When You Have the Nursing Job Interview Blues

When You Have the Nursing Job Interview Blues

I recently had the opportunity to be interviewed for several nursing positions, and each experience gave me some serious food for thought about nurse job-seekers and what they endure when searching for a new job.when-you-have-the-nursing-job-interview-blues

If you’re in the job market, the reality of the interview process is that it’s fairly nerve-wracking for most people. There’s so much to think about when you’re prepping for an interview, and waiting for a job offer or some constructive feedback can feel like sitting on pins and needles. You’re definitely not alone if you have the nursing job interview blues.

Just Landing an Interview Can be Hard Enough

When you’re hot on the trail of a new job, just getting to the point of landing an interview can be a long and sometimes frustrating path. Despite a nursing shortage, competition can be fierce in many markets, especially in places like Atlanta, the San Francisco Bay Area, New York City, Dallas, Boston, etc. However, the challenges can be no less difficult, even in smaller cities and towns.

Reaching the moment you’re asked to sit for an interview involves many steps. These can include combing online job boards and facility websites for open positions, filling out redundant online applications (why can’t there be a universal online application, anyway?), tweaking your resume if necessary, and writing compelling cover letters that don’t feel cookie-cutter or cliché.

On top of it all, once you click “submit,” your online nursing job application enters a digital black hole where it’s unclear if an actual human being will see it. An applicant tracking system (ATS) is a bot that scans resumes for keywords, and your resume reaching a real person depends on a thumbs up from the bot.

So even before you’re offered an interview, there’s a lot to think about and do when it comes to the cause of getting a new nursing job.

The Blues of Job Interviews

With a nursing shortage, healthcare organizations would fall over themselves to interview and hire nurses for open positions. Despite demand, many nurses report the experience of their job applications falling into the digital black hole, never to be seen again.

And, just like I recently experienced, it’s not necessarily uncommon to never receive a word about the outcome of an interview, even in the form of a simple rejection letter. In my case, the discussions went very well, with a great deal of laughter and the nodding of heads in enthusiastic agreement with my responses.

In terms of the impact of 21st-century technology on job interviews, a few years ago, I interviewed over video, but there was no interviewer. Instead, a video recording captured my responses to questions that were flashed on the screen. I hope that the interview strategy dies a well-deserved death.

What to do When You Have the Job Interview Blues

When you have acute job interview blues, it’s time for some sorely needed intervention.

The first thing to acknowledge is that you have little control over most aspects of the process. While you might do things differently if you were in these employers’ shoes, the fact remains that you’re at the mercy of however they go about it, no matter how rude and inhumane their actions might seem.

Unfortunately, you can’t control your application’s entrance into the infamous digital black hole. You also can’t control whether you’re invited for an interview. Likewise, whether you receive a job offer or a rejection letter is equally out of your ken, and it’s shocking how many employers will leave you hanging and never get back in touch.

Other things you can’t control are what questions are asked, your interviewers’ attitudes, the tone of any particular interview, and how much time you’re given to ask any questions you may have.

So, when you have the job interview blues, remind yourself of what’s actually within your control:

  • Remember that every job interview is research data that tells you which employers are worthy of having you as an employee and which ones are companies to avoid
  • Every interview is also an opportunity to practice skills like thinking on your feet, being conscious of your body language, and coming across as sincere and authentic
  • You have the right to ask questions in a job interview, and following up afterward is appropriate, even if they don’t reach out to you
  • Remind yourself that if they aren’t kind enough even to let you know you’ve been rejected, you don’t want to work for them anyway
  • Your resume and cover letter are entirely within your power in terms of personality, design, style, and how you want to come across
  • If a potential workplace feels toxic or unhealthy based on the interview experience, you don’t need ever to work there
  • You could seek out smaller organizations and practices that do the hiring process the old-fashioned way — there are fewer now, but they’re still out there

The nursing job market can seem rather cutthroat and inhumane, but you’ll also encounter great people along the way. Remember that you’re a valuable professional with skills, knowledge, and enthusiasm to contribute; any employer would be lucky to have you.

When you have the nursing job interview blues, remind yourself that there are better days ahead, and you have the wherewithal to find a great position and a workplace that will appreciate you and treat you like you deserve. Now your job is to get out there and find them.

Nurse be Nimble, Nurse be Quick

Nurse be Nimble, Nurse be Quick

The notion of pivoting in your nursing career isn’t a new one, and that readiness to pivot can emerge from having a nimble mindset and a willingness to read the tea leaves of your career. Nurse, are you nimble?

