Tips for Success in Interviewing for a Nursing Leadership Position

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Nursing I served as the director of nurse recruitment at two hospitals during my nursing leadership career.  It often surprised me how little preparation some candidates did for their interview, even when interviewing for leadership positions.  Well prepared candidates really stand out.  As you seek to advance to a leadership position either within or outside your organizations, here are five tips for success:

1.  Learn as much about the health care agency and department of nursing as you can.

Prior to your interview, it is important to take the time to learn as much as possible about the organization and nursing department.  Carefully study the website so you know the mission, vision and range of services provided by the health care agency.  If the hospital or agency is part of a larger system, go to the systems website as well.  Review any publicly reported data available about the agency such as what is on the hospital compare care site in the United States.  Many nursing services today use specific theoretical frameworks such as Watson’s Caring theory to guide care – be familiar with it.  If the hospital is Magnet designated and you have not worked in a Magnet hospital, review the forces of magnetism. You will be expected to be prepared to speak to the role of leadership in promoting a healthy work environment.

2.  Request a copy of the position description, the organizational chart and information about how the interview will be structured in advance.

You should know in advance what the position expectations are and information about the reporting structure in the organization.  This will allow you to carefully consider whether this position is a good fit for your current skill set and what competencies you may need to develop.  It is important that you also know how the interview will be conducted and who will be involved.  Many leadership interviews are conducted by panels.  Ask if staff are involved in the interview and whether a tour of the department will be part of your interview agenda.  Seeing the level of involvement of staff, the physical layout of unit and how you are greeted during a tour of the area will help you to better understand the unit culture.

3.  Anticipate what types of questions you will asked.

Leadership interviews are different than interviews for staff level positions.  You can expect to be asked questions directly related to leadership competencies so it is important to know what those competencies might include.  The NMLCInventory is a good document to review to better understand leadership competencies.  Many organizations today use performance-based or behavioral interviewing techniques.  In this type of interview, you will be asked very pointed questions  and given leadership scenarios related to the knowledge, skills and abilities related to the position.  You could be given a scenario that involved a conflict situation and asked the steps that you would use to resolve it.  You may be asked to describe a situation where you did not use effective communication and how you would do it differently if it occurred again.  You might asked how you manage your stress or to identify your leadership weaknesses.  You will be asked about your own leadership style so carefully think about how you will respond to this.  You should be prepared to give honest, authentic answers to a wide range of questions.  Asking someone in a leadership role to do a trial run interview with you would be excellent preparation.

4.  Develop your own list of questions to ask about the position and organization.

Come to the interview with your own list of questions about the position.  If this is your first leadership role, ask about what type of leadership development and mentoring is offered, and what the leadership challenges are in the organization.  Prepare questions to determine information about the budget, staffing, current performance on customer satisfaction surveys and other indicators. Ask questions about the patient population served, their needs and their health problems.  Ask about the unit culture, what is important to staff and any specific areas where improvement is needed.  Always have at least one or two questions when you are asked about questions that you have even if the interview has been thorough.

5.  Ask about the timeline for selection and the follow-up process.

Prior to leaving the interview, you will want to know what the follow-up process will be.  You may be asked to come back for a second interview so don’t be surprised if this happens.  Ask when a decision will be made about the position, and who you can contact if you have questions.  Get business cards from everyone that you meet with during the interview process so you can send follow-up thank you notes or emails.

Candidates who are interviewing in their own organizations sometimes make the mistake of not preparing for the interview.  Approach every interview in the same way whether you are an inside or outside candidate.  Don’t schedule an interview to follow a 12 hour night tour and don’t wear scrubs to a leadership interview.  Schedule the interview on your day off when you are rested and dressed for success.  After the interview, think carefully about the job that you interviewed for and whether it is a good fit with your strengths, weaknesses and career plans.  I recommend making a list of the pros and the cons.  You may be offered a position that you decide is not the right one for you.  That is fine but be gracious and professional in how you handle a situation when you turn a position down.  You may not be selected for a position that you really wanted.  All of us have this experienced this at some point in our career.  Let the recruiter know that you were impressed and hope there may be other opportunities in the future.  You will learn and sharpen your skills just by the act of interviewing. Take the risk of applying for positions that interest you.  You just never know where it could lead you.


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