As a nurse, you’re no stranger to exhibiting grace under pressure. This is especially true if you specialize in or are interested in learning how to become an ICU nurse—one of the most demanding roles in healthcare.
To qualify for a position as an ICU nurse, both your resume and your interview must reflect your ability to administer professional care to patients in critical condition.
To help you prepare for the ICU travel nurse application process and the actual hiring process, we’ve assembled the most common ICU nursing interview questions, tips for how to answer them, and resume best practices to help make you a prime candidate to potential employers.
How Can an ICU Nurse Prepare for an Interview?
Similar to other RN specialties, ICU nursing is incredibly important. Prospective employers will want to know how you’ll treat patients, people, and various scenarios you’re likely to encounter on the job. Employers are looking to ensure you’ll respond to tough scenarios with empathy and compassion, so during an interview, they’ll often lead with general questions about your attitude, demeanor, and values.
That said, the pressures ICU nurses face can often be intense. To be certain you can handle the demanding role of an ICU nurse, interviewers will also ask how you’ve responded to particular situations in the past. These are known as nursing behavioral interview questions.
One handy tool to effectively answer these questions is known as the STAR method:
It is also sometimes referred to as the SHARE method:
In both cases, you should briefly describe a scenario you faced in your work history similar to the one in the question posed, what was being asked of you, and the difficulties you faced.
Explain how you acted, what skills or traits you relied on, and how that action is typical of you. Then, relay the final result, what you took away from the experience, and how it proves how you’d react in a similar situation in the future.
(Be sure not to violate HIPAA by including any details that could identify the patient.)
Before heading into an interview, think through a few key experiences that you may want to highlight to the interviewer. As the interview progresses, bringing up relevant examples that align with the interviewer’s questions can help convince them of your expertise in the field. If you’re just starting as a nurse and have no directly related experience yet, think about a similar experience in clinical work or another job that pertains to the question.
The Most Common ICU Interview Questions
ICU nurses have many important responsibilities, so interviewers will often ask a slew of questions to help them determine whether or not a candidate is the right fit for their open ICU nurse position.
To further prepare you, let’s take a look at some common ICU nurse interview questions your future employer may ask.
An interviewer is likely to ask general questions meant to get to know you as a person and potential employee, as well as questions more specific to your medical knowledge. These may include:
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Why do you want to be an ICU nurse?
- Why do you want to work at this hospital?
- Why are you suitable for this job? The best for this job?
- What do you do if a patient is ______?
- How would patients describe you? Colleagues?
- What’s the most valuable constructive criticism you’ve received?
- How often do you take sick days?
- What charting systems are you familiar with?
- What equipment are you familiar with?
- What personal or professional ambitions have you yet to achieve?
- How do you handle stress?
- Describe yourself in an emergency.
- How do you handle conflicts between your personal and work lives?
- How do you introduce yourself to patients?
- What’s your style of interaction with patients?
- What volunteer work do you do and how often?
- How do you work with doctors? Other RNs? PCTs?
- How do you spend the last few minutes of your shift?
- How do you manage your time? Handle your workload? What do you prioritize?
As discussed above, interviewers will pose nursing behavioral interview questions to find out how you’ve conducted yourself in the past rather than how you think you’d behave in a hypothetical.
Be prepared for an interviewer to say, “Tell us about a time when you…”
- …went above and beyond for a patient in terms of advocacy.
- …had a conflict with a patient or coworker.
- …miscommunicated with a colleague or patient.
- …had to deal with someone else’s miscommunication.
- …disagreed with a doctor’s orders.
- …disagreed with a patient.
- …dealt with an emergency.
- …took on a leadership role.
- …solved a problem creatively.
- …used critical thinking.
- …couldn’t meet a deadline.
- …made an error.
- …lifted morale among your colleagues.
- …provided excellent patient care.
- …were unsure how to perform a particular skill required of you.
- …disagreed with a hospital’s policies.
- …had to deal with negativity.
- …helped someone.
- …dealt with a stressful situation.
- …brought others around to your point of view.
- …disagreed with a doctor.
- …resolved a conflict.
- …witnessed a colleague take a procedural shortcut.
- …could have done a better job of prioritizing your patients.
- …had a memorable patient care experience.
- …made a difference.
- …made yourself proud.
- …handled a difficult patient.
- …had a positive experience with a patient.
- …had a negative experience with a patient.
- …dealt with a difficult family member.
- …dealt with a family with a cultural background you weren’t familiar with.
- …experienced a patient’s death.1,2
How To Perfect Your Resume Prior To Secure the Interview
A well-curated resume should grab the attention of future employers, display your strongest skills, and land you the interview at your desired medical facility. That said, we’ve compiled a few tips to structure your ICU nurse resume for success:
- Write a specific objective or summary describing your educational background, experience, ICU nursing certifications, and why you’re uniquely qualified for the position.
- Keep the education section short if it’s been awhile since you graduated. Otherwise, make this section longer by including relevant coursework, significant projects, and the number of hours and location of your clinical rotation.
- List your experience in reverse chronological order, and include the number of years you spent at each position.