Being nimble in your career means you’re willing to think beyond what’s right in front of you. It also means preparing and paving the groundwork for something you want – and if you don’t know what you want, you’re at least asking the right questions.

Many nurses settle into an area of nursing, rest on their laurels, and think less of the future than they should. These nurses don’t necessarily think a great deal about what they may want in five or ten years; thus, when they’re suddenly feeling unhappy and itchy for change, there’s much more work to be done due to the years they’ve spent avoiding any forward movement or thought for the future.

Listen to the voices that you hear. Pay attention to the ever-evolving zeitgeist of your industry. Know what other people think, and if you work in an evidence-based profession, follow the evidence when it pertains to you and your area of expertise.

The Consequences of Non-Action

In Buddhism, the concept of non-action is an important one. You know the adage, “Don’t just sit there, do something?” In certain circumstances, it’s sometimes better to turn that around and say, “Don’t just do something. Sit there.” However, when it comes to your career and its ongoing trajectory, I prefer action, even if that action is listening, thinking, and asking salient questions.

Let’s say you’re a nurse like me who worked in home health for the first decade of your career. You’ve never worked in the hospital, and while you love home health, you’ve been feeling called to finally take the plunge and enter the world of acute care. This may be a tough row since you’ve been in outpatient nursing for your entire career, but there’s no saying it’s impossible.

During these past ten years, when you’ve been focusing exclusively on home health, you haven’t done any networking, your resume is a mess, and you have few contacts beyond your small universe of home care colleagues. All along, you’ve never considered that any of the hospital staff you’ve met could be helpful to your career, so you haven’t connected with anyone on LinkedIn, built relationships, or otherwise laid the groundwork for the future.

In your mind, you’d like to jump right into the ICU, but common sense says that without any hospital experience since nursing school, you’re going to have to pay some dues, prove your mettle, and begin with a position in med-surg, step-down, or a sub-acute floor. Sure, you’d love to land an ICU position, but you don’t have the nursing skills or the connections to get you there. Your road will be challenging, but it’s not impossible – it’ll just take time and diligent action.

Reading the Inner Landscape

Being nimble of mind means being open to possibility. It also means that, in terms of your career, you’re steeped in curiosity and expansiveness rather than wearing blinders.

As a nurse who is nimble of mind and quick to grasp the opportunity, you read your immediate surroundings, the healthcare landscape around you, and the landscape within your heart and mind.

If there’s an inkling in your head or heart that what you’re doing now won’t hold water for you in a few years, now is the time to take inspired action in a new direction. That inspired action can simply be chatting with a nurse or manager who you know and trust, reaching out to a career coach for inspiration or ideas, or seeking informational interviews with professionals who are holders of information that may be helpful to you.

If you maintain awareness of how you feel about your career and work life, you’re more likely to take preemptive action that will incite change rather than being reactive when the going gets tough.

Remain Awake and Aware

We can all get sleepy and lazy at specific points in our lives. We feel comfortable, settle into the status quo, and conveniently forget or ignore that we may want something more down the road.

You must remain awake and aware of the possibility, understanding that every colleague you meet could be a source of brilliant information that will wake you up to something new. If you’re feeling complacent in your career, there’s no time like the present to do something about it and take a forward step.

As professionals, there’s always the micro and the macro. The micro is the minutiae of the day-to-day, the details of our lives and work. Meanwhile, the macro is the bigger picture, the bird’s eye view, and this is where we need to keep at least a little attention. Getting caught up in the web of details is easy, but those details can close your eyes to the broader career horizon.

Being nimble and quick doesn’t necessarily mean turning on a dime or being blown in some new direction with every wind that comes your way. Being nimble and quick means that you’re listening, willing to change, and quick to perceive that change may be in the air.

Is your workplace unstable? Do you need to be happier in your role? Do you feel limited or stuck? Is there something you’ve always wanted to do as a nurse? Is your current specialty area drying up and being supplanted by new technologies or skills?

I’m glad these questions make you uncomfortable because a bit of discomfort will galvanize you toward change if change is what is called for.

Nurse be nimble, nurse be quick. Nurse, consider your future, and keep your eyes wide open.

Minority Nurse is thrilled to feature Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column.

Nursing Job Interviews: A Two-Way Street

Nursing Job Interviews: A Two-Way Street

If you’re a nurse in the job market, resumes and cover letters are a central part of your search strategy, but it doesn’t end there — job interviews are something you need to contend with, too. And no matter how anxious you may be about the interview process, there’s one thing you want to bear in mind: nursing job interviews are a two-way street (or at least they should be). 

