physician assistant interview

We’ve written at length at Inside PA Training about how important your physician assistant school interview is.  It usually represents the last hurdle in sealing your seat in a class.  If you do well, you’re going to be a PA.  If not, it’s back to the drawing board.  Today we share a few tips that will make your interview stand out, or as we like say, “pop.”  It means interviewing in a way that projects that you are more than the usual candidate, the “diamond in the rough,” and it’s frequently the way marginal candidates make themselves into successful ones.

How to Make Your PA Interview Stand Out

1) Laugh at yourself

Find a way to laugh at yourself; pretty much anything self-deprecating will do.  For example, smile and admit that you’re nervous.  You can add a funny little detail and exaggerate it a little: “I’m terrible at parallel parking.  I had to make like a 40-point turn to get that baby parked – I was sure I was going to be late!”   This lightens the mood for everyone, and helps you to relax.  It also turns something negative about you (that you’re nervous and are a parking spaz) into something positive (that you’re big enough to admit your faults and laugh at them).  Everyone loves someone who can laugh at their own flaws.  Obviously, you shouldn’t admit to any major flaws, or this will backfire.  But one little one will do just fine.

2) Empathize with your interviewers

This one is brief, easy, and powerful.  Any way you can empathize with the person interviewing shows that you have a bigger understanding of what’s going on than just what’s going on with you.  People who are out-of-their-minds with anxiety and insecurity never do this.  “Boy, I really wouldn’t want your job right now – with so many strong candidates it must be tough to make your final decisions.”  Or even just “I bet this is a really long day for you guys.”  Do this either at the start or end of your interview.

3) Impress them with the Thoroughness of your Research.

It can’t be stressed enough: before you interview, do your research.  This is particularly true in terms of learning about the program where you’re interviewing.  You will inevitably be asked “Why did you choose to apply to our program over others?”  If you don’t know much about their program, it will be (painfully) obvious.

Your research should go beyond the program’s website.  Do you know what is different about their program compared to last year?  (Every program changes at least a little from year to year).  How does their curriculum work?  The best place to find these little “pop-worthy” details is from current students and graduates of their program.  Most schools will connect you with one or two of each; all you need to do is call and ask.  If they aren’t able to, try googling “PA-C, XYZ PA Program Graduate,” which should turn up a few names and even where they practice.  Their email may be available if you poke around a little.  Shoot these graduates of the program an email and tell them you would be so grateful if they could give you a few insights on their PA education.  Tell them you are trying to decide if that program is for you, not that you’re prepping for an interview.  You can also do some powerful internet research using a trick we wrote about previously (click).  Sound excessive?  It’s not – you’re going to spend 2-3 years and $25-100K on your education!  Isn’t talking to someone who knows about it in advance a no-brainer?

4) Have a greater vision

In the PA school interview coaching, this is probably the most commonly neglected area.  Don’t let your interview project that idea that you’d be totally elated to go to any PA program, get licensed, and work anywhere.  Instead, blow them away with what you’re passionate about.  What mark do you want to leave on this field?  What matters to you in your work with patients?  Impressive candidates whose interviews stand out, think big.  To see this in action, be sure to watch our video interview of Sundance.  She makes it clear that she is planning to do big things – maybe even change the face of health care singlehandedly.  You don’t need to tell them that you’re going to stop world hunger and cure cancer, but surely you’d like to do more than help a few sick people, no?  If you make it clear that yours is no ordinary ambition, your interview will be remembered long after it’s over.

5) Bring a Few Good Questions for them.

Groucho Marx is famous for saying “I would never want to belong to any club that would have someone like me as a member.”  The idea here is that we are impressed by people who don’t need us – they have other options and don’t appear desperate.  Who wants to admit someone who is desperate into their school?  To make it clear that you’re interviewing them just as much as they’re interviewing you.  A good way to do this is to respectfully ask a question that invites them to sell their program to you.  Some examples: “I have applied to several programs and although I have a strong interest in yours, I haven’t yet decided.  What would you say is the best one or two things about your program?”  You can also ask about what kind of support is available to graduates.  Do they have job placement assistance?  The message you project with questions like these is: I might go somewhere else.  Having them sell their program to you is also a great way to reverse the oh-my-god-I-would-do-absolutely-anything-to-go-there mentality that most candidates project when they interview. 


If you are invited to interview, then you know that they are impressed enough with what they know about you on paper to want to know more.  If you practice the tips above you will demonstrate that you are real, organized, a big thinker, *not* desperate.  Also, if you’re interested in PA school interview coaching, click here to let us know.