- In listing your accomplishments, showcase quantifiable results, such as, Provided patient care to 3 patients in the ICU unit in a high volume medical center with 12 beds.
- Include any certifications you‘ve earned, associations you’re a member of, volunteer and freelance work you do, honors and awards you’ve received, papers you’ve published, notable conferences you attended, and languages you speak.
- Keep your resume to one page.
- Use a professional font and simple formatting.
- Keep your list of skills specific to those mentioned in the application.
What Skills Are Required of ICU Nurses?
The ICU sees some of the most vulnerable patients in a hospital—those who are seriously ill, in critical condition, or have undergone an invasive surgery. That said, patients in the ICU are kept under close supervision, meaning ICU nurses are generally assigned to only one or two patients at a time.
Below are some of the many skills ICU nurses can include on their resumes and speak to during a job interview to show that they’re able to provide quality care to these especially vulnerable individuals:
- Medical – ICU nurses must have knowledge of a host of medical procedures, including treating wounds, advanced life support, CPR, and the application of IVs, chest and feeding tubes, and catheters.
- Equipment – ICU nurses must know the operation of a wide array of medical support equipment, such as ventilators and telemetry.
- Charting – Because their patients are so closely monitored, ICU nurses are required to do more charting than is typically demanded of other nurses.
- Coordination – ICU nurses must be able to coordinate dozens of medications, treatments, and tests, and facilitate discharge planning.
- Critical Thinking – ICU nurses need to be able to think on their feet and problem-solve in tense situations where time is of the essence.
- Teamwork – ICU nurses must be able to collaborate and communicate with other nurses, doctors, and teams of personnel from a variety of disciplines.
- Interpersonal – ICU nurses should also be able to deal compassionately with patients and their families for education and instruction.
- Patient Advocacy – ICU nurses are often the advocates for patients who cannot speak for themselves as a result of their conditions or medical situations, like being intubated or on ventilators.
- Organizational – ICU nurses should be able to effectively manage their time and conduct themselves efficiently and with great attention to detail.
- Fitness – ICU nurses require physical stamina to work long shifts, often 12 or more hours.3
Working as an ICU staff nurse or an ICU trvavel nurse requires, at minimum, an associate’s degree in nursing (ADN) and a passing score on the NCLEX-RN exam.
To further build their skills and increase their competitiveness in the job market, a nurse may consider getting a Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BSN) and, after two years of working in critical care, taking an exam for certification as a critical care registered nurse (CCRN).
Prepare For a Nursing Career With Host Healthcare
As an ICU nurse, you must be able to effectively provide treatment and support to those in critical condition—and convey that expertise to future employers. Fortunately, if you’re thinking about a future career as a travel ICU nurse, you can let the experts at Host Healthcare help guide you on your journey.
At Host Healthcare, we match travel nurses with job opportunities across the country. We’ll walk you through the application process, and even help with licensing, credentialing, and housing so that you can have the utmost confidence in your career as a travel nurse.
ICU roles and other nursing occupations are demanding, time-consuming commitments, and we believe they should be rewarded and supported accordingly. That’s why we offer 401k matching and healthcare benefits that can last between assignments, as well as 24/7 support you can reach out to anytime you have questions or concerns.
So, if you’re considering a role as a travel ICU nurse or other similar position, let us match you with an assignment that meets your goals and qualifications. And with the tips from above, you’ll be more than prepared for your interview. Start the process by applying to become a travel nurse with Host Healthcare today.
Hannah Wilson, BSN, RN, CCRN
Nursing Specialty: M/SICU, PreOp
I began my career as a new graduate nurse in an M/SICU where I ended up working for 5 years, one year of which I was a Team Leader. In January of 2020, I took my first travel nursing position in a Burn ICU. After 13 weeks there, I spent the next 14 months in a couple of Medical/COVID ICUs in CA where I primarily cared for COVID patients. After 7 years in the ICU, I needed a change and took a permanent position in PreOp in September of 2021, which is where I currently work. Being a nurse have given me so many opportunities and has taught me more than I ever thought it could – I can’t imagine doing anything else!
- “Nursing Interview Questions.” Luther College, https://www2.luther.edu/lsna/assets/Nursing_Interview_Questions.pdf
- “Behavioral Interview Questions.” Rutgers School of Nursing, https://nursing.rutgers.edu/students/career-development/interviews/behavioral-questions/
- Meinke, Hannah. “ICU Nursing: What You Need to Know About Working in the Intensive Care Unit.” Rasmussen University, 9 Dec. 2019, https://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/nursing/blog/icu-nursing/
- “Preparing for an Interview.” Mayo Clinic,
- Gerencer, Tom. “ICU (Critical Care) Nurse Resume—Examples & 25 Writing Tips.” Resume Lab, 6 Dec. 2022, https://resumelab.com/resume-examples/icu-nurse
- Russell, Judith. “Building Your Resume.” American Journal of Nursing, 22 Jan. 2009, https://journals.lww.com/ajnonline/fulltext/2009/01001/building_your_resume.7.aspx