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Don't Know What to Wear for a Nursing Interview? Here Are 5 Tips to Help You Stand Out

A clothing rack holding a variety of women's blouses in different shades of white, yellow, and pink.

There are more than 4 million nurses on the job in the U.S., according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, which predicts the rate of employment for nurses to grow faster than the average of all other occupations by 2028. That is good news if you are looking for your first or next job as a nurse.

With the looming retirement of a significant number of nurses and an aging population, jobs for nurses will continue to be in demand. To get the job you want, however, you need to present yourself as qualified and professional.

Does My Attire Really Matter That Much?

In short? Yes, it does - and here's why.

“It matters what you wear to an interview,” said Aisha Allen, DNP, CRNA. “It lets the nurse manager (or whoever is interviewing you) know that you are taking the job seriously.”

The human mind is a truly remarkable instrument. When meeting someone for the first time, it takes your brain just a tenth of a second to form an impression. Don’t take our word for it. Princeton psychologists Janine Willis and Alexander Todorov did a series of experiments that proved this to be true. What’s more, longer exposures to a person do not significantly alter those impressions.

If you’re doing anything less than dressing professionally for a nursing interview (or any job interview for that matter), you’re at risk of that first impression framing your entire interview.

Dressing professionally shows you’re serious about this job interview — even if you never have to dress up on the job once you’re hired.

“Presenting a poor appearance during an interview may prevent a qualified candidate from securing a job,” said Jenna Liphart Rhoads, PhD, RN, CNE, of NurseTogether.com.

“An interviewee’s outfit and grooming are the first things we notice,” said Neil Boecking, DC-Chiropractor, of Pro Care Med Center. “If someone does not make an effort in what they wear during the interview, we tend to believe that they don't give much importance to the appointment.”

If you're feeling stuck or confused, don't worry: We've got you covered. We talked to a range of experts and got their top 5 tips for what to wear for a nursing interview. We've also provided some bonus tips on what NOT to wear as well.

Tip #1: Manage the First Impression

When getting ready for a job interview, you need to think about how you want to present yourself. You need to put your best foot forward, and by dressing professionally, you are showing the company and managers that you respect their time and, you bring an air of confidence to the table. This first impression can have a direct impact on getting a callback or job offer.

“Interviewers want to see and hire the best, and if you show up wearing shorts or unprofessional attire, it will affect the interview,” said Sandra Crawley, BSN, RN, and medical consultant at Mom Loves Best. “Even in nursing, there are times when we have to dress professionally, such as for meetings, conferences, and other events. By dressing appropriately for your interview, you are saying you understand that standards of professionalism exist and that you can follow those standards.”

“Keep in mind that how you dress is how people will address and treat you, '' said Shantay Carter, BSN, RN, and co-founder of Women of Integrity. “When applying for a job as a new nurse, you want to dress in a professional business manner.”

Tip #2: Avoid the Jeans & Shorts

“Jeans or shorts are rarely acceptable for a professional interview, and never for a nursing position,” said Rhoads. “I highly recommend that dress pants, long skirts, or long dresses be worn for nursing interviews.”

Think of it this way. If you dress professionally, you come off as professional and showing your potential employer respect. While simply dressing the part won’t get you the job, dressing poorly can prevent you from getting hired, even if you’re the best candidate.

Don’t dress for a night out on the town, either. Professional but subtle works best. Carter suggests you consider “a black, navy blue, or gray suit. You also want to wear a button-up shirt under your blazer or suit jacket.”

For men, a suit and tie are always a good choice.

You want interviewers focused on your skills, knowledge, and what you have to say — not what you’re wearing. If you’re not sure what to wear, always lean toward being more formal than less formal, said Allen.

Tip #3: What About Scrubs?

Rhoads recommends only wearing scrubs to an interview if the interview will require shadowing or participating in the nursing unit.

“If this is the case, ensure that your scrubs are neat and look professional — not baggy, faded, or torn,” she said.

