Preparing for the Clinical Nurse Manager Interview

There are few things people dread more than the job interview.  We know this better than anyone.  Every day we prepare people who have job interviews coming up.  Doctors.  Solicitors. Teachers. Scientists.  Financiers.  And obviously those in the nursing profession. We see, and prepare, them all.  And while the job specifications and the skills required vary from person to person, the mistakes they make are common to all.

People feel pressured to come up with the “right” answers.  It shouldn't be that way.  An interview can be many things, but it's not an oral exam.  Clients constantly ask, “But what am I supposed to say?”  Forget that attitude.  Interviews should be treated as an opportunity to show your potential employer you have the skills and attributes they are looking for.

Know the Role.

After you've been called to interview, this should be your first step.  Make sure you know the format of the interview (competency-based, structured, “come in for a chat”, etc.)  If possible, find out who will be interviewing you.  Do you need to bring or prepare a presentation? What subjects or competencies that will be covered?  How long will it be?  If you're unsure of any of these, then ask.  It's important you are clear on what to expect.

Think very clearly about what  you will be doing in the CNM  role.  What are the additional responsibilities you will take on?  Depending on whether you are going for a CNM 1,2 or 3, this can be anything from leading and managing a team, implementing specific activities within a specified timeframe and planning resources, to contributing to the strategic development of the hospital and playing a role in the shaping of hospital policy.  So scrutinise the job description carefully and get very clear on what the role requires.

What do they want?

In the interview, the panel is really looking for evidence of three key things.
  • Firstly, your capacity to do the job.  In a word, competence.
  • Secondly, your motivation, determination and willingness to work hard.  Can you add value to the organisation and contribute to its success?
  • Thirdly, the panel will want to be sure you fit into the team and the organisational culture.
We have found that successful candidates have the ability to show all of the above throughout the interview.

Think over your CV and your career.  What have been the highlights of your career that demonstrate you have the experience, skills and motivation required to operate at CNM level?  What achievements have you had in your career?  Remember, there may be things outside of your education and professional experience that are relevant to this job.

Most clients ask us how to sell themselves.  Once you are clear on exactly what it is the employer is looking for, and the skills and experience you have to match, you need to be confident in presenting this information in order to sell yourself at the interview.

First Impressions

In many ways the most difficult part of the interview is the opening; you're nervous (and the board possibly is too!). And the general nature of opening questions can cause its own problems.  Often, an interview will start with questions about your career or CV.  But what exactly do the interviewers want?  Their purpose is twofold:  they want to relax you and get you talking.  In addition they want to find out a bit about you so they probe you about areas that interest them.  So you need to take the opportunity to set the agenda for the interview.

What can you do or bring to the role?

Selling your skills in an interview can be a skill in itself.  The natural tendency if asked, “Are you a good communicator?” is to answer, “Yeah sure, I communicate every day in work, with barristers, admin staff, gardaí, clients....”  This is a starting point.  Any questions related to skills are opportunities to talk about you.  You might mention your experience of using that skill in various situations.  You may choose to talk about the attributes that make you good at using that skill.  Make this a short summary.

This does not prove that you are an effective communicator however.  In order to prove this (at least as far as an interview allows) you have to give specific examples.  You will find it difficult to think of such examples on the spot.  Think of recent, relevant and memorable examples in advance of the interview.  These should clearly demonstrate how you applied the skill.  Be clear on the situation or task involved, what you actually did and the result you achieved.  Did you achieve your objective?  Take the interviewer through the story and show that you learnt from this experience.

Finally, link this experience to the job in question and how you will apply this skill in the hospital.

Applying for a CNM role you need to think of what your priorities would be and be clear on how these relate to any particular objectives that may be laid out in the job specification.


You need to get very comfortable with the content of your examples.  Write your examples down on a piece of paper as a series of bullet points.  Now talk them through. Out loud.  Talk through them again.  Practice until you can comfortably talk through each of your examples or answers without having to refer to your notes.  This is a crucial step in your preparation.  Do not wait for the interview to hear yourself say any of this for the first time.

Prepare for key questions

Recently I asked a client to take me through their CV, highlighting the skills they would bring to the role.  Five minutes later, (I left the dvd recording), he was only on his second job, and this was still only at 1992.  After the interview, as we were reviewing the dvd, my client said ‘Stop the disc. I’m boring myself!’

Talking through your CV should not be like this.  The same applies if they ask you ‘Tell me about yourself’.  Your answer should be a concise, chronological guided tour through your career to date, outlining your academic achievements and describing your professional work experience.  Add value to the information that is on your CV and tell them why you did particular courses of study, and set the context of the job role you had, mentioning the skills you developed.  Highlight any particular achievements you want them to know about you at this stage.  Keep your answers positive.

Get comfortable talking through your CV and most of all make sure you finish by linking the overview of your career to the specific job you are going for, i.e. why you?

Be prepared for questions on topical issues relating to the post.  And there are any number of current issues that may come up in the interview.  Cutbacks in A&E.  Reduction of working hours.  Patients on trolleys.  Patient safety.  Spare yourself the trauma of trying to identify the solution to any of these issues.  If there was a solution these wouldn’t be issues to begin with.  Instead, think carefully about how any of these issues will impact on your role as a Clinical Nurse Manager.  How will you manage these impacts?  What skills and experience do you have that has equipped you to deal with these issues in the job.

Almost every interview finishes with ‘Do you have any questions for us, or is there anything you would like to add?’  If you have genuine questions that you can only get an answer to by asking the panel, go ahead.  In addition, and most importantly, prepare a closing statement that reiterates how you can add value to your new employer.

Dress and stress

Dress conservatively.  Keep make up, perfume, jewellery and after shave to a minimum.  Smile and engage with your interviewers so that you establish a rapport.  You will be nervous, but this can be a good thing as it can prevent you from getting too relaxed during the interview. Keep your nerves under control by sipping water throughout the interview and taking some deep breaths before you meet the panel.


Ask any interviewer what separates the top candidate from the rest of the pack.  They will tell you three things.  They clearly understand the job role.  They know the skills and experience they will bring to the role.  Thirdly, their enthusiasm and motivation for the job is evident throughout the interview.

You’ve been called to interview on the basis of your CV or application form.  On paper, you have what it takes.  So has everyone else who has been called.  Your job on the day is to show the panel just what it is that puts you head and shoulders ahead of the other candidates.  Make every minute of your interview count. You get one shot to show your potential employer just what it is you can bring to the organisation.  So prepare, rehearse, relax, and deliver.  Best of luck.