The Nurse Becoming Podcast 

#065 How to Answer: “Tell me about a time when…” in interviews

If you’re a nurse practitioner or are looking for an NP job, you’ve likely heard this classic job interview question before:

“Can you tell me about a time when…”

.. you experienced a conflict in the workplace.

.. you had to deal with a difficult patient.

.. you faced an ethical dilemma.

Interviewers these days LOVE to throw this behavioral question at hopeful NP job applicants, so it’s a smart idea to prepare yourself ahead of time for when this question undoubtedly arises.

Because you don’t want to feel shocked, put on the spot, scrambling trying to think of a clever answer. 😳

Fortunately, in today’s podcast episode, I’ll help you to: 

  • Prepare FIVE strong answers to one of the most popular interview questions
  • Form concise and captivating work-related stories that you can show off in your next interview!
  • Leverage the S.T.A.R. Method to highlight your key talking points


  • If you are ready to become the NP you always wanted to be, then NP Society membership is the place for you. This is a community that is designed for Nurse Practitioners (and students) to thrive beyond the clinical setting. Head to www.thenpsociety.com to choose your membership level today!

Grab my FREE interview guide and I’ll walk you through the 7 most common questions you’ll encounter in an interview plus give you a list of some uncommon ones that might take you by surprise.

Listen to more episodes here!


“Tell me about a time when…”

Everyone’s favorite interview question starts a little bit like this, 

“Tell me about a time when…” If you have ever been in an interview that hasn’t included a question like that, then congratulations, you are definitely in the minority. 

My general take on these questions is to be prepared to answer them. And I think the best way that you can be prepared is by anticipating certain versions of this question, and by reviewing scenarios that you’ve experienced so that you can easily recall those experiences in the interview setting. 

For example, some of the most common behavioral questions are, 

“Tell me about a time when you experienced a conflict… or a difficult patient or family member… or a medically complex situation or an ethical dilemma.” These are the ones that come up time and time again. So with any luck, before you even interview, you can recall one case that you experienced that applies to multiple scenarios. From there, you can keep that in the back of your head and reuse the same scenario for multiple questions whenever the time comes. 


Recall & jot down five common scenarios that you’ve experienced at your workplace

I actually recommend having at least five of these scenarios that hopefully hit multiple questions that you know really well, so that they’re easily accessible in your back pocket. Knowing just these five scenarios will help you avoid having to shuffle through every single patient scenario you’ve ever had. Because if you’ve ever been put on the spot by this type of question, your mind probably went blank, and then you were scrambling to try to come up with a scenario thinking back through tons and tons and tons of cases! Yikes. (Don’t worry, we’ve all been there.) But if you just have your own five, then it makes it so much easier to recall when you’re getting ready to answer these questions. 


The specifics for how to actually answer the question

Now, if you have these scenarios on standby in your head, you want to make sure that you’re not just telling a very long, rambling story. When you get a question, you really want to make sure that you can concisely answer the question, while also telling the story appropriately and showcasing what you did in the situation. 

To do that, we’ll use something called the S.T.A.R. method. This is an acronym that serves as a framework for you to answer behavioral questions in particular. It’s pretty similar to S.B.A.R, if you are familiar with that. S.T.A.R. stands for:






The Situation

Start your answer by giving some context to the situation so that the interviewer or the person who has asked the question has a frame of reference for the story that you will be telling. 

As an example, let’s use the question, “Tell me about a time when you faced an ethical dilemma.” 

When you’re giving your answer to the question, you might say something like,

“There was a question about whether an adult patient with developmental delay was able to consent to a GYN procedure. The procedure was urgent, and there was no caregiver with her in the hospital overnight.” 

Boom. This covers the Situation part of my answer. I’m providing adequate context about the situation, and I’m really just giving objective details about what I’m going to further discuss…


The Task 

Now you want to give information about what your goal or role was in the situation. 

It’s a good idea to keep in mind why you’re being asked this question. It’s not so that you can just tell a general story, but so that you can specifically recount your role in the story, because remember, you’re interviewing for a job, and they want to see how you handled a particular situation. So to use the same example, I might say, 

“My role as the primary service was to determine what was in the best interest of this patient.” 

Great! Now the interview has a framework of context AND they now know that my role in this situation was to determine what was in the best interest of this patient. In this example, I’m showing the interviewer that I was in charge of determining how to proceed.


The Action

In this step, describe what you specifically did as well as the specific contributions you made to the situation. This is where to expand upon what you did, what your decision making process was, and the valuable contribution that you made to the situation. 

In our example, this is what I would say, 

“I called the patient’s group home and obtained the most recent capacity documentation from them, as well as got the contact information for the patient’s health care proxy.”

In this answer, I’m letting the interviewer know 1.) how I navigated this ethical dilemma, 2.) how I got more information to put towards my decision and 3.) how I decided to proceed. 

This is a good answer because, as an ethical dilemma, I’m showcasing that the actions that I took, were not just making the decision on my own, but making sure I gathered the appropriate information to make the most ethically sound decision. Make sense?


The Result

During this step, describe the outcome of the situation and how your contributions played a part. Basically, you want to give a conclusion to the situation and share how everything ended. Also keeping in mind, again, showcasing what you did. Make sure that you insert yourself into the situation using “I” statements, not “we” statements, so that the person who’s listening to your answer, not only gets the whole picture of the story, but also specifically what you were able to accomplish. 

So to use our example, here’s what I would say for the result section, 

“Ultimately, I was not able to find definitive documentation that my patient had capacity to make medical decisions, and I was unable to reach the healthcare proxy overnight. I discussed the situation with the patient who was adamant that she did not want to have the procedure done. I discussed this with the consulting service who wanted to perform the procedure, and said that we needed to find an alternative plan of care, since the condition was not life threatening at that moment, and would potentially inflict trauma on the patient.” 

Notice how many “I” statements I used; “I was not able to find documentation. I was unable to reach the health care proxy. I discussed this with the patient, I discussed this with the consulting service..” etc. This one word puts emphasis on you, so I really encourage that you take ownership and take the spotlight here in your own story!


Prepare five stories

Go ahead and take out a piece of paper or open a document on your computer and start brainstorming some patient scenarios that you remember very clearly. 

Start thinking of what categories your stories could fall into for interview questions. Were those challenging patients? Challenging families? Were they medically complex? Were they ethical dilemmas? Did you have a conflict with another consultant or you’re attending or another co worker? 


Final Thoughts… 

Your five stories may change over time, so as you’re working in day to day life, keep this “story gathering” exercise in the back of your head. 

When you encounter something that’s really interesting, or challenging, or something that’s very memorable, go ahead and take some notes after the fact. 

On that note, it’s a good idea to come home and “brain dump” everything. Sometimes we see SO much in one day, and we deal with so much that we compartmentalize really well to the point where we essentially shake out our brains from everything that happened. 

Notice if you are sort of “brushing off” valuable stories that come up in your daily experience and maybe jot some notes down using the S.T.A.R. method! You’ll thank yourself when you ultimately need these stories in the future, especially in the interview process!

Don’t forget to grab my FREE interview guide and I’ll walk you through the 7 most common questions you’ll encounter in an interview plus give you a list of some uncommon ones that might take you by surprise.