You Can Interview Them, Too

As you prepare to sit for a nursing job interview, there are common interview questions that you’ll probably be rehearsing your answers for: 

  • What can you tell us about your most important weakness and strength? 
  • Why do you want to work for us?
  • Why should we hire you? 
  • What salary are you hoping to earn? 
  • Tell us about a time you had a conflict with a colleague — how did you resolve it? 
  • How do you respond when a patient is unhappy with their care? 
  • What is your philosophy about patient care?
  • What would you do if you saw a colleague make an error (e.g., breaking sterile technique)?

And while you want to be ready for all sorts of interview questions, there’s often a question that some interviewees don’t prepare well enough for:  

  • What questions do you have for us? 

When an interviewer asks you if you have any questions for them, this is your moment to take the bull by the horns, so make sure you’re ready with something meaningful.

The chance to ask questions has two purposes.

1) Ensure you get answers to things you genuinely want to know.

2) To demonstrate to your potential employer that you’re thoughtful, curious, and intelligent, not to mention that you care about the more subtle nuances of a career within their organization.

And if you’re wondering how to arrive at these questions, the following are some ideas to get your thought process started:

  • What is your facility’s practice and philosophy about staffing levels? Do you have specific nurse-patient ratios that you follow? How do you adjust staffing when the census is unusually high?
  • How would you define your overall workplace culture and the culture of the nursing staff in particular?
  • Speaking of workplace culture, how would the administration or nursing leadership respond if somebody filed a report that a nurse bully was on one of your units?
  • Are your CNO and other executive team members accessible to staff if they want to request a meeting?
  • What would you say are one major strength and one major weakness of your organization?
  • Can you explain what professional development and career advancement opportunities are available to your staff nurses? Is there a process for nurses who want to advance into leadership?
  • I noticed in your mission statement that your organization is very focused on _____________ and ___________. Can you tell me more about what that looks like in the life of the facility?

Be Prepared

During a nursing job interview, if you ask questions that reflect on your knowledge of the organization (e.g., its culture, mission, values, recent accomplishments or rewards, history, etc.), this demonstrates that you’ve done your homework and have a true sense of curiosity about what it would be like to be chosen as a member of their staff community. 

If an interviewer asks you if you have any questions and you draw a complete blank, that doesn’t necessarily reflect well on you. Being as prepared as possible for a job interview is extremely important. Although you’ll want to focus on practicing for the more difficult questions that may come up (e.g., behavioral scenarios), having some key questions of your own up your sleeve is prudent. 

Remember that a job interview should also allow you to interview them. Many employers may not necessarily see it that way, and some interviewers may not even allow space for your questions, but you have the right to receive answers to your most salient questions.

If you’re going to put your career, well-being, and safety in the hands of an employer, then you should have the opportunity to have your questions answered. Be ready, be assertive, and make sure your interviews are truly a two-way street. 

Minority Nurse is thrilled to feature Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column.

The Intersection of Nursing and Justice

The Intersection of Nursing and Justice

When we reflect on nursing, we don’t always consider the concept of justice.

We may think about patients, patient care, medications, interventions, and hospitals, but justice might seem like the purview of lawyers, legislators, activists, human service agencies, and non-profit organizations. However, nursing and justice are more closely related than we think; thus, linking them in our consciousness is an important consideration.

Social Determinants of Health

In some nursing programs, the concept of social determinants of health (SDOH) is taught from the very early stages of student nurses’ education, and the relationship between SDOHs and justice is quite apparent. This CDC definition is as good as any when it comes to clarifying what constitutes an SDOH:

Social determinants of health (SDOH) are the nonmedical factors that influence health outcomes. They are the conditions in which people are born, grow, work, live, and age, and the wider set of forces and systems shaping the conditions of daily life. These forces and systems include economic policies and systems, development agendas, social norms, social policies, racism, climate change, and political systems.

Meanwhile, the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) offer us another prism through which to view the lives of human beings around the world. The SDGs include broad areas of concern such as good health and well-being, clean water and sanitation, responsible consumption and production, and eradicating poverty and hunger, all of which can be seen as related to justice in the broadest sense.

Regarding the 17 SDGs, the UN asserts that “ending poverty and other deprivations must go hand-in-hand with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth – all while tackling climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests.”

The ability of citizens around the world to live healthy, productive lives could not be more crucial, and access to healthcare, education, nutritious food, proper housing, and a clean environment are all aspects of achieving such a life. But what do nurses and nursing have to do with such seemingly disparate yet necessary issues regarding justice and equality for all citizens?

