Confessions From Hospital HR (Here’s Why We Didn’t Hire You)

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.

As you’ve undoubtedly noticed over the past few years, finding a nurse job right now is no small feat. But what may not be quite as evident is that it isn’t always easy being a nurse recruiter in today’s economy, either.

One unlucky recruiter told a candidate that he just wasn’t a good fit; the nurse called back later to tell the recruiter she was unattractive. This wasn’t as bad as the nurse who was so angry at being rejected that the entire building had to go into lockdown due to her threats….

These stories, of course, are rare and much more likely to be found online than in a real employer’s office. But aside from these instances that make the rejection process easy for human resources professionals, what happened when YOU went in, gave what you felt was a great interview and still didn’t get the job? HR insiders confess about what works—and doesn’t work—in the hiring process.

Mistakes Nurses Make

When it comes to interviews, there are some mistakes you can make—things you may not have thought twice about—that can put interviewers of:

1. What did you say?

Katie Cwalinski, PRC, CSSR, Manager of Nurse Recruitment at the Cleveland Clinic, states, “Mistakes some nurses will make include speaking negatively about their previous or current position and/or supervisor, or talking only about a shift they need, not why they want to work in a certain clinical area or why they want to work for a certain organization.” It pays to keep your comments professional and positive when talking about prior employers.

2. Paperwork, please.

Some nurses have experience, but lack the documentation to prove their credentials. Amanda Oldfield, vice president of HR at Verizon Care Services based in North Palm Beach, Fla., says, “When you start losing those documents, we can’t hire you. You have to show the CEs from when you first graduated from school, and the nurses who have been nurses for 20 or 30 years don’t have that documentation.” Many times if a nurse can’t produce these credentials, she can’t get hired and has to retake continuing education hours.

3. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

If you’re looking to have your resume done by a professional, don’t bother. Most nurse recruiters are okay with a plain resume that simply states who you are and what positions you’ve held. Most HR recruiters are more interested in how you interact face-to-face.

4. You are what you wear.

You may have been given the advice to “dress up” for a nursing interview. According to our expert sources, this is a bit of a myth. Many recruiters are okay with nurses showing up in scrubs, but Oldfield cautions, “Some girls come in with scrub bottoms and tiny little tanks with everything hanging out, and that’s not appropriate.”

Reasons You Aren’t Hired

1. Out of the past.

Most recruiters won’t hire someone with prior criminal convictions. Emily Gutierrez, a nurse recruiter in Southern California, affirms, “We were not allowed to hire candidates who had convictions.” Oldfield goes a step further: “We’re finding that girls with minor misdemeanors on their record are coming up non-eligible. We don’t hire anyone with a record.” If you have a crime in your past, this might be a reason why you’re turned down for a job.

2. We just didn’t…well…like you.

Personality is another big reason for an HR person to turn down a potential candidate. Cwalinski states, “The top three reasons I turn down a candidate are poor communication, inappropriate responses and lack of motivation.” Gutierrez agrees. “Personality can be a turnoff. If the person doesn’t have a good bedside manner, I don’t want to hire her. Nurses are rated on personality, bedside manner and customer service.” Look at how you’re approaching your interviewer and ensure you come across in an open, friendly manner. If a recruiter doesn’t think you’ll treat a patient with kindness, you likely won’t get the job.

Other reasons nurse recruiters cited for not hiring a candidate included:

  • Lack of experience
  • Dishonesty
  • History of drug diversion
  • Lack of hygiene
  • Failure to pass a basic competency test

What They’re Looking For

So what are they looking for? Cwalinski is looking for “whether or not the candidate is a cultural fit, if she’s had a stable work history, how motivated she is, what her long-term goals are, and her interest level and desire for career development.” Oldfield is looking for experience and basic skills. “If you come in and you’re presented well with all of your paperwork, can speak clearly and can hold a conversation with me, then you’re a good candidate.”

