responsibilities you had on your team, such as training or problem-solving, that prepared you for this new role.

Take Your Time Answering

Don’t let nervousness derail you. Take a moment to think of an appropriate answer. It’s OK to take a breath or a sip of water.

Be Positive

Some behavioral interview questions will ask you to discuss how you worked through an issue or failure at work. Don’t focus on the failure, though, but on the solution. Show that you overcame the problem, but don’t dwell on it.

>> Read Additional Job Interview Tips for Nurses

How to Present Yourself in an Interview

When answering behavioral interview questions, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Be thorough in your explanation. Give enough detail of an event for the interviewer to understand. The situation could be from a previous job, from school, or even a volunteer experience.
  • Tell what your objective was at the time. What were you trying to accomplish in the situation you are describing?
  • Explain measures you took to address the situation. Detail your individual actions to let your interviewer understand your problem-solving skills.
  • Share the result of your actions. How you describe your achievements can highlight your strengths as a job candidate.

“It's important that your body language, tone, and confidence match your words,” Summer says. “If they don’t match, the interviewer knows there's a reason. You don’t need to be perfect, but we do need to see that you have grown and learned from your experiences.”

Common Behavioral-Based Nursing Job Interview Questions 

Employers are looking for certain qualities and usually tailor their questions to find out whether candidates possess these qualifications. Summer says there are six common categories of nursing interview questions:


“One question might be, ‘If there was something in your past that you were able to go back and do differently, what would it be?’ I like this question, because it gives you an opportunity to show growth in a certain area,” Summer says.

“In that scenario, choose an event where you didn't necessarily perform poorly, but you could have done better. You may wish to cite an error you made that did not result in harm, and then explain what you learned from it and how it changed the way you practice.”

Communication Style

Summer says it’s customary for an interviewer to give a nurse a common scenario and ask what they did in that scenario. How you answer can tell your interviewer a lot about you; they’ll watch for body cues, language, and tone.

“For example,” Summer says, “you may be asked to relay a time when a patient or family member was dissatisfied with you personally or your patient care. How did you resolve the issue?” 

In this case, you could explain a situation in which you were called out of the room for a code and had to stop everything you were doing with your first patient, and that was misconstrued by the patient as not caring. Use this as a springboard to explain how you recognized this was a communication problem on your part and how you rectified the situation and learned from it for the future.

Strengths and Weaknesses 

Summer advises preparing examples of your top three strengths and weaknesses.

“For your strengths, speak to your leadership ability, a particular skill that you excel at, and one area of knowledge in which you are a subject matter expert," Summer says. “Try not to use compassion as one of your main strengths, as compassion is already known to be a core value of most nurses."

Patient Care

If you’re asked about your patient care skills, highlight your best one.

“You could say, ‘I'm very skilled at initiating IV lines,’” Summer says. “Be confident in the things you're good at. If you're good at critical analysis, say so—that's a skill not all nurses have.”


“A common question is, ‘Tell me about a time you had a difficult working relationship with a colleague,’” Summer says. “Tell them what the challenge was, how you addressed it, and what you learned from it. How did it make you a better colleague?

“Don't portray yourself as perfect. No one is perfect, so honesty is best.”

Time Management

Questions about time management are about your life at work and your work/life balance. Be sure to talk about the way you plan out your time and delegate, and how you turn off work when appropriate. Employers want to know you have what it takes to be successful at home and at work. 

Let Purdue Global Help You Reach Your Nursing Goals

Purdue Global offers online nursing degrees including RN-to-BSN, Master of Science in Nursing, postgraduate certificates, and Doctor of Nursing Practice. Request information about our online programs.

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