Preparing for your interview
Employers say they can always tell which candidates have prepared and which ones haven't. If the panel can see you've come to the interview having done your homework, this in itself can paint you as a strong candidate.
The most common types of interviews questions in the healthcare industry include:
- competency based questions
- scenario based questions
- open questions
Being able to identify the different question types will help you determine the best type of technique to answer them.
Competency based questions
Competency based questions (or behavioural questions) are usually the most commonly found in the healthcare industry.
These types of questions are designed to prompt a story-like response and uncover real-life scenarios and examples to demonstrate your competence, skills, or behaviour. For example:
- "Tell us about a time when you had to solve a problem.”
- "Give an example of when you have worked well within a team.”
- “Describe a situation where you had to make un unpopular decision.”
Remember, with these types of questions employers will want to hear about real life examples in your answer. This is where the 'STAR technique' can come in handy.
The STAR technique
The STAR technique is a good model to ensure your answers are thorough, structured, and backed up with examples.
STAR stands for Situation, Task, Action, Result.
Situation: Set the scene and give the necessary details of your example.
Task: Describe what your responsibility was in that situation.
Action: Explain exactly what steps you took to address it.
Result: Share what outcomes your actions achieved.
If you’re new to using the STAR technique, it may feel a little unnatural at first. The more you practice, the more it will become second nature.
RCN members who want coaching on their interview technique can book an appointment with RCN Careers for one-to-one coaching over the telephone.
Example of using the STAR technique
"Describe an unpopular decision you had to make."
Situation: "When I was first appointed as ward sister, I identified gaps in the staffing levels and skills mix of the team. However, the team were very resistant to change."
Target: "I needed to make some changes to the way the rota was organised and adapt the shift patterns accordingly. My aim was to make sure staffing levels were safe and that the ward was managed effectively, along with getting the team on board with the change."
Action: "Before I made any changes, I called a meeting with my team and invited the local union reps so that we could all discuss the matter. I gave a really clear explanation of why I was making the change, explaining it was in the interests of safety for both patients and staff. I balanced being assertive with seeking their views and feedback. I put forward my recommendations in the form of two possible new shift patterns and asked them to vote on which one they preferred."
Result: "The team were a lot happier because I'd taken their views on board. I'd backed up my proposal with reasons and evidence so they could see why the changes needed to be made. They felt a bit more in control choosing which option they wanted and I think it felt like a compromise to them. Moreover, the shifts were safely staffed, with the right skill mix."
Scenario based questions
Scenario based questions (sometimes called situational questions) are hypothetical questions. For example:
- What would you do your patient refused treatment?
- Your patient has triggered the ‘Sepsis 6’ bundle, what are your actions?
- You witness a colleague make a medication error. What action if any would you take?
Interviewers will be looking evidence of common sense, good judgement, and that patient safety and wellbeing are your priorities. When giving your answers, make sure to include:
- An assessment of the situation
- That appropriate action was taken
- Whether procedures, policies, guidelines or codes of practice were adhered to
- Appropriate communication
- Record keeping
- Evaluation and learning
Interviewers may also be looking for evidence of:
- Core NHS values (these can differ depending on which UK country you're in)
- Organisational values (these can differ from employer to employer)
- Leadership behaviours (such as the healthcare leadership model)
Examples of open questions include:
- Tell us about yourself
- Why do you want the job?
- What experience do you have?
See our page on sample interview questions for more information about these types of questions and how to answer them.
Scoring and evaluation
Understanding how interviewers might evaluate/score your answers will be a big advantage. In most cases, employers will use a predetermined scoring matrix or scoring criteria to score/evaluate a candidate’s performance and individual responses.
A scoring matrix may look something like this:
4 = Exceptional: Criteria more than met with excellent evidence given. Excellent answers demonstrating comprehensive knowledge, experience and understanding of the subject area.
3 = Meets requirement fully: Criteria met with very good evidence given. Very good answers demonstrating more than acceptable level of knowledge.
2 = Meets requirement (borderline): Criteria partially met, some evidence given, satisfactory answers that demonstrated a good understanding of the subject area.
1 = Partially meets requirement: Criteria met, limited evidence given, answer demonstrated a basic understanding of the subject area.
0 = Fails to meet requirements: Unable to provide meaningful examples of application of values/behaviours, failed to understand or relate to the line of questioning.
If you’re interviewing for a larger employer, you might even be able to find a copy of their scoring matrix on the internet, or you could ask an internal contact if you have one.
Go through the job advert, person specification and/or job description
If there is a Person Specification, it will list the skills, experience and abilities that the employer is looking for in a candidate, giving you clues as to what might come up at interview.