Healthcare Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum

When a patient attends a medical appointment, their presenting issue might be diabetes, hypertension, or asthma. However, we often miss the point when we simplify health and healthcare down to solely the bare bones of a medical diagnosis. For example, a diabetic patient who doesn’t drive may not live in a food desert since they live within walking distance of a bodega or convenience store. Still, they live in a nutrient desert since they lack access to any appreciable nutrient density and quality food.

A child who lives in a part of the city where lead pipes are an incomprehensible reality (e.g., Flint, Michigan) or factory smoke and toxic waste are prevalent (e.g., any number of poor neighborhoods in American cities) may suffer from learning disabilities, asthma, or even cancer that may have otherwise been preventable but for egregious environmental insults.

Is it just that toxic waste is more likely to be stored in poor neighborhoods than in affluent ones? Is there anything but injustice in that an economically disadvantaged child ingests unclean water and air while their wealthy counterparts across town are spared? Is there any reason racial disparities in healthcare delivery are tolerable in our society?

Patients’ diagnoses and health outcomes can often be directly linked to injustices that are shamefully visited upon certain groups. Nurses and other healthcare professionals are responsible for remaining aware of how multiple factors weigh heavily on the health of myriad communities.

Leveraging Nurse-led Solutions 

As the most trusted professionals in the United States year after year, nurses are uniquely positioned to leverage their influence for the good of the whole. Letters to the editor, podcasts, articles, blog posts, social media, and other means can be utilized by nurses to make their voices heard. Nurses can meet with local, state, and national legislators, lobby for bills geared towards many aspects of justice, be it in the realm of healthcare or otherwise.

Organizations like the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE) champion causes that are urgent public health matters. For example, on the legislative side, the non-profit and non-partisan Healing Politics “inspire[s], motivate[s], recruit[s], and train[s] nurses and midwives to run for elected office up and down the ballot while building a culture of civic engagement within the professions.”

The intersectionality of justice, nursing, and healthcare is multifaceted, and nurses can choose to be powerful voices within the chorus of those demanding change. Justice comes in many forms, and nurses can decide how they weigh in on issues that directly impact how justice — or the lack thereof — manifests in this country and the broader world around us.

Minority Nurse is thrilled to feature Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column.

Your Nursing Career Report Card

Your Nursing Career Report Card

Remember when you’d run home with your report card to show your parents how you did in school? Or were you the kid who hid it at the bottom of your bag so they wouldn’t see it? Well, your nursing career deserves a report card, too. So how’ve you been doing, and what grade do you think you deserve?

Report cards can measure performance, communication, talent, intelligence, diligence, attention to detail, time management, relationships, and many other categories. In some schools, letter grades are the norm, while in some alternative schools, there are no grades. Sometimes, our report cards are pass\fail, and we either make the cut or don’t. And sometimes, those grades don’t seem fair.

The Nurse’s Report Card

The nurse’s career report card can look different for everyone, and there are various classifications we can use to measure a nurse’s success. What do you think you excel in, and what could use a boost?

If we look at clinical performance, we can examine and assign a grade to different assessment skills (neuro, psych, cardiac, respiratory, etc.). Clinically, nurses also need to do well in collaboration, communication, documentation, and patient relationships. And those nurses who work in non-clinical roles (like yours truly) need an entirely different measure of their skill sets and responsibilities.

While I don’t use any clinical skills in my current career manifestation (except with friends, family, neighbors, and the occasional stranger on the street), I still think of myself as a nurse and have judgments about where my greatest and weakest skills manifest.

Do you play well with others? Do you readily share your toys? Do you hand in your homework on time? What would your nursing report card say?

What’s on Your Nursing Career Report Card? 

Aside from evaluating and assigning value to your clinical skills, let’s examine your career. For those of you familiar with my blog or podcast, some of these will be familiar since I talk about them ad nauseam. Nevertheless, taking a few moments to assess yourself in a new way is important. Shall we?

Your career toolbox:

Let’s review what this means. Inside your nursing career toolbox is your basic resume, skeleton cover letter, and thank you note; your LinkedIn profile and LinkedIn strategy; your business card (yes, you need one); apps and tools that make your life easier; your professional network; and whatever else moves the needle for you.

If you were to give yourself a grade on the state of your career toolbox, would you get an A? Where could you lean in a little bit more?

Time management:

Time management can be a bear for anyone living in the 21st century. However, since nurses are more apt to care for their neighbors, friends, family, and even strangers, we can be hard-pressed to find time for some aspects of our lives that should receive at least a little attention.

