Recruiting Your Next Charge Nurse: Interview Questions and Skills

With staffing shortages and turnover, the need for experienced nurses to take on charge nurse roles is greater than ever. But these can be tough positions to fill. Leading a shift takes special skills.

Charge nurses play a pivotal role in nursing. From overseeing patient care and managing a unit of nurses, they must ensure that all aspects of their unit operate smoothly and effectively. So finding skilled and experienced nursing talent to fill these roles is essential.

Knowledge all charge nurses need

Great nurses have many qualities, including adaptability, time management, compassion, and quick thinking. A charge nurse needs more than the standard qualifications, with knowledge covering three main areas:

  • Medical specialty expertise: Charge nurses take the lead in a crisis or emergency and need a deep understanding of all the medical conditions the unit cares for.
  • Leadership and delegation skills: Each shift is spent prioritizing, fairly distributing tasks and assignments to the right individuals matching their skills, and solving interpersonal problems.
  • Knowledge of facility policies and procedures: Charge nurses follow facility-specific processes to manage the flow of admissions, navigate staffing changes, and troubleshoot issues.

In the ideal world, you could choose candidates with all three areas of expertise. But in reality, candidates can be tough to come by. A nurse who has two out of the three qualifications can be trained to learn the third. Picking up two advanced areas of expertise is a more difficult leap.

When deciding between candidates, it’s beneficial to prioritize leadership skills and the ability to problem solve. These can be challenging to learn, while fact-based skills, like facility procedures and medical knowledge, come easier. Research shows that transformational leadership skills in charge nurses have the greatest impact on unit performance.

Considering travel nurses

A travel nurse can be a great charge nurse with some considerations. Traveling nurses are often experienced and accustomed to adapting to a wide variety of situations — excellent qualities for the charge nurse role.

However, it may be unrealistic for a travel nurse to learn a facility’s procedures adequately. Some travel nurses may prefer to avoid institutional challenges that come with leadership roles.

Immediate needs for experienced nurses to take on charge roles are everywhere. Since these positions are tough to fill, a travel nurse could be the best option if they are willing.

Consider a travel nurse if they:

  • Are fully familiar with the medical specialty
  • Possess strong leadership skills
  • Will have adequate resources to learn the facility procedures

Provide them with a go-to resource for answering questions on facility procedures. A charge nurse in another unit, a nurse manager, or a nurse with experience in the facility who isn’t otherwise qualified for a charge role are good options to consider.

Charge nurse interview questions to reveal areas of expertise

Do you have experience as a charge nurse?

The simplest question is often the best. While it isn’t always necessary to have previous experience, nurses who have successfully held charge roles in the past are likely to have the skills and knowledge to do it again.

What positions have you held as a nurse? What was your favorite?

An open-ended question lets the nurse elaborate on their experience and passions. It’s a great way to uncover medical knowledge, problem-solving skills, and leadership potential.

What certifications do you hold?

As the leader of a unit, a charge nurse needs to step in and support less experienced nurses during patient emergencies. Some desirable certifications include Advanced Cardiac Life Support (ACLS) and Pediatric Advanced Life Support (PALS), as well as specialty-specific certifications.

Are you familiar with the charting system, or other software and systems used at this facility?

Even if a nurse has not worked at the facility before, they will have a head start in understanding the procedures if they have worked with the same electronic systems.

Describe how you delegate during a typical day.

Assigning tasks and patient assignments is the core of the charge nurse role. A nurse who has not worked as a charge nurse before can demonstrate potential by effectively delegating tasks to ancillary personnel, such as certified nursing assistants (CNAs).

How do you approach problem solving?

Problem-solving is a key skill for charge nurses. They encounter unexpected situations throughout the shift, ranging from interpersonal conflicts to medical assessment and triage, to equipment troubleshooting.

Tell me about a time you cared for a patient in an emergency.

A charge nurse needs to confidently step in if the condition of any patient on the unit becomes unstable. They may assist less experienced staff in assessment, deciding which interventions to take, and determining when more help is needed— such as getting a physician’s input or calling the rapid assessment team.

How do you juggle multiple priorities at once during a work shift?

At any given time during a shift, a charge nurse may have patient responsibilities, staffing responsibilities, and unexpected problems to handle. To navigate it all, they must be able to triage priorities.

How do you react in stressful situations?

A charge nurse must stay calm in a crisis, think clearly, and act to keep patients safe.

Describe a time you handled conflict.

If a manager isn’t present on the floor, the charge nurse is the go-to when conflict arises. This may be in the form of a staff disagreeing with assignments, an angry patient or visitor, or a physician requesting that a nurse do something outside their scope of practice.

What are your short-term and long-term goals?

A nurse who is committed to professional excellence and development can be a great charge nurse, and have the potential to step into further leadership roles down the road. This is an asset to any organization.

What else would you like me to know about you?

Give the nurse candidate the opportunity to tell you about anything you haven’t touched on in your conversation. They may have a particular skill or interest, or concerns that you need to be aware of.

For more information on recruiting through our skills-based talent marketplace or to build your custom talent acquisition solution package, contact us today.