Sterile Processing Job Interview Questions & Answers

By Adam Okada


First of all, congratulations!  Getting ready for an interview with Sterile Processing Department leadership can be a daunting prospect, especially if it’s your first time interviewing for SPD jobs, but it’s no small feat to get your foot in that door.  I have personally interviewed hundreds of potential candidates over the years and the same questions have come up time after time.  Here you will find the most common sterile processing job interview questions likely to be posed to candidates during an interview, and how you should prepare to respond to each one.

NOTE:  Nerves and Anxiety

If you are nervous, don’t worry!  Hiring managers don’t necessarily grade you down for nervousness.  I personally have anxiety anytime I head into any meeting or in-service where I am required to speak, and especially during interviews.  Take deep breaths before heading into the room, close your eyes, and try to focus on calming your nerves.  During the interview, if your nerves do get the best of you and you become flustered, don’t worry about it.  Say something like, “Sorry, I’m a little nervous.  I’m just really excited about the opportunity to work here.”  Now you’ve explained your anxiety or nerves with a positive spin.  Always stay positive, remember to breathe, and try to be at your best.  You’ve earned your way into this interview, so be confident!

What hiring managers are really looking for

The questions below are accurate to what you will likely hear in your interview, but the real things most managers want to find out are:

  1. Is this applicant a good person and a good worker?
  2. Is this applicant going to be able to handle the stress of the job?
  3. Is this applicant going to fit in with my team?
  4. Is this applicant going to be here for the long term?

If you can keep these in mind as you prepare for the interview, and also during the interview, you will ace every question.

“Tell us a little about yourself…”

This is almost always the first question of the interview.  They have your resume already, so this question is more about what kind of person and worker you will be.  Just give them your name, and a brief history of your background.  If you are certified, make sure to mention that, and if you are taking classes for sterile processing certification, make sure you mention that.  You always want to highlight your experience on this question, and the preparation that has led you to this interview.

“Why did you apply for this position?” or “Why did you apply at our hospital/center?”

This is an open-ended question designed to weed out those technicians that are just looking for a paycheck.  You should always be honest in your answers, but try to express genuine interest in sterile processing as a profession and if possible, try to single something out about the facility you are applying into.  Maybe someone you know had a baby at the hospital, or maybe a family member had a positive experience.  You can also say that you’ve heard great things about the facility and want to be a part of continuing a great tradition.  If you really want to impress on this question, look up the hospital’s website and remember one detail about their mission or values.  It can be an award they’ve won or positive reviews they’ve earned.  But if you can show that you came prepared for the interview by researching the hospital and its mission, you definitely earn bonus points.

How do you handle stressful situations?

This is a specific question asked in most SPD interviews, even for Lead & Supervisor positions.  Sterile Processing is a fast-paced department where priorities are constantly shifting and emotions run high.  A busy day happens more often than not, so most SPD technicians will feel the stress of the job at some point.  How you handle stressful situations will be unique to you, so be honest with your answer.  Do you focus on the task at hand?  Take deep breaths to compose yourself?  Will you need to step out of the situation for 10 seconds to clear your head?  Do you actually enjoy the stress or fast-paced work environment?  There is no wrong answer, but this question will come up, and you should be prepared for how you individually handle stress.  Bonus points if you can spin this question to a positive, like, “I love fast-paced work environments because my day will go by quickly.”

Have you ever had a difficult co-worker?  Have you ever had a bad teammate?

These two are different versions of the same question, but they both boil down to teamwork issues.  Everyone has dealt with a difficult co-worker at some point.  Whether they are lazy, or a gossip, or are actively negative about everything and everyone, we’ve all interacted with them.  This question can be tricky, but you want to handle this question by talking about how well you interact with others.  Remember, this question should really be, “How will you fit in with our team?” or “Are you going to be a good teammate?”.  Your answer should spin this negative connotation question to a positive by talking about how you have the ability to help others and work well with others, even if they don’t have the same positive attitude as you.  The best possible answer to this question is to show how you believe you can help others with their negative attitude by being a positive influence in the department, which is exactly what hiring managers want to hear.

