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Hiring for Character and Talent: 4 Tips for Interviewing

Nursing school does not prepare nurse leaders to interview job applicants, so figuring out the process to find the right candidate is often a challenge. Leaders want to find the best fit for the position—someone who is reliable, has the right talent and skills, and possesses the qualities necessary for the job. So how does a nurse leader ask the right questions and find top talent? Below are tips to help nurse leaders conduct an interview process that gives them the information they need to hire candidates with the right qualities.

Tip 1 – Make a good first impression

First impressions form within the first three to seven seconds of meeting someone. Once a first impression is established, it can be difficult to change. Just as the nurse leader is forming a first impression of the candidate, an interviewee is forming a first impression of the nurse leader. If the candidate forms a negative impression, he or she may decide very quickly the job is not for them. Nurse leaders simply cannot afford to squander opportunities to hire good candidates—especially given the nationwide staffing shortage and a competitive job market. With some basic yet effective steps, the nurse leader can put their best foot forward:

  • Ensure the person who will be greeting the candidate is friendly and can help put the candidate at ease. Engaging in light conversation and offering a beverage can help to create a welcoming impression. In contrast, a candidate who is ignored or treated dismissively may leave before the interview even starts.
  • Conduct the interview in an environment that allows both parties to focus on the interview. An office that is in disarray or has distractions such as a ringing phone and knocks on the door sends a strong message of disorganization.
  • Smile, be courteous, and pay attention to the interviewee. Talk to the person with goal of getting to know them and helping them feel at ease. This will help them be more open during the interview. If the nurse leader jumps right into bombarding the candidate with questions, the candidate may be very tense and closed; terse, yes/no responses and can mask the candidate’s true qualities.

Tip 2 – Share what the job means

After introductions and light conversation, the nurse leader can transition into describing the facility to the candidate. This goes beyond stating bed size; it is the nurse leader’s opportunity to tell the candidate the story of the facility in a personal way by sharing its history, mission, goals, and vision for the future. Gauge the candidate’s response. Pay attention to any verbalizations or body language from the candidates that indicate interest or lack thereof. Then, the nurse leader can move on to explaining how the job fits into this story. This may include an overview of some of the role’s tasks and job skills, but this explanation should clarify for the candidate the job’s purpose and meaning, how it supports the facility’s mission and vision, and how it makes a difference in the lives of those the facility is caring for. People want to be part of a group that is doing something they believe is meaningful. When the candidate’s response is void of any curiosity or enthusiasm, it may indicate they do not find the facility’s story compelling. If this is indeed the case, then this is a strong indicator the candidate does not have the characteristics or talents necessary for caregiving.

The nurse leader can ask about the candidate’s career goals and interests. This will allow both interviewer and candidate to explore how the job either fits or conflicts with the candidate’s personal aspirations. The nurse leader can also ask the candidate what he or she finds meaningful about the type of work that the job would require. If the response is flat or inconsistent with the facility’s story that was shared with them, this is another indicator the role’s desired characteristics and talents do not align with what the candidate has to offer. Sample questions that may shed light on the candidate’s potential fit for the role include:

  • What interests you most about this position and the facility’s mission? How do you see yourself contributing to the mission?
  • How do you see yourself being part of the vision or the future of the facility?
  • What are your career goals? Where do you see yourself in one year? What about five years?
  • What do you find meaningful about the type of work that this job requires of you?

Tip 3 – Seek out the desired characteristics and talents

Characteristics are the distinguishing traits or qualities of a person that, in the aggregate, make up their character. Talents are the natural gifts or aptitudes a person has. These are both different than job skills, which are things that can be taught and learned. Before a candidate is interviewed, the nurse leader should have a clear picture of the characteristics and talents they are looking for. These characteristics and talents should align with the facility’s mission, facilitate success in the role the candidate is hired for, and complement the team the new hire will be joining. For example, a nurse leader seeking a registered nurse (RN) to oversee memory care would look for an RN who not only has excellent assessment skills and expertise in memory care (job skills), but also who is naturally patient, creative, empathetic, expressive when they communicate, able to read subtle body language, and passionate about maximizing the resident’s abilities while minimizing their deficits. In contrast, a nurse leader recruiting for a nurse assessment coordinator (NAC) role, also known as the MDS Nurse, would seek a very detail-oriented nurse who has exceptional organizational and time management abilities. While both examples highlight important, positive traits, different roles demand different qualities. Knowing the specific characteristics and talents that the position being recruited for requires will help the nurse leader prepare for interviews that seek out these qualities.

One way to screen for specific qualities is with behavioral interview questions. These require a candidate to share how they have or would approach challenges and opportunities. By revealing the behaviors candidates default to, the nurse leader can not only better predict how the candidate will perform in the future, but can also unveil the candidate’s character and talents. With the desired characteristics and talents in mind, the nurse leader can develop behavioral interview questions in preparation for the interview. Samples are provided in the table below.

Desired Characteristic or TalentBehavioral Question
Problem-solvingTell me about a time that you were having difficulty helping a resident and what you did about it.
ResilientTell me about a time you were under a lot of stress and what you did to handle the pressure.
CompassionateShare a little bit about a resident who you grew close to and how they made you a better caregiver.
LeaderTell me about a time when a team you were working on was having a conflict and how you responded.
HonestShare a mistake you made at work and how you handled it.
ReliableShare a time when you had a situation that made it difficult for you to work. How did you manage the situation?
Detail-orientedTell me about a task that required you to be precise. How did you approach it?
CreativeGive me an example of a new idea or new approach you proposed to address overcoming a challenge at work.

Tip 4 – Expand the interview beyond questions

While asking questions and having a conversation are certainly important, including scenarios or real-life situations in the interview process can be very insightful, since these provide an opportunity to observe the candidate’s response. The hospitality industry uses the 10 and 5 Rule; it means that anytime a customer is within 10 feet of a staff member, the staff member should make eye contact and smile to acknowledge the guest. If the guest is within five feet, the staff should greet the guest in addition to smiling and making eye contact. One company that has adopted this rule is Disney. Known for a stellar guest experience, Disney seeks to hire only cast members that have the characteristics and talent to deliver this experience to guests. For example, hiring managers specifically watch for candidates to smile.

The nurse leader can adapt these ideas to what they want to see in a candidate. For instance, during a tour of the facility, the nurse leader can introduce the candidate to a variety of staff and residents and observe how the candidate responds to these introductions. Note whether the desired characteristics and talents are displayed or not. If the candidate fails to smile and seems bored or distracted, he or she may not be well suited for a caregiving position, where warmth and personability are needed.

However, remember that a candidate may be extremely nervous during an interview, which may alter how they interact with others. If it seems like nervousness is an issue, attempt to put the candidate at ease before the tour even begins. During the same tour, the nurse leader can position the candidate within a few feet of a resident who is outgoing or who has some difficulty communicating. If the candidate’s response is to engage the resident in a friendly manner and is patient with them, this is favorable compared to a candidate who ignores a resident. When in-person tours are not possible due to infection prevention protocols, virtual tours might be a suitable substitute.


Hiring the right person is not only about finding someone who has the skills the job requires; it is the opportunity to screen for the candidate who possesses the right characteristics and talents. The tips above, along with AAPACN’s new Interview Template Tool and latest podcast The Art of Interviewing Potential Candidates for Employment with Sherry Thomas, will guide the nurse leader to conduct interviews that will help them find the right candidates.

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