Interview survival guide

13 May 2019

After all the hard work and study, what’s the best way to handle an interview to secure a role? Senior CPs, recruiters and a newly qualified CP share their invaluable advice…


Michelle Moseley
lecturer at the School of Healthcare Sciences (primary care and public health nursing), Cardiff University; chair of CPHVA Wales

How can candidates best prepare?

Go out and make contacts with the health board and perhaps visit in advance. Ask a bit more about the job, and make contact with whoever has released that job to find out a bit more about it.

Ask what might be expected from you as a nurse working in this area. I’d also suggest visiting their website: what is the scope of practice? What do they do and who do they work with? So when you have the interview, you will know some real-life detail. If you know anyone who’s already working there, tap into them to ask about the day-to-day work and any challenges too.

During an interview, how should candidates respond if they’re not sure of an answer?

Ask for the question to be repeated, so there’s a natural pause. Try and form some sort of answer: don’t say you don’t know, but do try and find some kind of related response. Interviewers know that candidates can be nervous so they should therefore give you the time. We’ve all been there so breathe, think it through and offer an answer that is relatable.

Jillian Taylor
health visitor service manager, Forth Valley, Scotland; professional editor of Community Practitioner

What’s the most important piece of advice you’d give an interviewee?

Find out about the role and organisation. Every community is different and the organisation should have objectives to meet the needs of the community. So you have to be prepared to sell the skills you have in line with what the organisation expects of you. Find out what the trust or health board is looking for and how your skills match the needs of the community that you’ll be working with.  

What’s the best question a candidate can ask the interviewer?

If you’ve found out that there’s a new development or strategy in the organisation, ask how you might be able to link in with it. That will show your knowledge of it, and that you’re enthusiastic too.

Is there anything candidates should avoid doing at all costs?

Making claims about your skills that you can’t back up. Nor should you complain about stress; turn it round so that you’re talking about how you managed that stress. I’ve also found from extensive interviewing, that if the candidate looks uninterested, it’s hard for the interviewer.

Elaine Haycock-Stuart
senior lecturer and director of postgraduate research in nursing studies, University of Edinburgh; honorary HV consultant, NHS Lothian; EAB member

How would you suggest tackling interview prep?

You can’t predict the questions, but you can identify your strengths and work on your techniques. Practise walking into a room confidently (take a couple of deep breaths beforehand) and practise sitting with poise, speaking about yourself, what you’ve been doing and why this would make you the best person for the job. Sit in front of a mirror to watch yourself, and record and play your practice answers back so that you can work on them.  

What's the best way to deal with rejection?

Remember you got to the interview so you are on a good footing! You were there because they thought they may be able to employ you. It’s OK to feel disappointed – but learn what you can from it and use it towards the next application (and focus on what did go well). If we look for new opportunities, we’re all going to be rejected at some point. The important thing is to keep a growth mindset and to keep learning.

Mandy Brimble
senior lecturer, children and young people’s nursing, Cardiff University; EAB member

What are your three secrets to better interview success?

  1. Take note of the process, for example, how long you’ve got for a presentation: ensure you stick to this, otherwise you’ll be stopped and appear disorganised as well as miss the chance to present vital content. 
  2. If you need to think about an answer, just say so. But don’t take too long!
  3. Make sure you know exactly where you’re going and how long it takes at the time of the interview. Being on time is a basic courtesy and will save you from becoming flustered before you start. 

Sharon Dacey
newly qualified HV, Cardiff and Vale

Is there a question you wish you had prepared better for?

I was asked what I would change. I would definitely be better equipped to respond to that question now! When I qualified, I wanted to change so many things. My perspective and focus have evolved and I’m more realistic. Empowerment is key.

What was the most useful piece of feedback you received from your interview?

‘Always follow policy and guidelines.’ I sat in my car after my interview and could’ve kicked myself as I had forgotten to mention a key policy.

How many interviews did you have before securing your HV role?

I had one interview and I was successful.

Janet Powell
director of children’s nursing, Evelina London Children's Healthcare, Guy’s and St Thomas’ NHS Foundation Trust

What do you look for in an ideal candidate?

Alongside the necessary qualifications, I want to see their spark. That doesn’t mean you have to be showy: just that during the interview, you show the aspect of you that brings you and your achievements to life. The first question is usually the one that sets people apart. Then I’d want to see that they’ve really considered why they want to work for us. I know that’s difficult but they need to think, ‘What makes me different from the other applicants, and why should a recruiter choose me?’

What should interviewees avoid doing at all costs?

If you don’t know an answer, don’t try to over-impress. Talk with some knowledge: ‘I may not have experience of X, but Y is similar and I think it’s transferable.’

Is there a good question candidates can ask?

‘Why do you think this is the best place to work?’ By turning that around, you’re showing you’re really tuned into what working here would be like. 

Sinead Toner
HV, County Antrim; chair of CPHVA NI

What’s your top tip?

Speak to the most recent people who were interviewed, mainly because there’s often a trend to the questions. They won’t be exactly the same, but there often seems to be a direction. It’s always possible to identify someone new on the team. Also, do ask your practice teacher for as much advice as possible - they will want to make sure you’re in the best position too.

Any simple yet effective tips?

Take a notepad and pen, and when you’re asked a question, jot down the main theme or key points, so that you can stick to them in your answer.  

And if you don’t get the job?

Try to bear in mind that the difference between the person at the very top of the list and five people down the list is often just half a mark. It’s disappointing at the time, but try to put it into perspective.

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