What kind of a grade would you get for your time management skills? How often are you late for appointments? How often do you get home from work much later than you’d like? How badly are you challenged in managing your time professionally, and how does that impact your family and personal life?

Self-care and wellness:

Self-care and personal wellness can be inextricably connected to time management since we can easily let go of our self-care when time slips through our fingers. Get to the gym? “Impossible!” Take a leisurely bath? “Are you kidding me?” Go to a movie? “How indulgent!”

How badly are you falling down on the job of self-care, nurses? What would it take to reprioritize it again and get it back on the calendar? Is it solely a time management issue, or do we need to give you a D for prioritizing your health and well-being?

Collaboration, teamwork, and relationships: 

Teamwork and collaboration are about getting along with others in the sandbox. Collaboration is key in most nursing and healthcare sectors; some of us are better at it than others. Is working on a team hard for you? Do you chafe at sitting through committee meetings? (I know, I know; meetings are usually deadly boring.)

If you work in home health, you must collaborate with the therapists, case managers, schedulers, and aides. In med/surg, you talk with doctors, surgeons, RTs, interventional radiologists, and other nurses. It’s a circus of personalities and ways of being.

Teamwork, collaboration, and professional development are so important; how are you doing? Is there something that needs to change so that you develop yourself in this career area?


Many nurses wait to do assiduous networking until they’ve lost a job and are in the job market, desperate to find work. You’ll likely get a D or F in this category if you’re not consistently and actively building your network and nurturing professional relationships.

Happiness and satisfaction:

Being happy in your personal and professional lives should be measured on your career report card. Maybe you do all the “right” things, but you’re still miserable; in that case, something has to give.

Your resume may be awesome, and your nursing skills could be through the roof, but if you’re in the dumps every day about the direction your career is heading, it’s time for a change.

What is it that makes you tick? Where do you find satisfaction? How do you manifest joy in your life?

How would you grade your personal and professional happiness and satisfaction? Be honest!

Career/professional development:

It’s easy to fall into stagnation in your nursing career. We’ve likely all done it at times, and this type of complacency can lead to burnout, compassion fatigue, and downright unhappiness and misery.

Career development means different things to different nurses, depending on where you are in your nursing career.

For you, it might mean earning a BSN, MSN, PhD, or DNP. For someone else, it’s volunteering and meeting new people. For yet another nurse, it might entail becoming an EHR super-user or joining a QA committee at work. Finally, you might join your state nursing association and learn how to lobby your legislators about important public health bills under consideration. Career development is a personal journey, and how you develop your nursing career is as idiosyncratic as it is important.

Meanwhile, we acknowledge that there are times when doing anything about our careers is the furthest thing from our minds. When a baby has been born, a parent is ill, or a spouse is disabled or out of work, the personal understandably takes precedence over the professional. But when the dust clears and life is more or less on an even keel, it’s time to lean in again.

Make the Grade

Nurses, no one but you issues your career report card unless you engage with a career coach or other professional to help you raise your grades. Sure, I can tutor you in resume writing, LinkedIn, interview skills, and networking, but the final grade is up to you.

Would you like to change that calculation if you’re playing well with others but aren’t getting enough recess?

If you stay current on evidence-based nursing research but haven’t upgraded your resume in a while, is that an area worthy of focus and attention?

Have you made your well-being so low on the priority list that your health has suffered? Are you OK with that?

Making the grade is about you, what you want, and where you’re going in your nursing career. It’s not about the pressure from others about what they think you should do. It’s all about what will bring you the most joy, health, satisfaction, and professional success you desire to create for yourself.

Your Career Homework

Review the seven categories listed above and grade yourself between A+ and F. To review, they are:

  1. Your career toolbox
  2. Time management
  3. Self-care and wellness
  4. Collaboration, teamwork, and relationships
  5. Networking
  6. Happiness and satisfaction
  7. Career/professional development

Once you’ve done that, decide which areas you’ll tackle, a timeline for doing so, and a set of actionable, measurable, and achievable steps to bring that grade up next “semester.” If you need a tutor and a cheerleader in that process, email me, and we can work together on bringing your report card up to speed.

Manifesting the nursing career you want isn’t always easy. Measuring your relative success and taking inspired action can also be a challenge. But in the interest of your career and calling as a nurse, you couldn’t choose a better way to focus your energy to create the life and career you want and deserve.

Minority Nurse is thrilled to feature Keith Carlson, “Nurse Keith,” a well-known nurse career coach and podcaster of The Nurse Keith Show as a guest columnist. Check back every other Thursday for Keith’s column.