When Recruiting Nurses, Assess the Soft Skills

February 12th, 2018
Ross Coyle

The healthcare industry is on fire. Between 2010 and 2017, jobs for registered nurses increased by 334,757. That trend is in line with Bureau of Labor statistics that project American hospitals will add an additional 440,000 nurses by 2026. Informed recruiting will play an essential role in finding the best talent for given nursing positions.

Yet recruiters and HR departments are having a harder time finding fits for hospitals.

Recruiters posting the same job on up to ten different websites implies a fiercly competitive market for talented applicants. Adding in the unexpected costs of a poor hire selection, it’s becoming more important than ever for nurse applicants to have less tangible talents that aren’t visible on a resumé as well as proven technical skillsets.

A pre-hire assessment can screen some of these skills but others are revealed through careful analysis of the resume and the interview. Jennifer Erickson, Site Director for the University of Washington’s Medic Northwest Program in Tacoma, Laura Solberg, a labor and delivery charge nurse in the Seattle area, and Rae Ellen Douglas, Managing Partner and executive nurse recruiter with Kaye/Bassman, have made several suggestions for important skills that good nurses possess and ways to find them.

Do They Have Emotional Intelligence?

Douglas, while largely dealing with leadership nursing roles, says that many skills translate across leadership from executive nurses to entry level, especially maturity. “Does this person have the ability to stop, look and listen,” she says. “Does this person have the maturity to understand first before being understood.” Emotional intelligence is one of the most important traits her hires possess, and she has a number of different methods of finding it.

One example she provides is an answer to how nurses dealt with interpersonal disputes. Those that reached out to supervisors to help mediate the situation showed a more team and patient centered attitude than those that retreated inwards and looked for new work as a way out of the situation. “That person didn’t show that they were trying to work with the right people to solve that problem,” Douglas says.

Questions about how they a nurse is perceived in his or her current job can also be good indicators of a prospect’s maturity. These answers reveal more than just strengths and weaknesses, she says, but it shows “whether someone has the personal reflection to answer those questions.”

Can They Manage Stress?

While a nurse’s ability to work under stress would seem like a given for the field, it’s important to consider where a nurse is transferring from for the job to which they are applying. Erickson suggests that a rural ER nurse applying to a city hospital might not be as adapted to the stressful environment as a nurse coming from a busy urban area.

By researching and comparing an applicant’s hospital experience, recruiters can find indicators of performance under pressure. Erickson also recommends asking prospects about stressful experiences in their previous work to determine how they will react to the new environment.

Are They Forward Thinkers?

Erickson says that one of the most important skills a nurse can possess is adaptability. “Nothing is ever perfect. If somebody isn’t able to deal with change and think off script, that’s the kind of person who won’t do well in a clinical setting.”

She often asks applicants to tell her about how they handled an adverse situation to measure their problem solving skills. Their answers often reveal thought processes and how they not only adapt but if they’re thinking about how the changes will affect the next steps in care.

Do They Know Their Limits?

Erickson also looks for candidates with a strong sense of their role on team. A nurse who tells a story about going beyond his or her scope of practice may seem great at first, but can also be a just as much a liability as a benefit.

“I’ve had people tell me hero stories about how they saved someone’s life, but they broke a lot of rules doing so,” Erickson says. “The only reason they haven’t lost their license is because the person is alive.” By finding these stories and using them to weed out potentially hazardous candidates, recruiters can save hospitals from serious liability suits.

Are They Committed?

Solberg believes that showing dedication and having a passion for the work is a key skill in a good nurse. While time in the career can show this, Solberg says that certifications help to demonstrate desire, drive and passion. Applicants who have made the extra effort to secure learning opportunities will often perform better than their less educated counterparts.

“Having to get continuing education credits every year forces you to go to conferences. If you never go to a conference and hear new information, you’re going to be operating behind.” 

Are They Confident?

Solberg also stresses the need for prospects to prove assertiveness and communication. “I’ve had nurses who are very kind and have great experience,” she says. “But they don’t instill confidence because they’re so quiet. They have all the knowledge, but they can’t communicate that.”

She extrapolates that the lack of confidence adversely affect patient experiences. A lack of assertiveness, she says, may impact a patient’s trust. She suggests that a panel interview with team members can best assess communication skills and personality.

Get Beyond the Technical Skills

When recruiting for a nurse, it’s easy for talent acquisition to look at a resume and see numbers that fit a job description. But it’s just as important to look at these numbers and statements in context and infer the soft skills that are harder to measure on paper.

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By asking questions about problem solving or taking a closer look at continuing education, recruiters and hiring directors can get a more holistic view of candidates before they join the team and find the candidate that meets their organization’s needs.