If you’re currently working, and interviewers know you’re meeting with them during a lunch or dinner break, scrubs might be OK. But they may not be either. Are you willing to risk losing a position you want because you didn’t take a few minutes to change?

While the nursing supervisor who is part of the interview team may think wearing scrubs is fine, keep in mind that part of your interview may include non-clinical staff. They’ll expect you to dress in professional business attire for your interview.

Tip #4: Pay Attention to Grooming

“If you are shabbily dressed or not well-groomed during an interview, it is a straight ‘no’ from us, irrespective of your qualifications/experience,” said Radil Chaudhary, MD, managing director at Eye 7 Chaudhary Eye Centre.

Formal dress isn’t required anymore, but professional attire helps. Details matter when it comes to nursing, and interviewers will notice the details.

“Ensure everything is clean, including your shoes,” said Chaudhary. “Well-kept hair and even nail care are important. Focus on hygiene more than appearance, and you’re good to go. In this profession, you need to have control over things and be ready for anything. If you can’t manage to be fresh and clean for an interview, how will you do it for your daily job?”

“Working at a hospital setting means we hold cleanliness and sanitation to a high regard,” said Boecking. “So we look at how someone gives importance to that through their appearance.”

Tip #5: It’s OK to Show a Little Personality (But Only a Little)

“I was involved in a peer interview where the candidate showed up in business casual, with a fun floral pin. Her hair was pulled up in a cute curly bun,” said Crawley. “She had a great interview, was confident and passionate about our specialty. During her interview, she stated that she loves to have fun, and tries to keep a positive attitude. She then pointed to her pin and said even the little things can be fun.”

This little sincere gesture was remembered after all the interviews were over.

“Her professionalism, positive attitude, and personal touch are the little things that were remembered and set her apart,” Crawley said. “She was offered the job.”

A little goes a long way, however. You want any accessories to accentuate you and not become the focal point. Flashy or chunky jewelry won’t be allowed on the job, so this is not the time to show it off. But showing a little personality can make an interview memorable.

What NOT to Wear to a Nursing Interview

Don’t be like the new grad that Carter said showed up with a crop top underneath her skirt suit and jacket.

“The managers that interviewed her didn’t hire her,” she said. “They felt that was not serious (about the job).”

Anything that might send the wrong signals or detract from you may be seen as a warning sign by interviewers. Avoid items such as:

  • Too-casual clothing, clothing that’s wrinkled, or clothing that doesn’t fit properly
  • Revealing outfits or high heels
  • Glitter on your nails, shoes, or clothing
  • Unkempt hair
  • Heavy amounts of makeup
  • Strong perfume or scents
  • Jewelry that makes noise

It’s OK to add in color, but most interviewers recommend choosing muted or softer colors that don’t jump out at you. If you have tattoos, make sure you cover them up until you understand what’s required on the job.

What you’re going for here is professional, classic, and understated. You want to be evaluated based on who you are and the job you can do.

Final Tips & Thoughts

Here are a few final tips for your interview:

  • Leave your purse behind.
  • If you’re bringing a resume or other material, put it in a folder or portfolio.
  • Forget the cell phone, too. A ringing or buzzing phone can interrupt the flow of conversation and be distracting for both parties.
  • If you do have to keep your phone with you, make a point of switching the ringer off, putting it face down, and letting the interview know that they have your full attention.

Don't forget: one thing you should always make sure to wear to an interview is your smile. People that smile are perceived as happier, friendlier, more trustworthy, and even more honest. These are all pretty good things to demonstrate in a job interview.

Enthusiasm also shows you’re excited about the opportunity. Just don’t overdo it, and make sure it’s genuine. People can spot a fake smile a mile away, so if it feels forced, tone it down.

You've got this - now get out there and wow them!


Image courtesy of iStock.com/White Bear Studio


The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Berxi™ or Berkshire Hathaway Specialty Insurance Company. This article (subject to change without notice) is for informational purposes only, and does not constitute professional advice.

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