behavioral nursing interview questions

5 Commonly Asked Behavioral Nursing Interview Questions (With Answers)

To be a nurse, your soft skills matter just as much as your hard skills. And most employers also recognize the importance of these soft skills. That’s why highlighting them in your resume or cover letter is a great way get noticed. What’s more when you get called for an interview, they can also ask questions based on scenarios that would require you to navigate the situation with these skills to understand your suitability better.

What are behavioral nursing interview questions?

There are different types of interview questions that recruiters use to understand a candidate. These include performance-based questions, opinion-based questions, communication questions and behavioral questions.

Behavioral questions in a nursing interview are asked to examine your competency as a nurse. These questions can center around your past experiences, within or outside the hospital setting. With these questions, recruiters try to understand how you’ve reacted to challenges in the past as that sets a precedent for how you would react to difficult scenarios in the future.

Given how hands-on nursing responsibilities are, challenging situations are an excellent way to learn on the job. They can help you hone your expertise and provide better patient care, especially when similar situations arise in the future. So, it is important to consider these scenarios as learning opportunities.

Behavioral competencies in nursing

Nurses wear many hats, from providing primary care to advocating for patients. Their roles are irrefutably dynamic and being clinically competent is only one aspect of being a proficient nurse. Nurses also need to have personal qualities that prompt them to be better professionals. These qualities, also known as behavioral competencies, include:

  • Professionalism
  • Communication
  • Critical thinking
  • Teamwork
  • Adaptability
  • Ethical practice
  • Cultural competence

Recruiters often try to assess these very qualities through behavioral questions during a nursing interview.

Also read: 10 Work Related Nursing Strengths to Highlight in Your Resume

Commonly asked behavioral nursing interview questions

Most behavioral questions usually call for you to justify a hypothetical situation or ask you to describe a situation from your past experiences. These can range from patientcare scenarios, to instances of teamwork to a situation where you had to show adaptability.

Some of the most common questions are:

1. Tell me about a time when you had to deal with a difficult patient

The first step to answering an interview question is to understand what the recruiter is truly asking for. In this particular instance, they’re asking how you empathized with a patient and successfully alleviated their concerns that led to a peaceful resolution. So you can break down your answer into the STAR method – describe the situation, clarify the task at hand, mention the action you took and the result that came about.

Here’s how you can answer this question:

“During a night shift, a patient was brought into the emergency room. Despite being in excruciating pain they resisted treatment. I approached them calmly and utilized therapeutic communication techniques to reduce their anxiety. They finally communicated their concerns, and I assured them that we could explore various treatment options and emphasized that the ultimate decision would be their call. This finally helped them become more cooperative and receive the necessary treatment.”

2. Tell me about a situation when a patient was happy with your care

With this question, the recruiter is trying to understand your capability of providing compassionate and patient-centric care. Once again you can answer this with the STAR method. Here’s a sample answer:

“There was an elderly patient in the recovery ward, undergoing post operative care. My task was to ensure their safety and make sure their recovery progressed unhindered. So I kept checking in on them regularly and educated them about their medications and treatment plan. I made sure to effectively communicate when it came to concerns and provided them with emotional support when needed. That’s why, during discharge they told me how grateful they were for being with them throughout the recovery process and taking care of them during a rough time.”

3. Tell me about a time where you had to work with a difficult co-worker

Collaboration is an integral part of patient care, so coworkers with differing opinions may need to work together at times too. That’s why, it’s important to maintain your professionalism and prioritize patient care over personal differences. And this question gauges just that. Here’s how you can answer it:

“While working at my previous facility, I had a coworker who would often disagree with my suggestions. However, on a certain occasion we had to collaborate on a project. So, I took the time to approach them personally and discuss their perspective. I made sure to listen to their ideas and accommodate their suggestions. This made them less resistant to collaboration and we were able to successfully complete the project. What’s more, after this project we still interacted frequently and have actually grown very close over time.”

4. Tell me about a time when you were suddenly faced with a change in patient condition

Nurses need to stay on their toes the entire time they’re on call. This question is commonly asked to test your critical thinking skills and clinical competence.  You can answer this question with the STAR method as well:

“One time I was assigned to a patient who was recovering from anesthesia. Their condition was stable but I was still keeping a sharp eye on their vitals to make sure everything went smoothly. Suddenly their pressure started dropping while their heart rate kept going up. I immediately checked their IV line and repositioned them to improve blood flow. I notified the medical team as well. Thankfully the patient responded well to the timely intervention and stabilized shortly after. They continued to make a complete recovery eventually without any further complications.”

5. Tell me about a time you made a mistake

Nurses are in a crucial position, providing primary care to patients with various needs. But they’re human too and mistakes can  happen. So what the interviewer is truly asking is not to describe the mistake but rather how you overcame it. This is how you can answer a question like this:

“Once during a busy shift, I was in charge of administering medicines to several patients. But I made an error and ended up giving a higher dose to a patient. But I realized my mistake immediately and notified my supervisor and the patient’s physician. The patient experienced some mild side effects but thankfully recovered without any other complications. From then on, I always check my calculations multiple times. For me, this experience was a valuable lesson in the importance of attention to detail and the need to prioritize patient safety.”

Over to you

Trying to answer these questions at the spur of the moment can catch you off guard. So its important that you prepare your answers in advance. These answers don’t need memorizing but you should be mindful of how you phrase them and don’t violate any HIPPA clauses.  Besides giving well thought out answers can also create an impression of preparedness and the interviewer will see you as a serious candidate who is genuinely interested in the position.


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