The number of nursing homes is growing, and the population is getting older. We live longer, true, but we are obese and sick, and many people can’t take care of themselves once they reach 70 years of age. This sad demographic trend results in a higher demand for nursing assistants, and I can’t see the things changing in the next twenty years or so.

Luckily it takes only a few months to get a certification of a CNA, and you can start doing this job within a month, finding a meaningful purpose in your work. But before it can happen, you need to succeed in a job interview, and make a good impression on the hiring managers. What questions will they ask you? How should you answer them? And how to win them over? We will try to answer on the following lines.


Show enthusiasm and the right attitude

Since it is so easy to get a certification nowadays (in some countries the course can be completed within a month, and even done distantly), being certified does not guarantee anything in an interview.

It is your enthusiasm for the job, your attitude to various work-related situations (which you will have a chance to demonstrate with your answers to behavioral questions), your personality, and your willingness to accept the conditions (think night sifts, working on weekends, 24 hours on, 24 off, etc) that decide whether they hire you, or send you home. Do you really want this job? Or do you apply just because you could not find anything better? Interviewers will always have the question on their mind. Let’s have a look at the questions you will face.


Why have you decided to become a CNA?

Hand on heart, CNA does not belong to the best paying professions in the world. Nor it is the most convenient position one can have.

If someone is to have this job for more than a few years, and still enjoy doing it, there must be something that drives them forward. Some motivation, love, commitment, passion–hard to say. It probably varies from one person to another, but you should do your best to convince the interviewers that there is something that drives to have this career.

I have had an office job for a long time, and I didn’t feel happy anymore. I lost my motivation. I needed a career change, and I wanted to work with people, for people, to see a purpose in my daily activity. Job of a CNA was a great choice for me since it didn’t take long to get the certification, and I knew I would work with people in this role.

I originally dreamed of becoming a nurse, but my situation did not allow me to invest time and money into nursing school. So I decided to become a nursing assistant, since the role is similar, and getting the certification does not require a lot of money.

It’s a long story. My grandmother was ill and she spent last two years in a private nursing home. I visited her often, we had a close relationship. When I watched local staff working with the people, the love and care they provided, I knew I had found my true calling. I hope to follow their example and become a great nursing assistant.


Did you enjoy your CNA classes? (What did you like the most? What surprised you?)

Many things have changed in CNA training recently. One can complete their certification online, in less than two weeks, with as little as two days of practice in a nearby nursing home, or hospital. I do not want to talk about the adequacy of such a training–that is for other people to decide…

We are here to show you how to ace an interview, and will not waste time with things we can not control.

Focus on the practical part. You can list the key skills and lessons, but most importantly, tell them that you enjoyed your practice, with all good and bad things that belong to the work of a CNA, and that you feel ready for the job. Talk with enthusiasm about the training, and convince them that you will enjoy your daily job.

I have done my classes online. At first I was little bit worried, if the quality would be good, and if it would prepare me for the job. But I was surprised with the technology, and even though I was sitting at the computer, we had group discussion with other students, solved group case studies, and I really felt like sitting at school. I liked the practice in local nursing home the most from all things we have done in the course. I took care of old people, all the stuff, such as cleaning, helping them to move from one place to another, assisting the nurses with treatment, talking with the patients who suffered from dementia, and so on. It was a good test for me to see what the job is about, and to confirm my decision to become a CNA.

I enjoyed my classes. Except of two or maybe three people, everyone paid attention to the lecturers, and we were a great group. If I had to pick just one thing from the education program, I would go for practice in the hospital.

Why do you want to work as a CNA here and not somewhere else?

You have probably applied for a job in several care facilities. Everybody does the same thing. Job search is a game of numbers, and we should definitely send more job applications to increase the chances of landing a job.But that’s not what the employer wants to hear from you.

They try to understand why you chose their facility. They want to hear that they are special, at least in your eyes.

I know about seven various nursing homes in this city, and I have visited each one to check the conditions. Your place is clearly the best one. You offer a wide range of activities to the seniors and the patients per nurse ratio is low here. I also like your garden, and the management of the facility. All in all, I would be pretty happy and proud to work here.

