Tips for Your Travel Nursing Job Interview

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The most important thing to know about the travel nursing job interview is that it’s your time to find out everything you possibly can about the hospital, the unit, and the expectations they have. Even if your recruiter has given you answers to certain questions you had about these subjects, you should still address all your questions during the interview. This is because, given the fluid nature of the travel nursing job market and the various managed vendor relationship models, it’s very difficult, and sometimes impossible, for  recruiters to get timely and accurate answers to questions you may have about the hospital, the unit, and various policies that may be important to you.

Can’t I just ask my recruiter?

It’s common to assume that a recruiter can provide answers for all job related questions. Unfortunately, this is not the case. You see, it’s extremely rare for a recruiter to be permitted to contact the hospital directly. Imagine how many calls unit managers and hospital staffing offices would be fielding if the hundreds of recruiters engaged in staffing a particular travel nursing job were to have the ability to call with any question they didn’t have an answer for.

Instead, there are several common scenarios when recruiters answer hospital related questions and few of them are 100% reliable. In almost every situation, the recruiter must go through an intermediary to get your questions answered. First, it’s standard for agencies to employ “Account Managers.” An account manager is responsible for communicating with the agency’s clients. So all questions that need to be answered by the hospital get routed through an agency Account Manager.

Second, many hospitals utilize Vendor Management Services. These services are designed to help hospitals manage all the staffing agencies they work with. When hospitals use a Vendor Management Service, then all communication with the hospital must be routed through the service. This adds yet another layer of insulation between the recruiter and the hospital.

Finally, most hospitals rout all incoming inquires through their staffing offices. This means that Unit Managers, the ones ultimately capable of answering the most important questions you may have, are rarely, if ever, directly contactable.

These layers of insulation can cause two significant  problems. First, you may not get the correct information. Your question may get answered by someone along this chain who doesn’t really have the correct answer, or important details may get lost in translation. Second, this process can result in significant delays that could ultimately cost you the assignment.

In some cases, your recruiter may feel that they are able to answer your questions on their own. Recruiters may rely on generic unit descriptions provided by the hospital. Recruiters may also rely on their own past experiences with other travelers at the same hospital. In both cases, there may have been significant changes that the recruiter is unaware of that could impact issues important to you. And in the worst case scenario, the recruiter may just fabricate an answer in order to avoid the potentially lengthy delays in getting an answer directly from the hospital.

It’s also important to note that when a job opening is made public, the notice often includes little more than the unit, the shift, the desired start date, and the contract length.

This all means that travel nurses must take the interview as an opportunity to get their questions answered, especially if the issues are important in the decision-making process.

What not to ask

First, it’s important to note that there are subjects that you will not be able to address in your interview. Questions regarding the travel nursing pay package and anything related to the services provided by the agency should be taken up with your recruiter. For all intents and purposes, only questions pertaining to the hospital itself should be taken up with hospital personnel. It’s not the end of the world if you ask them other questions; they just won’t have the answers.

Questions You May Want to Ask During a Travel Nursing Interview

What’s the shift?

Why is there a need for a traveler?

What’s the float policy?

Will I be working the same shift times/schedule as your permanent staff?

What’s the nurse to patient ratio on the unit?

What type of support staff is available?

What types of patients does the unit typically see?

What charting system is used?

What medication system and protocols are in place?

How many beds are in the unit?

What’s the orientation process?

Will I get the contracted number of hours during my orientation week?

Are there any examinations given prior to starting the assignment?

If the examinations are failed, is the traveler sent home, or does the hospital remediate and retest?

How is the schedule determined?

Did you see my requested time off? Can it be approved?

What’s the parking situation at the hospital, free or paid?

Ask any questions that are specific to your unit.

Finally, if you want anything related to your working conditions to be added to your contract, then you should ask the interviewer if it’s possible to do so. This can include things like requested time off during the contract, specific agreements regarding the hospital’s float policy, or issues pertaining to scheduling.

The importance of getting your questions answered

You may be wondering why it’s so important to get some of these questions answered directly by the hospital. After all, you’ll be signing a contract that could address some of these issues whether you cover them with the hospital or not. However, the contract that you sign is between you and the agency, not you and the hospital.

This is an important distinction. You see, the agency has a separate contract with the hospital that governs the working relationship between them and the hospital, which includes issues pertaining to the agency’s travelers. These agreements can be amended on a case by case basis through the “Confirmation.”

Agencies send confirmations to their client hospitals for each and every travel nursing contract that is offered and accepted. The confirmation includes basic variables like the traveler’s name, the start date, the end date, the shift, etc. It can also include any agreements you make with the hospital during the interview. Variables like time-off, float policies, etc., can all be included in the confirmation. And a hospital representative signs the confirmation and returns a copy to the agency.