Advice for New Grads

Some of this may be a little depressing to new grads who don’t have the experience to battle it out in this tough job market. Gutierrez offers this advice: “For new-grad nurses, something I highly recommend is when you do your clinical rotation, do a great job because they’re watching you. Express your interest to the department managers and your preceptors, and possibly introduce yourself to HR, just to be more visible. Take your clinicals seriously because you might be one of the few to be taken on when the hiring starts. It takes $40,000 to train a new grad in a hospital. Make sure you’re a superstar.”

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.

This article was republished with permission from SCRUBS Magazine.


  1. I am forty years old and have been a nurse sixteen years. I have no lapses in employment but I also cannot get hired anywhere. They want young and cheap RNs. I am at the top of the payscale and am not desirable for employment at any hospital despite a wealth of experience. It’s disheartening that they took new grads over me for a recent position I interviewed for. Actually, make that six positions I interviewed for.

  2. good article-gee, it’s interesting because I met all of the criteria that the HR folks were interested in and yet received a letter from a very well-known agency in my state telling me that they were not interested in hiring me. Perhaps it is because I am over the age of 60? AEGISM does exist in nursing! I have experienced this since I was in my 50’s and have talked w/lots of other r.n.’s who have also been effected by this and we all agree–hospitals, home health agencies, urgent care facilities are all looking for younger applicants. THIS IS A FACT! BSN,R.N. in New Jersey.

  3. I have done everything right, according to the advice/reasons given in the article. I have been looking for a job since September, 2012. I just had my 64th birthday. I am convinced that I don’t get hired because of my age.

    • I definitely agree with you. I have had no lapses in my career, and yet I get interviews (or are they really just a courtesy interview?) I feel employers in the prescreening tests ask if you are lees than 40, or more than 40 are screening the applicant based on age ( of course you can respond do not wish to answer, but how does that appear to the test scorer.) So you are honest and state you are more than 40, and you never hear from them.
      Why ? because they think you want too much money, you are too old too learn (even though your resume demonstrates you are a life learner.) Or is it the aging appearance even though you have kept your appearance up. Example: you have mother/baby experience, but they are really looking for a younger nurse who they believe can relate to the younger mothers based on appearance. It makes no difference the amount of experience you have accumulated in this area, that is the hiring directors philosophy. How can a sernior looking member of society communicate with the young adult? We are educated, experienced, have excellent work ethic, but not desirable to employ.

  4. I try to assess if they are a good fit for what we do. I am honest with them regarding what we do and the challenges. I tell them I want them to be happy too, if hired. I also ask them to tell me “stories” of events in other jobs (not necessarily even nursing jobs) where they had a difference in opinion with a patient/customer, a supervisor, a co-worker. I listen for red flags, like statements of Well I told her….I listen to see if they just ignore issues or discussed, if they discussed at the appropriate time, in the appropriate place, with the appropriate people in on the conversation or within earshot. I never like to hire someone afraid to speak up but I also want it done in a professional manner. I also like to ask what they did next if no resolution was reached. Sometimes there is no winning with an irate person, be it patient, customer, boss, co-worker, there are times you have to simply walk away. I also like to ask them if they are looking for a place to settle in or if they are just out testing out areas. I think that is a fair question, as we spend tons of time training, and our particular clientele need the same staff year after year, so they trust us.

  5. I think personality goes beyond a pretty face. It’s how you interact with the interviewer- are you warm & receptive, relaxed/confident & pleasant? Or is your body language cold & distant, guarded and reserved? It’s always acceptable to call and ask why you didn’t get a job… then if it’s something you can change, you can address it for the next interview

  6. Is it really fair to judge personality based on a 20 to 30 minutes interaction. I think some people just have the ‘likable’ faces while other people have been told to have ‘mean’ looking faces while they are not really mean. Are recruiters simply looking for ‘preety’ likable faces? If thats the case then maybe that shoulb be a screening criteria at the nursing school recruitment level. I feel sorry for people who just can not get the good job for reasons unknown to them.


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