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Top Tips For Excelling In Job Interviews

Published on: 1 Sep 2022

Top Tips For Excelling In Job Interviews

Author: Dean Malpass

Job interviews remain the most dreaded part of the job seeking process for most candidates. For some it is severe enough to prevent them from even applying for new roles and progressing their careers.

Over the years the style and format of interviews has changed the most when compared to other job seeking activities, such as sending in CV’s and cover letters. For instance, nursing interviews tend to be more informal than they were a decade ago, and it is more common to have experts by experience or service users on the panel. 

There’s an added complication in that no two healthcare organisations interview candidates in the same way. In fact, even within the same organisation you may find differences between teams and departments when it comes to interview format, style and decision making.

Over the past fifteen years I have been involved in the recruitment and selection of hundreds of people from mental health nurses to consultant psychiatrists, student nurses and nurse directors. When I conduct interviews I am mostly looking at character/personality and how they will fit within the team, competence, and potential.   


Here are my key areas to focus on when trying to impress an interview panel in the mental health sector.

Before the interview

  • Use the contact specified in the ad to discover the format of the interview as soon as possible. For example, will it be one person or a group? Who are the panel members? Do you need to prepare a presentation? 

  • Do your research. At a minimum read: 

    • The latest Care Quality Commission (CQC) or equivalent report for the service; and 

    • The national policy / standard for the service; and 

    • The organisation’s current mission statement, values, and key priorities/strategy relating to the service.   

  • Complete a mock interview with a trusted friend, colleague, or family member. If done well this will help you become comfortable with being uncomfortable and help you rehearse your answers in a more realistic context.

  • Make sure that you know where the interview is and map out your journey to ensure you arrive with plenty of  time to spare. Hospitals and healthcare centres can be confusing places with little signposting so take this into account. If you are late this not only creates a poor impression but also means you will be flustered and not perform at your best. 


During the Interview

  • It is normal to feel anxious or stressed so think of strategies to make you feel as relaxed and confident as you can. This might include breathing techniques or perhaps remembering moments in your career when you felt proud or happy. Good interviewers will be skilled at making you feel comfortable and relaxed and they are likely to be sympathetic to the situation.

  • Speak clearly and audibly, avoid the use of slang or colloquial terms and demonstrate good eye contact. You are trying to build rapport and demonstrate confidence. If you have a neurodisability that makes this difficult, consider letting the panel know so they can adjust their expectations accordingly.

  • Answer the question that is asked of you. When nervous it is easy to drift into different topics or spend 15 minutes of a 40 minute interview explaining why you applied for the role. You must be disciplined and it is worth following a structure to  help you keep on track. (see below for detail) 

  • Take a moment to digest the question that is being asked before you answer. This gives you time to mentally prepare your answer before saying it. 

  • In a group interview setting the main challenge becomes how to make a valid contribution whilst also avoiding saying too much or too little. In these situations, it is helpful to assess the dynamic of the group and decide when your contribution will deliver optimum impact and offer something new to the discussion.

  • Do not be afraid to ask the interviewer to repeat the question or ask for clarification to ensure you understand what is being asked of you. Too often candidates can squander interview time answering a question that has not been asked. 

  • It is also better to go back to a previous question and make an additional comment, than it is to leave the interview and wish you had said something. 

  • Try to ensure that all answers are relevant to your working life and show reflective insight. Perhaps the most memorable interview I have ever conducted with a candidate was for a hospital-based mental health support worker. The candidate was a former nurse and towards the end of the interview she was asked: “We tend to improve over time, tell us how have you learned from a past experience?”. To which the candidate paused for about ten seconds and said, “I don’t really know, I don’t make mistakes.” Another panel member offered some gentle examples to nudge the process along. After a further short period of silence, the candidate said, “oh yes, I’ve got one now…marrying my husband. I learned he wasn’t for me, so divorced him.” This was the only time I have ever been stunned into silence during an interview.


I often coach clients to use a two-part structure for answering interview questions:

  1. Provide a succinct and precise answer that references the knowledge/skills/education/experience required or inferred by the question.

  2. Give a specific example showing how you have applied this knowledge/skills/experience in practice and the outcomes.


For example:

Interviewer: Why is physical healthcare important within mental health services?

Candidate – We know from the research that people with mental health conditions are disproportionately affected by physical health conditions too. We also know that the average life expectancy for people with mental health conditions is shorter than for those without. 

Holistic care is centred around treating the person in their entirety, not focusing on one area to the detriment of another and ensuring parity of esteem.​

When I worked in a mental health hospital, I was the ward champion for the smoking cessation strategy. This programme encouraged patients to stop smoking by providing support and access to services that would enable them to beat the addiction. It was often hard work, but over twelve months we had supported ten patients to stop smoking.


At the end of the interview

The standard end of most interviews is the question ‘Do you have any questions for us?’. You might be tempted to shake your head and try to escape as quickly as possible but try to resist it. This is an opportunity to assess the culture and test whether the role is right for you.


Some examples of questions you might want to ask at an interview if given the opportunity:

  • How will I be supported throughout my career to reach my full potential?

  • Can you give me an example of what my first week would be like?

  • Is there anything I can do between now and my start-date that would help my induction if I were to be offered the role?


Finally I would say interviews, like most forms of public speaking, take practice even for those who are very confident. Try not to be afraid of them. If one doesn’t go well then review it in your head or talk it through with a friend/colleague. Reflect on what you want to improve and strategies that might help. 

If you don’t get the job, call the recruiter or drop them an email and explain you would like to improve and detailed and specific feedback from the interviewers would be helpful. Just the fact of doing so may also create a good impression on a recruiter who could have other job opportunities for you in the future.

Dean Malpass is a Registered Mental Health Nurse and Chartered Manager and was previously a regional nursing director (Midlands & Wales). He currently provides consultancy services (