Physician assistant school interviews are daunting, plain and simple. If you’re scheduled to interview at a PA school, you are nearing the end of a long and often tedious process. But one last push remains. Preparation cannot guarantee success, but it is the single biggest factor in any interview. So how do you prepare for the big day? Here are ten steps to help you conquer it:
1. LEARN ALL YOU CAN ABOUT THEM. If your application was about you, then the interview is more about how you fit with them. Get thoroughly familiar with the school’s informational materials. Website, pamphlets, articles, acquaintances who have studied there – all offer you vital information. What is the program’s emphasis? For what specialties, if any, do they prepare students who graduate? How does their curriculum work? When you get to your interview, you should already be a student of theirs, in the sense that you have already learned a lot about them.
2. KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT. Call the school where you plan to interview (you don’t have to give your name) and ask what they can tell you about the interview process. If it helps, call under the guise of “checking in to make sure I know what I need to bring.” Appropriate questions include:
a. Is there anything that you can tell me about what to expect during my interview?
b. Will I be interviewed by an individual or a panel/group?
c. Will there be a tour of the school?
d. Is there anything I need to bring?
e. Confirm your interview day and time
Arrange to complete any tours before you interview, if possible, and use them to learn about the program.
3. PREPARE FOR THE MOST ASKED QUESTIONS. You should have an answer in mind for each of the most common questions, and each should be no more than 60 seconds. Be ready for:
a. Tell us about yourself.
b. Why do you want to become a physician assistant?
c. What is your understanding of what a physician assistant does?
d. What interactions with physician assistants have you had?
4. EAT. Don’t walk into an interview on an empty stomach. Your brain needs fuel, and a growling stomach is distracting. A light meal is best.
5. DRESS PROFESSIONALLY. Whether you are male or female, wear a suit. “But do I really need a suit?” Yes, you do. “But I have this great outfit that…” Just stop there and get a suit.
6. FOR INTERVIEWS, ON TIME IS LATE. Plan to arrive for your interview at least 30 minutes before it begins. If you want to park and walk around until 10 minutes before, that’s fine, but not getting there early is the easiest way to get there late. Along these lines, know where to park and bring cash to pay for it.
7. BUT I’M TERRIBLE AT INTERVIEWS! Do what works for you. If videotaping yourself being interviewed by your friend helps you to prepare, do it. But keep the cardinal rules in mind:
a. Aim for answers no longer than 60 seconds.
b. Be truthful and always present yourself in a positive light
c. If you aren’t sure if you should talk, or stop talking, STOP.
d. Remember: an interview is a formalized game. Everyone in the room is human; everyone there takes their pants down to go to the bathroom. Picture that, if that helps you relax.
e. If you get lost during your answer, ask, “Am I answering your question?” They may help you get back on track.
f. Bring three of your own questions to ask them. You’re interviewing them too, right?
8. DEMONSTRATE THAT YOU CARE. Every school is different, but commonality is their desire to train people who care for and help others. At least for your interview, forget about your future salary, the excitement, the fun. Focus on your desire to do work that is meaningful to you. If meaningful work isn’t important to you, you are in the wrong field already.
9. GET NAMES. Get a business card or write down the names of your interviewers so you can send them a thank you card after your interview. This is courtesy, and helps them to remember you a little bit longer.
10. FINALLY, BE AN ENTHUSIAST. No matter what, don’t tell your interviewer(s) that you really want to be a doctor, or hope to become one someday. PAs don’t think of their profession as a stepping stone to something else, and the vast majority would rather be PAs than physicians (just ask a few). Be enthusiastic in your desire to be a PA, because that’s what every profession needs-people who love their work.