The job description will clearly set out what the role involves, including the purpose, duties and responsibilities. You will be expected to have a good understanding of what the job entails and its role within the department or organisation.
Prepare: Underline all the skills, experience and personal attributes, and write down examples that show how you meet these using the STAR technique, making sure your answers are backed up with specific examples or evidence.
Practice: Review and revise the examples you have prepared. Practice saying them out loud.
Imagine you are asked the question, "What do you think the role entails?" You should be able to give a comprehensive answer and demonstrate a good understanding of the job and its challenges. It might help for you to write down your answer and use this later to practice.
Research the employer
You will be expected to understand what the company or organisation is about, and have done some research on them. This is why arranging an informal visit beforehand could be a really good idea.
Prepare: Find out if the employer is involved in any pilots, initiatives, or is opening any new services. What is their mission statement, their vision or their company values? Write down a few key points.
Practice: Imagine you are asked the question, "What do you know about us?" Practice the answer you would give.
Know your employer's values
Values based recruitment (VBR) is an approach used by both NHS and private sector employers, where the employer decides on a set of core values for their organisation. They then use these values as a benchmark, to help recruit staff and identify the candidates who they think will be the best fit.
Employers are passionate about their values, putting a massive emphasis on them for recruitment. They will want to see that their candidates’ values, behaviours and attitudes align with their own.
Prepare: Make sure you're familiar with your employer's values or core competences.
Practice: Imagine you are asked the question, "What can you tell us about our values?"
If the employer doesn't have any formal values, look on their website to see if you can find their vision or mission statement.
*NHS constitutional values
Research your profession and field
Make sure you’re up to date with any relevant/current initiatives within healthcare and within your specialty or field.
If you're a Healthcare Support Worker, you might be asked about topics such as the 6 C's, the Care Certificate, the Cavendish report or what you know about the new Nursing Associate role. If you're a nurse, you might be asked about topics such as the Francis Report, the Health and Social Care Bill, the duty of candour, or the 6 C's.
This might be a good time to join one of the RCN's nursing forums if you're not already a member.
Make a list of potential questions
The Person Specification and Job Description may give you clues as to what could come up at interview. Some Person Specifications will specifically indicate which of the criteria will be assessed at interview stage.
Prepare: Using the Person Specification, write down some possible questions that correspond to the criteria listed. E.g. if the Person Specification lists the criteria, "leadership skills," you may want to preempt questions such as "Describe a time when you've had to take the lead," or, "what is your leadership style?" (See our sample interview questions for ideas.)
Practice: Practice how you would answer these questions out loud using the STAR technique for structure.
NOTE: Some smaller private sector employers may not offer a lot of information within their job advert. This is quite common with GP employers and independent nursing homes for example. This is where an informal chat or visit will come in handy, as you can use it to try and ascertain what criteria the employer is looking for in a candidate. Otherwise, research the role and determine which skills, attributes and qualities are needed to help you formulate your questions.
Your interviewers will be looking to see how you present yourself, how you come across, and how you handle pressure.
How you interact with your interview panel may also be a good indication of how you would interact with your patients or colleagues.
Dress to impress
Make sure you dress smartly and appropriately for the interview. Employers report that it’s not uncommon for candidates to turn up in casual or dirty clothes, or having neglected their personal hygiene or grooming.
Make sure you are freshly washed, freshly groomed, and wearing smart, clean clothes. Remember that employers may view the way you look after yourself to be indicative of how you might look after your patients.
Create a good first impression
We all know that first impressions are important, so have a think about yours. Some candidates forget basic courtesies such as saying hello.
Greet your interviewers with a warm smile and open body language. You may want to introduce yourself, say it's nice to meet them, and/or thank them for having you at the interview. You may also want to shake their hands, but only if you feel comfortable to do so.
Interviewers may ask you questions such as ‘How was your journey here today?’ This is a great opportunity to break the ice and try and build some initial rapport.
Have a think about your body language. You want to come across as positive, approachable and confident.
Examples of negative body language can include fidgeting, crossing your arms, biting your lip, or slouching. Examples of positive body language include adopting a good posture, holding your head up and keeping your hands visible.
Research suggests that open palms are associated with honesty and openness. If you are seated, try resting your hands at 45 degree angles with the tips of your fingers touching each other.
Appropriate use of good eye contact aids rapport building and trust. Make sure you share your eye contact equally among all members of the interview panel when giving your answers, and not just the person you feel the most comfortable with, or the person who's doing the most talking.
