5 W’s For Acing Interviews

The interview is critical. No one fails an interview and still gets the job. Much like resumes you need to make a good impression right from the beginning. They say the interviewer makes up their mind about you within the first couple of minutes after meeting you, so you need to get it right. That’s why you need to follow the 5 W’s of interviewing:


It’s exciting to get that call to be invited to interview for a job, but before you hang up and start doing a happy dance you should get a few important pieces of information beyond the date and time.

Find out who will be attending the interview. I know this sounds a little obvious but it’s a good idea to establish whether the interview will be a one-on-one interview or a group interview. Interviews are nerve wracking enough and getting surprised by a group or a panel interview will only increase your stress. Good manners also dictate that you bring a copy of your resume for each person in the interview, so you will be glad you asked! Make sure also to get the names of each attendee so that you can do some research on their background prior to the interview. It’s helpful to know a little something about the person or persons you will be trying to impress.

I’m going to include location in the “who” category as well. Make sure you are clear on exactly where the interview is going to take place. Again, this is not as silly as this may sound. Many healthcare organizations have multiple locations or they may wish that you interview at their business office rather than the actual clinic location. Confirming the address will get you to the right place but if you want to get there on time don’t forget to check for possible construction detours. I don’t know about where you live but I am constantly amazed at the way entire roads seem to disappear overnight. Ask where you should park. Is it a ramp or meters? Nothing like a getting a parking ticket or being towed to ruin your big interview day. And most importantly, get a contact phone number just in case a flat tire or some other unforeseen circumstance occurs.

My second big “W” in interviewing is “Wear.” See how cleverly I changed “where” to “wear!”

I’m no fashion expert but there are a few things you need to keep in mind when you are dressing for your interview. Remember, first impressions are crucial. It’s a fact that employers begin to size you up and form an opinion about you within the first few minutes of meeting you. Your appearance and attire play a major role in whether or not they can see you as someone they wish to hire.

Your clothing choice for any interview should always be business formal. When you dress your best you communicate how much you value and respect the employer and their potential position. I don’t care how laid back and informal the job setting may be, you still need to wear your best duds to the interview. This holds true no matter how well you may know the people interviewing you or even if you work for or have previously worked for the employer in a different capacity. Guys, this means you need to wear a suit and tie. For women, a business suit is also appropriate but always be sure to wear hose and avoid all open toed shoes.

Don’t wait until the last minute to pick out your interview attire. If you haven’t had to wear your “good clothes” for a few months, be sure to try them on to see if they still fit properly. And this is another important detail, if you haven’t worn your “interviewing” outfit for a few years then please go shopping. There is nothing worse than showing up to an interview looking like a ’90s or even a millennial throwback. Remember, you want to be remembered for your poise and skills, not your clothes. This goes for your hairstyle too. Visit your stylist to see if you are in need of some updating, because an outdated look can make you appear tired and old. That’s not the sort of impression you want to make.

Go easy on the jewelry and perfume or cologne. And if you have visible piercings in places other than your earlobes you need to remove the jewelry. One of the most common complaints I would get from employers after I sent a candidate for an interview was “too much perfume” and “too much jewelry.” You are supposed to be on an interview, not a date.


The third interview “W” is “What.” As in, “What will they ask me in the interview?”

Most clinicians go into their interviews prepared to answer some clinical questions. It’s been my experience that most of the questions surrounding your clinical skills are asked early on in the process and usually by the human resources folks. Their questions tend to be straightforward, they are trying to determine if you have managed certain types of conditions or if you have done specific procedures. They ask this type of question primarily to see if your skill set fits the job description.

When you are interviewing with the medical director or clinic supervisor you can expect more behavioral questions. In order to advance to this level in the application process the employer has determined you possess the clinical training and competence so now the employer turns their attention to learning whether or not you would be a good fit for their organization. You should expect to be asked questions about how you deal with conflict, what qualities you look for in a manager and the always popular questions about your strengths and weaknesses. It’s rare to be asked clinical scenario questions, such as what medication or treatment you would choose. Instead the interviewer will want to focus on your interpersonal skills and might ask things like, how might you handle an angry or demanding patient? Have you ever had to deliver bad news to a patient?

When you are formulating your answers to these questions it’s always best if you can give concrete examples that are pertinent to the position. Your answers should be concise but adequately answer the question. If you can’t think of a good example, resist the urge to make up a situation (we can tell when you do that!). Also avoid giving politically correct vague answers like “I would respect the patient’s autonomy while assessing their sociocultural yadda, yadda, yadda…” The last thing you want is to sound like a pandering politician!

And while we are on the subject, please don’t try to “turn a weakness into strength.” We can see right through statements like “I just work too hard!” Instead, tell us about a clinical skill you would like to improve.

And don’t forget to plan for another “what”: what YOU are going to ask your interviewers. There is nothing worse than conducting an interview in which the candidate asks no questions. Formulating a few questions of your own shows the employer you are engaged and interested in their position.


If you asked an employer to sum up the purpose of calling you in for an interview they would tell you it is to answer one question and one question only: “Why should I hire YOU?” But please, don’t take that to mean that the interview is all about you.

Quite the contrary, if you want to convince the employer you are the perfect fit for the job then the interview has to be about more than just you. Yes, the employer wants to get to know more about you but it’s not because they want to fulfill your dreams. They are interested in how your dreams and skills will benefit their organization.

I have conducted hundreds of interviews and I am going to let you in on a little secret. It’s touching and really nice to hear what my job will mean to you and your family but as the employer I really only care about what you can do for me. In other words, how do your dreams and goals fit into what I need?

To put it more bluntly, it’s not about what you want; it’s about what I as the employer need. So keep that in mind when answering all my interview questions. Try to frame all your answers in that context of what your skills and experience will mean to me as an employer. Convince me that you can meet my needs.

For example, when I ask you about your goals your answer should make sense for the position. Telling me that your long-term goal is to run a bed and breakfast in New England does not prove to me anything about why you are right for the position. It only makes me think you aren’t going to stick around. Likewise, it’s also not very compelling if you tell me that you are interested in my job because you have always wanted to learn more about a certain condition or work with a specific population. Instead, you should tell me how your passion translates into a benefit to my patients and my clinic.

So if you are going to convince me of why I should hire you, just remember, it’s really all about me.


That brings us to the final “W”: when. As in when is the right time to ask about pay or benefits? Is it even appropriate to ask about salary during an interview?

Relax. It’s perfectly fine to ask about compensation at your interview. Just don’t let it be the first thing that comes out of your mouth. Obviously, it’s less awkward and stressful if the employer brings up this subject, but you can’t always count on that happening. If you are going to broach this subject, I think it’s most appropriate to bring it up during the “do you have any questions for us?” phase of the interview. However, do not start negotiating! If you are asked about your salary requirements, you can respond honestly but don’t start a debate about whether or not they would consider paying you more or giving you a particular benefit. Save that discussion for when you get an actual offer.

Follow-up is the other important when. Before you leave the interview, ask when they expect to make their final decision and when you can expect to hear from them.

Renee Dahring, NP, works in various correctional settings and teaches at a local community college. She has more than five years of experience in recruiting and helping clinicians find their dream jobs and conducts workshops on resume writing and interviewing.

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