5 of the toughest health care interview questions—and how to answer them

Show hard-to-please hiring managers you’re up to the challenge by getting these questions right.

5 of the toughest health care interview questions—and how to answer them

The stakes are high in any job interview, but in health care, the interview questions can be especially tough. Employers want to be sure they’re getting the best of the best, so they don’t throw many softballs.  

Sure, you’ll be asked some of the routine interview questions like Where do you see yourself in five years?—and some pretty specific questions about your ability to perform the job you’re interviewing for. A candidate interviewing for a phlebotomist job, for example, might be asked about the Vacutainer blood collection system, or about which anticoagulants are used in phlebotomy, and a nursing candidate might be asked his or her understanding of patient charts and data.

In either case, preparation is key for sounding polished and professional, so you definitely want to consider and rehearse your responses to common questions in a mock interview beforehand, says Lewis Lin, CEO of Impact Interview in Seattle, which provides interview coaching for job seekers in industries including health care. “Quick-thinking comedians like Jerry Seinfeld never go on stage cold,” he says. “You shouldn’t go to the interview without preparation, either.”

Lin shared his advice on how you can answer those tough questions, including some sample responses.

Question: Why did you choose [your sector within health care] as a profession?

This is a specific one, and the question itself will be tailored toward you and the job at stake. The gist of it is: Employers want to know your motivations.

An anecdote is the strongest way to address this question, Lin says. Sharing a personal story connects your human side with your clinical skills.

How you should answer: “My father was terribly sick when I was a teenager, and most of my free time was spent in a caregiving role. I admit I surprised myself by how fulfilling I found it. Even though I missed a lot of social events, it instilled in me a drive to provide that level of care to others, which I’ve done throughout my career.”

Question: Why should we hire you?

You’ll face this tough one no matter the industry. And though your first instinct might be to say, “Because I’m awesome, duh?” there’s a much better way to answer this one in an interview setting.

“Most people don't know why they're better or even different from other candidates,” Lin says.

Candidates often feel like answering this question will come across as boastful, so they shy away from it or otherwise deflect. But this is your time to make your strongest case for yourself.

Lin recommends the “rule of three.” Provide examples of your strengths or ways you’re unique. This makes you sound more confident and authoritative, he says.

How you should answer: You should hire me because I would be a good fit because your mission of putting the patient before anything else is exactly how I think all health care should be provided. In addition, experience in working with underserved populations gives me the advantage of being familiar with a wide variety of perspectives. Finally, my demonstrated work on committees will help strengthen your organization’s commitment to active internal leadership.”

Question: Talk about a time when you disagreed with a co-worker.

This is another classic. It’s open-ended—you can likely pick from a wide variety of experiences—but it’s important to pick the right experience. In other words, pick the time where you handled the situation like a true pro.

Employers are interested in how you deal with conflict, Lin says. After all, health care jobs are often high-stress and disagreements among team members are unavoidable.

Lin recommends you use the STAR method (situation, task, action, result) to keep emotion out of your answer and focus on results, he says.

How you should answer: “A new specialist who was brought onto our care team disagreed with the approach we were taking with a cancer patient, wanting to pursue a more aggressive treatment. However, the family and patient had already made it clear that they were ready to look at palliative options. I made a commitment to talk with the specialist briefly when we were both free. We met and I went over some information about ensuring the patient and family have a voice in the care team, and the specialist appreciated the reminder. We ended up pursuing the original plan I’d laid out.”

Question: What’s your biggest career mistake or failure?

The most dreadful of them all. The one where they ask you to take about your own personal mistakes, mess-ups and overall failures.

This one always feels like a trap—how can they possibly give a job to someone who has failed!!—but it’s really not. The truth is you’re human and you’ve made a mistake or two on the job before. So has everyone. So has your interviewer.

No one likes talking about failure, but it can be very helpful to a prospective employer to hear you talk about how you handle it. Avoid placing blame on anyone and focus on what you learned from the experience that you choose to share. Again, like your answers to the prior questions, don’t be afraid to talk about your personal experiences.

“Never underestimate the power of the story,” Lin says. “It can convince a company that one won't quit at the first sign of a better paycheck.”

(Word to the wise: Don’t go into “full honesty” mode on this one. Definitely don’t lie, but you may want to avoid telling the interviewer about the three hazmat incidents you caused in your last job.)

How you should answer: “I learned the hard way about how to manage night shifts about five years ago. I was so used to managing day shifts that I realized there was a whole culture of the night shift that I was unfamiliar with. On top of that, the hours were killing me. But I paid attention to my more seasoned colleagues and did some real soul-searching about how I could better handle managing the job. My first six months were tough, but after I made a few key adjustments, I great to really like that job at that time.”

Question: What do you see as the future of health care?

Ahh, ending on a nice, easy philosophical note. Health care is changing rapidly, and employers want creative, innovative thinkers who have ideas on how to do things better. And no matter where you work in the massive health care industry, you’ll very likely have opinions of your own on this topic.

Highlight the work you’ve in your career that has helped you or your organization to stay in front of trends, Lin says.

How you should answer: “With a wider variety of providers on care teams operating at the top of their licenses, I think it will be vital to pay attention to every perspective. Collaborative and connectivity apps will help providers build a cohesive team in patient care.”

Currently interviewing? Join Monster for free today. As a member, you can get more career advice like this emailed right to your inbox.