Interviewing for a job and answering a ton of questions can feel like a lot of pressure, but the people you’re being interviewed by are not the only ones who get to ask the questions. Asking some questions of your own could help you make some critical decisions.
Get a Sense of the Culture
Every unit or department is going to have its own unique culture. Some may be more warm and fuzzy than others, and some might have a great sense of teamwork while others maintain a more “sink or swim” mentality. This is nearly impossible to figure out until you’re immersed in it, but you might be able to get an idea if you ask the right questions.
“How long have the more senior nurses worked here?” is a great place to start.
If you have an opportunity to sit for a peer interview, ask some of the staff more directly, “How long have you worked here?” If you get the sense that many of the nurses aren’t staying for very long, this might be a red flag.
Clinical areas with a lot of turnover could indicate that the staff nurses are unhappy. That being said, there is no guarantee this is the issue, so you might want to probe a little further. You can ask something like, “Why have most of your nurses left the unit?” They may tell you that a lot of nurses have graduated from nurse practitioner school or that some moved into leadership roles. These are understandable reasons for staff to leave and advance their careers, but you won’t know until you ask.
Ask About the Workload
If you work in a state like California with established nurse-to-patient ratios, this might not be as important. But for those who don’t, asking about ratios is another important indication of what to expect. Appropriate nursing ratios are all about patient safety, and you need to consider the risk. You have a brand-new nursing license that you worked very hard for, and you need to protect it!
In the medical-surgical clinical areas, you should be taking care of 4–5 patients; for pediatrics you’re wanting to hear something like 3–4 patients; and for critical care, it should be one nurse for 1–2 patients. Ask the person you’re interviewing with, “What is the typical number of patients I would be taking care of?” If their answer is higher than these numbers you’re going to want to file that information away to think about later.
On top of the nursing ratios, you’re going to want to know about what kind of support staff is going to be around to assist. Whether they call them nurse’s aides or patient care technicians, you might want to ask “How many patients are the nurse’s aides looking after?”
There are other elements of workload also. Ask things like, “Will I need to draw the patient labs?” or “Who transports the patients to testing or procedures?” All these give you more information about the available resources. The workload for nurses is a huge factor when it comes to retention of nurses.
What is the Orientation Like?
As a new nurse being hired into a new environment, you’re going to want to know how well prepared you will be to take care of your patients. Depending on what type of clinical unit you’re being hired into, the number of weeks you will be on orientation can vary quite a bit.
A lot of places provide anything from 12–20 weeks of orientation, and without knowing the specifics of where you’re going to work, it would be unfair to identify a minimum. What I will say is that if they respond with something like “a month” or “six weeks,” that would not likely prepare you adequately. That would be a hard “no thanks” for me.
More than just knowing how long orientation might be, you should think about things like consistency and support. Asking questions like “Will I be with the same preceptor?” “What classes will I be taking?” and “Is there an educator or professional development specialist that will be following my orientation?” will give you a lot of feedback to tell how much they will be investing in you to become a successful member of their team.
How Does the Schedule Work?
During the orientation period, you’re likely going to end up with whatever schedule you’re given. But you should know how scheduling is going to work after orientation. “Is there self-scheduling?” or “What are the weekend requirements?” will get you answers that, if not already covered by human resources, will help you know what to expect.
Nursing is a 24/7 gig, so the potential to work nights, weekends, and holidays pretty much comes with the territory, but asking questions like “How does the holiday schedule work?” might save you some stress in terms of work-life balance in the end.
Already talking about taking a vacation might not make the best first impression, but sometimes when heading into a new job you may have a trip already planned. Maybe your best friend’s wedding is coming up or grandma’s 80th birthday surprise is around the corner. It’s not unreasonable to make this known to those you might be reporting to so they are aware right up front. “Will a trip I have planned be a problem” or “How do vacation requests work?” will be something you should know. It shows that you appreciate the importance of the department’s staffing needs and it can give you an idea of how the manager feels about work–life balance.
Are There Opportunities to Grow Professionally
Once you get settled into your role as a new nurse you might at some point start thinking about what more you can be involved with to help you grow as a professional. This can include anything from being a preceptor on your unit to joining shared governance. You may even one day think about taking part in leadership training.
“Are there any nursing committees?” or “Do you have shared governance?” could be questions worth asking to gauge what voice the nursing staff has in their roles as members of the team caring for patients. The opportunity to be involved in shared governance has been associated with improved nurse satisfaction in the workplace.
“Do you have any leadership classes?” can give you some more insight into how much the hospital invests in its staff. Not everyone wants to end up in a leadership role because sometimes they assume this only means management. The reality is, you don’t need to be a manager or more to be a leader. Bedside nurses are also in a prime position to be leaders, supporting their peers. Support through leadership training is a huge benefit to many.
In the current state of nurse staffing across the country, the reality is that hospitals and other types of medical facilities need nurses. Some places might even need you more than you need them.
This means you don’t have to take the first job offered to you.
Take advantage of this; be thorough in weighing your options and make the best of the interview process. Being aware of questions to ask in your nursing job interview is going to help you gain the information to make the best decision possible.