What are your strengths and weaknesses? (Biggest strength and weakness)

Be prepared for this closed-ended question before your interview.  You don’t want to sound like you’ve rehearsed it, but you definitely want to have an answer for it.  And again, the goal here is to be honest.  Remember the 4 things hiring managers want to know:

  1. Is this applicant a good person and a good worker?
  2. Is this applicant going to be able to handle the stress of the job?
  3. Is this applicant going to fit in with my team?
  4. Is this applicant going to be here for the long term?

Your strength should answer one of those 4 questions:

“I keep calm in stressful situations.”, “I like to be productive and feel useful.”, and “I like being a part of a team,” are all excellent answers.

And your weakness should be honest, and something you can work on:

“I can be shy at first, and this is something I’m working on,” or, “I sometimes take on too much responsibility and then stress myself out, so I’m working on that.”

Regardless of what your weakness might be, make sure you talk about how it’s something you are aware of and are working on, as this shows honesty and self-awareness.

Also, this question really is: “1. Is this applicant a good person and a good worker?” so don’t be TOO honest in the interview.  If you struggle with a serious issue privately, don’t disclose that during a job interview.

Where do you see yourself in 5/10 years?

The correct answer is “I see myself still working here, learning and growing into new positions at the facility.”  This question is really “4. Is this applicant going to be here for the long term?” and you want to make sure that they feel comfortable offering you a spot on their team.  Even if you are planning a move into another city or job position later on, you should answer this question as if you are planning to stay in the long term.  Because who knows?  You may really fall in love with the position or location and want to stay there!  So I don’t feel like it’s dishonest at all to give them the hope that you intend to stay long term.

Specific SPD Questions

It’s possible the hiring team may hit you with specific SPD related questions, so answer as best you can.  Be honest if they stump you and you don’t know the answer.  Tell them you would need to ask a Lead or Supervisor for the answer.  It’s better to admit you don’t know than to guess and guess wrong.  Remember that you must always follow Instructions for Use, and that most questions boil down to patient safety.  Accuracy in SPD is always better than Productivity, but staying productive throughout the day is important as well.  “I always want to do the right thing for the patient,” is always a good answer for sterile processing related questions.

Do you have any questions for us?

Come prepared with several questions for the hiring team.  Here are some examples:

  • How many people are on the Sterile Processing team?
  • What is the leadership structure of the department?
  • How many cases does the Operating Room perform daily?
  • Do you feel like there are opportunities for advancement within the department?
    • This in particular is a great question to ask.
  • How would you describe the culture of the SPD?
  • Does department management stress accuracy over productivity?
  • What do you feel are the biggest challenges this department faces?

This is a trick I have picked up on over the years, and I’m passing it along to you for free.  If you come prepared with questions, especially questions about culture and challenges of the department, it can turn the tables on the hiring manager.  Instead of you as the applicant trying to convince them of why you should be joining the team, it makes them try to convince you of why you should be on the team.  Whatever they say in response to culture or challenges, make sure you respond by stating how you can help them achieve their goals.

In Conclusion

Remember the real questions that hiring managers want to know:

  1. Is this applicant a good person and a good worker?
  2. Is this applicant going to be able to handle the stress of the job?
  3. Is this applicant going to fit in with my team?
  4. Is this applicant going to be here for the long term?

Focus your answers on being the perfect solution for their team:

  1. I’m a hard worker.
  2. I can handle the stress of the job.
  3. I’m a great teammate, get along with others, and will be quick to jump in and help my teammates.
  4. I intend to stay and grow with the facility and rise up the ladder.

A few last notes to remember:

  • Spin your answers to the positive.  Turn a negative situation you’ve dealt with into a positive.
  • State your passion and desire for Sterile Processing.  Be patient focused on all answers.
  • Show them that you really appreciate their time for the interview, and that you really want to work with them.