Interviewing Strategies

Before the Interview

AASPA - Interviewing Strategies

The night before your PA program interview is time to clear your mind of other stressors and psych yourself up in your own way for your next day’s performance. Remind yourself, that the person you will be playing will in fact be easy, because you are simply playing yourself. But as with any performance practice, preparation and self-reflection make it stronger.

By this point you should be comfortable in your answers to anticipated questions as described in How to Prepare for your Interview. Now you need to focus on how you present your best asset – yourself.

Your evaluation begins the moment you enter the interviewing room. This in no way is a hostile environment. Remember that if you have gotten this far, you have advocates on the admissions committee and your role today is to confirm their understanding of your academic excellence, clinical maturity, why you want to be a PA, your understanding of the various roles PAs play in the medical team and your level of ability to communicate under stress.

Manner of Dress

Men – Wear your best conservative business suit, with a crisply pressed white shirt and appropriate tasteful tie. Be sure your shoes are shined and you are clean-shaven, or if you have a beard, that it is properly groomed. Do not put on more than a dab of cologne if you use it. This is a day you do not want to forget to use antiperspirant.

Women – Wear your best conservative business suit, either a skirt or pantsuit in a low-key color (black, navy, brown, hunter green, for example), with a crisply pressed blouse if the suit's style calls for it. Conservative, matching pumps with a medium-sized heel are good; open-toed shoes should be avoided.

Keep jewelry to a minimum, and what jewelry you do wear should be understated, such as non-dangling, non-flashy earrings, one or two rings maximum, etc. Makeup should also be understated and not excessive, as should perfume and/or cologne. Finally, make sure your nails are manicured and presentable – clear nail polish or a subdued nail color, for example, is perfectly fine, on short or medium-length nails one would expect to find on the hands of a health care professional. And, as with the men, don't forget to use antiperspirant.

First Impressions – Greeting and Meeting People

Much of communication is non-verbal; therefore, be aware of your body language at all times. Have it represent yourself the way you want to be seen – kind, comfortable, prepared, excited and confident.

  • Warm comfortable smile
  • Eye contact
  • Remember their name
  • Firm, not hard, handshake
  • Stand and sit in good posture

Strategies during the Interview

Keep a warm comfortable smile, sitting posture and eye contact. If there are multiple interviewers, keep eye contact with the individual who is asking you a question, but divide your eye contact equally to all interviewers while delivering your answer.

Continue to keep up your first impression body language at all times representing yourself the way you want to be seen – kind, comfortable, prepared, excited and confident.

If you are given a complicated question that you did not anticipate, attempt to determine if it is similar to any combination of variants of questions you prepared for and while formulating and delivering your answer remember:

  • Who you are
  • What you are good at
  • What you want to do
  • What you love to do
  • Do not lie

Keep your calm at all times. Do not show anger or frustration, but humor at appropriate spontaneous times is fine. Do not use self-deprecating humor.

Understand that the interviewer is human also and understands the position you are in. Remember that they want to like you, not find fault in you. The expression on some interviewers’ faces may not be a true testament to what they may be thinking of you or your answer. So keep smiling, stay on message and try your best.

Tough interviewers understand that their interview is not a walk in the park, and if you keep your cool, and show your preparedness, excitement, compassion, and humble confidence throughout their tough interview, they will be impressed after you leave.

Why the Interview is Important

The interview is your final chance to communicate to the admissions committee five crucial elements:

  • Your understanding of the roles and responsibilities of PAs
  • Why you desire to become a PA
  • How your previous clinical and non-clinical experience has prepared you for a career as a medical clinician
  • Your awareness of the intense level of training necessary to achieve such a responsibility
  • Why you should be accepted.

Again, the admissions committee is not your adversary. On the contrary, if you have been granted an interview, you already have proven advocates on the admissions committee.

The interview is your time to confirm their understanding of your academic excellence, clinical maturity, why you want to be a PA, your understanding of the various roles PA’s play in the medical & surgical team, and your level of ability to communicate under stress. There is no doubt that the interviews will be stressful. With proper preparation, performance-impairing stress can be significantly reduced.

Why Preparation is Important

Thorough interview preparation will be evident to your interviewers and will help you greatly towards your goal of performing well and increasing your chances of program acceptance.

No matter how much preparation; however, there is always the chance of a question being asked of you that you have not prepared for. Such a question can be difficult or relatively simple, but if you did not prepare for it, an unanticipated question has the potential to throw you off course.

For example, an interviewee was asked the simple question of what was the most recent favorite movie he saw. He prepared thoroughly for his interview as far as the expected type of questions, but had not anticipated this question. He anticipated the question “What was the last movie you saw?” but not, “What was the most recent favorite movie you saw?” This interviewee was stumped. The answer-at-the-ready for what movie he last saw was in the chamber ready to be fired off, but he hadn’t memorized the simple variant to the question in his preparation and thus was only prepared to answer questions he anticipated.

Variants to interview questions you prepare for will occur at your interview. To counteract becoming stumped at an unexpected interview question, take a moment to reflect how the question being posed to you is similar to any question that you have prepared for, and think about the following to help you answer the question:

  • Who are you?
  • What are you good at?
  • What do you want to do?
  • What do you love to do?
  • Do not lie.

PA Questions You May Be Asked

Before your interview, prepare by attempting to anticipate types of questions you may be asked, rehearsing your answers and becoming comfortable with synthesizing answers to variants of questions you anticipate.

Below you will find a general list of common PA interview questions. Also create a list of questions that are specific to you, such as “Why did you transfer colleges? Why did your grades drop during a certain semester?”

  • Why do you want to be a PA?
  • How would you define a PA?
  • Why do you wish to become a PA rather than a NP, nurse, or physician?
  • How does a PA fit into the healthcare model?
  • How do you see the healthcare system changing in the next ten years, and how will it affect PAs?
  • What is managed care and how has it affected physicians and PAs?
  • What is the most important factor between a PA and his physician supervisor and why?
  • Why should we accept you?
  • If you had to be a member of the healthcare team other than a PA, what would you choose?
  • Who is the most important person on the healthcare team?
  • What is the difference between a NP and a PA?
  • Describe the day of a hypothetical surgical PA and that of a medical PA?
  • What part of becoming a PA and practicing medicine as a PA do you look forward to most, and what parts do you think will give you the most difficulty and why?
  • How has your background prepared you for the intense physical and mental training to become a PA?
  • What contributions would you make to our program?
  • Have you applied to other schools? If so, how did you come to choose those other programs?
  • What do you think are the three most important aspects in evaluating a PA program?
  • Where do you see yourself in the next five years/ten years?
  • What is a dependent practitioner, and how do you feel about practicing as one?
  • What are the most significant issues PAs currently face and will have to face in the future?
  • What was the name of the interviewers you met already today?

Sources of PA Information

For very specific PA-related questions, there is no substitute for being familiar with current PA profession developments and news and shadowing time with a PA. As an AASPA Prospective, you will receive AASPA’s newsletter "Sutureline" and AASPA’s journal, "Surgical Physician Assistant" and will have access to past issues of "Sutureline."

Other sources of PA profession developments and news are “The Journal of the American Academy of Physician Assistants” , current PA students and PAs in practice.