This place is close to my apartment, so I would have no problems traveling to work. On the top of that, I know some people who were hospitalized here and I heard only good things about local nurses and nursing assistants from the relatives of your clients.


Why haven’t you enrolled for Registered Nurse?

Nurses earn twice as much as CNAs, and they can find the same meaningful purpose in their jobs. Technically, if the situation allows (time and money wise), only a few people would opt for CNA instead of a nurse.

On the other hand, it is much easier to start the career as nursing assistant, much cheaper as well, and one can always pursue nursing career later on, if they feel like doing it at some point in their life. So, why do the interviewers ask the question? They are testing your trustworthiness and honesty, a hard found quality on the job market.

Speak openly about your situation, decisions, and reasons why it was impossible for you to enroll for a nursing school. Alternatively you can say that you plan to test the waters for a couple of years, and plan to enroll for RN later, if you still enjoy the job.

I know that nursing job is better than the one of a CNA, in all means. But my financial situation did not allow me to study at the college and to invest money into nursing education. I have a family and I have to provide. I needed a job I could get in a short time, and I went for CNA. One day I may enroll for registered nurse, but only future will tell if it happens, because it depends on many things.

To speak honestly, I am not bright enough to graduate from the college. I am aware of my limitations and I think it is better to do a job one is good at and love, than to spend life trying to graduate from the college, what might as well never happen, at least not in my case.


Where do you see yourself in five years from now?

Try to understand the perspective of an employer. Every employee represents an assess, as well as a regular monthly expense (your salary). Recruitment, training, salary, and other costs associated with hiring your are not negligible for any nursing home. Therefore they hope to hire people who will stay them for some time.

Job seeker have a different perspective. Many of them try to improve their qualification over time and get some jobs in healthcare that pay better, for example a nursing job. Even though you may have the same plan, try to connect your future with the employer in an interview. If you talk about becoming a nurse one day, say that you’d love to stay at the same place with your new qualification.

Alternatively you can say that you have no professional goals and focus on personal development, or you can mention goals in your private life. Every responsible person has some goals, and you should look like someone responsible in your interview…

I do not have big career plans in five, or in ten years time. I try to live in a present moment, do my job and enjoy life. However, I do not like to stagnate and hope to become better in all my roles–a better mother, a better wife, a better nursing assistant.

My goal is to become a nurse in five, or in seven years time. I plan to enroll for ADN later, following an online education program. In an ideal case, I would love to stay at the same place of work and be promoted to a nurse position.


What do you consider your strengths and weaknesses as a CNA?

Everyone has some weaknesses. It’s your attitude that matters to the interviewers: whether you can admit having a weakness, and whether you try to improve on it.Remember that those who believe to have no weaknesses can hardly move forward in their life, since they do not see any areas for improvement. That’s not the impression you want to make on your interviewers…

Pick relevant strengths and weaknesses that aren’t essential for nursing assistant job, and elaborate on that with your efforts to improve, and become better in your job.

People around me consider me an emphatic woman, and a good listener. That’s definitely something that convinces me that I can do a good job as a nursing assistant. On the other hand, I sometimes take things personally, and I struggle to detach myself from the job. Disappointment can hurt me, and I must work on learning to get over it. It’s a long journey but I am trying.

I consider excellent communication skills my biggest strength. I believe to be a good team member as well, bringing good energy to the office. But I struggle with concentration sometimes, and it happens that I forget to do something in work. I use reminders on my phone, and write my tasks on a piece of paper, trying to overcome my weakness.

This is a difficult and repetitive job. What would motivate you to do it well every day?

Certified nursing assistants do not hang around the nursing home–they work hard, and there is always something to do on the shift. What is more, one carries out practically the same tasks day after day.

What many people do not realize is that other jobs do not differ much. Doesn’t matter if you work in a factory, sell in the shop, manage an office, or take care of old people–jobs are simply repetitive. You can use this in your answer, to convince the recruiter that repetitiveness would not discourage, or demotivate you in job.

