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interview questions for mental health nursing jobs

A challenging but highly rewarding area of nursing, those who work within the mental health industry must display numerous qualities alongside appropriate academic qualifications. Once you have undertaken the necessary education and training to become qualified you will need to begin applying for suitable roles but academic proficiency is not enough to secure you a career in this branch of medicine.

When being interviewed for mental health jobs you will be asked a range of questions to evaluate your suitability for the role. These will be designed to test your communication skills whilst establishing whether a career working with those suffering from mental health problems is right for you – but what sort of questions will you be asked?

1. What experience do you have?

This question is designed to evaluate your suitability for a role and requires you to provide details of previous experience working within the industry. Practical experience is now considered equally as important as educational qualifications when applying for mental health nursing jobs so it is important that you come prepared with a suitable answer.

How to answer: keep your answer streamlined by providing a brief description of any work experience you have undertaken, highlighting the responsibilities you had in these positions. Speak briefly about how the experience benefitted your studies/what it taught you and try to provide sufficient detail without going overboard.

2. What are the key tasks you think will be entailed with this job?

This will be tailored to the job in question and is designed to test your knowledge of the industry. Employers want to hire candidates who are dedicated to working within a specific role, not those who are simply applying for any related position and this question is designed to separate the two.

You may also be asked what is the most important skill needed; a question which aims to see what skills candidates prioritise when looking for work in this field.

How to answer: research the job you have applied for and understand the roles and responsibilities it covers. Demonstrating knowledge of this during your interview will put you in a strong position but you may also want to mention other skills and responsibilities which are needed across all mental health positions to show your understanding of the industry as a whole.

3. How would you approach set situations?

This question tests your ability to think on your feet and adapt to situations – skills which are essential when working as a mental health nurse. Similar to role play scenarios which may be used in interviews for other roles, this question will give you an example of a situation you are likely to encounter during your work and asks you to explain how you would approach it.

How to answer: give a clear and concise answer which explains the process you would take step by step. Use your academic knowledge to supplement your answer and reference documents such as the Mental Health Act (1983/2007) where applicable.

This will demonstrate not only that you have been educated to the necessary level but also that you can apply this knowledge to practical situations. It would also be beneficial to reference similar situations you have encountered in your work experience to show that you have gained positive results from this course of action.

4. What are the biggest risks of mental health nursing?

This is designed to test your knowledge of the risks which are posed not only to your patients but to you as a nurse. Mental health nursing will present varied challenges in a range of environments and this means you can never be sure what you’ll come up against.

How to answer: show your understanding of the complexities of the job by talking about the range of situations which can be encountered. Focus on physical as well as psychological risks which are posed and discuss how following safety procedures and using support systems such as counselling might help you.

5. Why do you want the job?

A question which is asked across numerous areas of employment, this is designed to test your commitment to the industry. Those who are passionate about their jobs are often the most productive employees and this question sets out to determine whether you have the necessary drive and desire.

How to answer: be positive and honest and state your reasons clearly. Talk about the emotional benefits of the job rather than focusing purely on the financial aspects. Explain what you think the job will enable you to do/how it will make a difference and discuss why this is important.

6. Which people are most at risk of developing mental health issues?

As with all health issues, some individuals are more susceptible to mental health problems than others. This question aims to test your knowledge of the different conditions you may come across in your work and which patients will be at highest risk.

How to answer: use statistics to inform your answer and explain which individuals are most vulnerable to mental health issues and why. Emphasise that anyone can suffer mental illness and that no patient should be overlooked because they’re considered low risk.

7. How would you handle complaints made against colleagues by patients?

This aims to test your knowledge of internal procedures used within healthcare establishments. The exact protocol for this may be specific to the place you’re applying so research the situation beforehand.

How to answer: use information at your disposal and talk about the challenges these complaints can pose. Explain that all complaints must be handled seriously and be directed to the appropriate member of staff to be investigated. Emphasise that patient concerns should never be ignored.

8. What are current NHS targets regarding mental health nursing?

This tests your knowledge of current aims and ambitions within the industry. Your job will be closely connected to these so it is important that you show what you know and explain how you’d work to meet these targets whilst delivering a high level of care.

How to answer: research current NHS targets and highlight any areas which you think are particularly important. Comment on why these targets are needed and how they can be achieved.

9. How would you improve the quality of care provided?

Employers want staff who use initiative. Nurses should always strive to improve the care that they offer and that means looking at new approaches towards healthcare.

How to answer: identify areas of mental health nursing where improvements can be made and outline how to address this. You don’t need to go into too much detail but showing that you’ve given this plenty of thought will work to your advantage.

10. What is the best approach to dealing with difficult patients?

All areas of nursing involve difficult patients but those working within the mental health discipline are more exposed to this than others. Difficult patients require specific handling and this question aims to establish whether you’re a suitable candidate for this demanding work.

How to answer: talk through the process step by step showing compassion and fairness in equal measure. You need to demonstrate that you’ll treat patients with care without putting yourself, your colleagues or anyone else at risk.
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