This way, if something doesn’t go according to your agreements, you have a document to hold the hospital accountable. Without this, the hospital could just ignore the agreements in your contract leaving you in a sticky situation.

Types of Travel Nursing Interviews

Getting the answers to your questions can prove difficult in some cases depending on who you actually get to speak with. There are several interview scenarios. Let’s take a look at what you can expect out of each of the scenarios:

Interview scenario 1: The Preliminary Interview

Preliminary interviews are typically conducted for initial screening purposes and to schedule a full interview for a later date/time. The initial screening questions are often designed to ensure that the candidate meets some standard level of requirements. The preliminary interviewer may ask if you have certain certifications required by the unit, if you have ever participated in a code blue, if you’re proficient with IVs, or any number of other questions that are deemed important for the particular job. If all questions are answered as needed, then the preliminary interviewer will schedule a time for a full interview. As long as you’re going to get a full interview, you can reserve any questions you have for the full interview.

Interview scenario 2: Full Interview with the Unit Manager/Supervisor

This is the best case scenario for you. My experience indicates that this is the scenario under which the majority of interviews are conducted. However, this scenario is losing ground to the scenario 3 which is described below.

There are several things worth noting for this scenario. First, you really won’t know what to expect in terms of the interview itself. Different managers and supervisors approach interviewing in different ways. There is no uniform set of questions that you can expect to be asked. Second, you shouldn’t have a problem getting your questions answered and getting all the details ironed out because you’re speaking directly with the person in charge. Third, you may receive a verbal job offer from the interviewer on the spot during the interview. You should not accept the offer immediately unless you already have 100% of the details worked out with your recruiter and you are 100% certain that you’re going to accept the assignment. If you do not have the details worked out and/or are unsure if the assignment is right for you, then politely request the interviewer to send the offer to your agency so that you can work out the rest of the details with them.

Interview scenario 3: Full interview with the Managed Service Provider (MSP)

In this scenario, you will interview with a representative from the MSP. Interviewing services are one of the services that MSPs offer to their client hospitals. The interviewer is typically a healthcare professional licensed in the field for which the interview is being conducted. You can expect these interviews to be very structured.

Typically, there is a standard template of questions that the hospital and MSP have agreed will be asked. The interviewer will record the answers provided and probe for further information where necessary. You can expect questions about medications specific to your unit. They may even ask for medication measurements. You can also expect situational questions like, “What would you do if the doctor gave an order you knew was incorrect?”

Unfortunately, this scenario almost never affords you the opportunity to get your questions answered because the MSP interviewer does not work directly for the hospital in question and most likely does not have answers to specific questions . However, you should always ask the interviewer if they are able to answer your questions. They will sometimes have the answers albeit infrequently.

In this case, you’ll need to convey your questions to your recruiter who will forward them through the chain to a point where they can be answered. The predicament here is that it may take quite some time before answers are received. In the mean time, the job offer will be extended and the MSP will put pressure on your agency for an answer. You’ll have to decide for yourself how best to proceed in this situation.

Interview scenario 4: No Travel Nurse Interview

Believe it or not, there are some instances in which a job offer is extended without an interview ever taking place. There are many reasons this can happen, but the bottom line is that the decision maker is comfortable enough with the submission profile to simply make an offer on the spot. Many travelers that I worked with took this as a horrible sign, thinking that perhaps the hospital was unorganized and/or unprofessional. However, this is not the case. I’ve had this happen at some of the most reputable healthcare organizations in the country. Again, there are many reasons that this can happen and they’re not all bad. In any case, your only course of action is to send your questions to your recruiter who will forward them along in an effort to get them answered.

General issues to consider

Now that we have an idea of the various interview scenarios, we can take a look at some of the more general issues that we haven’t covered yet. First, don’t get discouraged if you don’t get a call for an interview. I often got the impression from travel nurses that they thought they were the only candidate, or one of a few candidates, that was being considered for the job. Hospitals may receive a large or small number of submission profiles depending on the job market and the desirability of the particular assignment in question.

Second, don’t be discouraged if you don’t receive a call for a scheduled interview. Things come up in the work place and sometimes interviews need to be rescheduled as a result. Third, do a little research on the hospital you’re interviewing with. You may not need to know everything you would for a permanent job interview, but you should know the basics.

Finally, be ready to discuss your work history and details about your former employers in particular.  I recommend knowing the number of beds in the hospitals you’ve worked for, the units you’ve worked in, as well as whether or not the hospitals were teaching hospitals and/or trauma hospitals. This is all information that you can use in effort to relate how your experience fits with the interviewing hospital’s circumstances.

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