Good feeling from work, and a meaningful purpose you see in the career of a CNA, can also drive you forward, and help you to enjoy this job. And you can mention money, of course… We have our expenses, and we need to pay the bills. That alone is motivating enough to do a good job, to ensure we would not lose our occupation.

The third alternative is to say that the job is not repetitive, in one sees the little nuances and new challenges it presents from day to day. Let’s have a look at sample answers.

I know that the job is tough, and that it can be boring. But that’s the case with every other job, isn’t it? As a CNA I can at least see the impact of my work, in the happy faces of our patients. I do not mind the repetitiveness at all.

I enjoy taking care of other people, and I hope that my feelings for them, and my strong determination to do a good job, will help me to get over difficult periods. And if not, I will still persist, because I need a job to live.

From my point of view, this job is not repetitive. Of course we carry out similar tasks every day. But the patients change, there are new problems and challenges we face. You won’t find two identical days in work. When one has a right attitude, no job is boring.


How do you feel about working with people in bad physical condition?

Changing diapers, cleaning patients, assisting them in the shower. These are common duties of a nursing assistant. You need to convince the interviewers that you count with this aspect of the job, and are ready to take care of such duties.

But your answer shouldn’t be a brief one, saying “I feel okay about doing it.” You should elaborate on it, saying that you did it before, and felt okay about it, or saying that you are aware of your duties and do not feel any aversion to doing them regularly. Showing some empathy in your answer is a clear sign for the employer that they can find an excellent care giver in you….

I have done it in my practice. I have a lot of respect for old people and I understand how they feel when they need someone to help them at in a bathroom. It is not easy for them, and I always tried to stay polite, and to do it with love and respect. After all, we never know what awaits us later in life. Everyone can end up in the same situation on day.

I know my duties and I am ready to take care of them. I have a child, so I have experience with changing diapers and cleaning. I think it is just about creating a habit. Once you know what you do and why you do it, it becomes easier. If I was not ready to work with people who can not walk, I would never get a CNA certification.

elderly couple is enjoying a sunny autumn day outside

Other questions you may face in your certified nursing assistant job interview

  • How do you feel about seeing someone dying in front of your eyes? (Death is an integral part of life. It can’t be avoided. Though you should always stay compassionate, you should not let the experience of seeing someone dying to affect you negatively in job.)
  • How do you feel about working late in the night? Do you have any experience with night shifts? (Try to ensure them that you do not struggle with working in the night, that you are accustomed to it, and understand that night shifts belong to the job.)
  • Do you have any experience with Alzheimer disease? How does it feel to work with people suffering from the disease? (Show some compassion for the people. Try to ensure the interviewers that you understand the medical condition, and know how to work with patients who suffer from it.)
  • Tell me about a time you had an argument with a patient. (Do not blame the patient for the argument. Explain clearly what happened, how you addressed the conflict, and why you addressed it in that way.)
  • What are your expectations on the administrators of this place? (Similarly to the previous questions, you should show that you focus mostly on your own job, and duties. But you can say that you expect an open communication, feedback on your work, and fair approach to all employees.)
  • How would you describe a great colleague? (Team player, responsible, friendly, qualified to do their job. But you can also say that you focus mostly on yourself–on being the best possible worker and colleague, since that is what you can control. We can not change our colleagues, but we can certainly change ourselves…)
  • Imagine you were not satisfied with the work of other CNA, or with a work of a nurse in this place. What would you do? (Would you report it? What action would you take?)
  • What are your salary expectations?
  • Do you have any questions?


Final thoughts, next steps

Job interview for a CNA position does not belong to the most difficult interviews. On the top of that, you won’t compete with many other job seekers, unless you apply for a position in a private institution with great reputation (and one that pays better than average).

Prepare for the questions, do a good research about your future place of work, and try your best to connect with the interviewers. I hope you will manage to do, and wish you good luck!


May also interest you:

  • How to overcome interview nerves – 4 strategies that will help you get rid of stress and show your very best on the big day.
  • Salary negotiation tips – Make sure that you won’t end up underpaid in this difficult job. Learn how to get as much as you deserve–if not more.
Matthew Chulaw
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