Smiling aids rapport building, conveys confidence and enthusiasm, and makes you appear more personable and approachable.
You can also smile to indicate you are listening to the interviewers when they are speaking.
Try to come across as positive and professional at all times. Avoid negative language and never speak negatively about patients, colleagues or previous employers.
Think about your communication skills, such as nodding or smiling to convey active listening, and making sure you are responsive and friendly.
Clarify or pause if needed
Don’t be afraid to take a moment to think about a question or ask your interviewer to repeat or rephrase it.
This shows you are considering your answer and that you want to understand; both of which demonstrate good communication skills.
Finish the interview with a good final impression. You could thank them for their time and say that you enjoyed the opportunity to meet them and discuss the role.
In light of the COVID-19 emergency and social distancing restrictions, many organisations have turned to conducting interviews using video conferencing software such as Whatsapp, Skype, Microsoft Teams, FaceTime, WebEx and others.
This page contains advice and tips on how to ensure your video interview runs as smoothly as possible.
Get in the zone
On the day of the interview, it's good to get "in the zone" as you would in a usual face to face interview.
What would be your normal routine? Try and mirror this as much as possible as some individuals find the adrenaline and nervous energy focuses them for the interview.
Background and composition
Plan in advance where you will position yourself for your interview. Make sure your background is tidy to create a good impression.
Have a think about whether you will just want to show your head and shoulders, or whether you want to show your upper body, e.g. have yourself sitting at a table or desk; whatever you feel more confident with and whichever you feel works best for you.
Lighting is important as you will want the interviewer(s) to see your facial expressions to help build trust and rapport during your interview.
Try not to have a window behind you as this is likely to cast your face in shadow. If you are in a darker room, you may want to consider using an extra light to illuminate your face. Experiment in advance of your interview to make sure you’ve got it right when the day comes.
Let everyone in your household know when you have your interview and make plans in advance to ensure your interview space will be as free as possible from any potential interruptions.
If you do have children, family members or pets who could possibly interrupt you, mention this to your interviewers at the start of your interview, who are bound to be sympathetic given the circumstances.
If you do experience an interruption, apologise, stay calm and resolve it. Acting calmly and professionally during unexpected or challenging situations can be a good reflection of how you might handle tricky scenarios in your work life.
Eye contact is crucial for building trust and rapport. When you are being interviewed, take care to look directly into the lens of the camera that is recording you rather than the screen. You may want to practice beforehand if you're not familiar with video calling.
Don’t forget about your body language as it’s still important. Take care to sit up straight and have your camera or recording device at an angle that naturally allows you to keep your head up straight. Both of these postures can convey professionalism and confidence.
Consider using your hands to emphasise points or to help punctuate your speech. Research shows that showing open hands can aide trust and rapport building, and it can also be used to convey confidence. If you’re not used to doing this, make sure you practice beforehand until you feel comfortable.
Facial expressions and non-verbal cues
Smiling can help make you look more personable, confident and approachable, and simple things like nodding while your interviewer is talking can convey good listening skills.
Arrange some notes around your interview area to help jog your memory or serve as a prompt. Don’t go overboard as you don’t want it to sound like you’re reading from a script.
Make sure you have set everything up way in advance of your actual interview and do a practice run with friends, family or colleagues. You will want to check that the lighting and camera work is suitable, that the sound is good, and that you are comfortable and familiar with whatever technology and software you are using.
Be kind to yourself
Remember, these are unprecedented and difficult times so be kind to yourself. Very few people will have had experience doing video interviews. You’re going to be in the same boat as your fellow candidates and no interviewer will be expecting perfection.
RCN Careers resources
You may want to see our page on interview skills for general advice on interview techniques, structuring your answers and practice and preparation tips, as well as sample interview questions and how to answer them.
RCN Careers also offers career coaching appointments over the telephone for those wishing to hone their interview techniques.
Stay positive and be kind to yourself
Don’t put yourself down, especially by telling yourself things like, “I won’t get it anyway." Positive thinking goes a long way. Remember, you wouldn’t have been shortlisted if the employer didn’t think you could do the job.
When you arrive, don’t be embarrassed to ask for a glass of water or the opportunity to freshen up.
After the interview
After the interview, write down the questions you were asked as soon as possible. You can use them to practice in the future. You could also write down what went well and what didn’t so you can reflect.
Always ask for feedback. It may help to ask a specific question such as, "What was my strongest/weakest answer?" and/or, "What two areas would you say I needed to work on the most?"
Sample interview questions
Although there's no way of knowing which questions you'll be asked on the day, we've prepared some of the more common interview questions to get you thinking and help you practice.Show me