Your PAth to Success

THE INTERVIEW

BEFORE the INTERVIEW
Becoming the Perfect Applicant
Sample Interview Questions and Answers
BEFORE the INTERVIEW

Okay, now that you are pumped up thinking about how much you’re going to learn in this chapter, it’s now time to go to work! I’m going to break this section down into five easy-to-manage segments:

  1. General Preparation
  2. Types of Interviews
  3. Do’s and Don’ts for the PA School Interview
  4. Dealing with Anxiety
  5. Silencing the “Inner Critic”
  6. Final Preparation

Okay, let’s get started!

GENERAL PREPARATION

You’ve done all the work necessary to get your CASPA application completed and submitted. You wait in anticipation to hear back from the PA programs you applied to, and then one day you open your email and see that your top choice PA program has sent you a response. You hold your breath, your heart starts pounding, and you quickly click to open the email. You read, “Congratulations, we would like to extend you an offer to come interview at our PA program.” After you jump up and down, call your friends, and soak up the moment, it’s now time to prepare for the final, and most difficult, piece of the PA school application process. Your job has just begun.

You should be very proud of yourself for a job well done. Go out and celebrate, then be ready to come back and do the work of preparing for your PA school interview.

You look great on paper, but now it’s time to prepare to show the admissions committee that you look the part in person too. That means you must begin preparing for your interview long before you stand tall before the admissions committee.

The sooner you complete the work, the sooner you can start reviewing the example questions and answers and preparing your own responses. Don’t procrastinate, get it done ASAP!

Sleep Hygiene

If you are used to keeping erratic hours, going out with your friends to late in the morning, or just not getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night, now is the time to get on a regular sleep schedule so you can be fresh every day, and have the energy to do the upcoming work necessary to give the performance of your life-time on the day of your interview.

Take Care of Yourself

If you don’t already exercise, start slowly with an exercise routine that will energize you daily. What is the best exercise? The one you’ll do! Cut back on your caffeine use. At this point, you should be on a natural “high” anyway. Start eating a healthy diet, low in sugar and high in protein. Get your body running like a well-oiled machine and by the time your interview comes, you’ll be happy, healthy, and confident.

The night before the interview, be sure to:

  • Arrive to your hotel early (if you’re traveling.)
  • Be sure to eat well the night before your interview. Have a light dinner, and don’t eat anything that may linger on your breath.
  • Take out your suit (yes, wear a suit!), shirt/blouse, belt, socks, and shoes. Try everything on BEFORE the interview. Make sure everything looks impeccable; shoes shined, no stains on your clothes, and place everything in a space where you don’t have to go searching for any items in the morning.
  • Take fifteen to twenty minutes sitting quietly in your room. Close your eyes and visualize your entire interview. See yourself impeccably dressed, confident, answering all the interview questions with ease.
  • Bring a small mirror with you to the interview. You may want to take a close look at your face, teeth, hair, etc. before your interview.

The Day of the Interview

  • Set your alarm clock to go off early and ask the hotel front desk to provide you with a wake-up call as a back-up.
  • Arrive at least fifteen minutes early; no sooner, no later.
  • DO NOT bring a cell phone into your interview.
  • Be sure to greet everyone at the program as if they are evaluating you and have a decision on your outcome. Smile!

TYPES of INTERVIEWS

Many of you will have no idea what to expect when showing up for your PA school interview. I’m not just talking about the questions and answers; I’m talking about the various types of interview formats that you may encounter during this critical phase of the application process. Each program utilizes a format to assess you as an applicant, depending on what values and qualities they look for in the applicant. You must prepare for each of these formats to give a peak performance. Let’s look at the most common formats that you may encounter.

The Solo Interview

The one- on- one interview is the traditional interview format. Your solo interview is typically conducted by a high-level program faculty member. This member is going to have a critical role in the decision-making process, so it goes without saying how crucial this stage is. This solo interviewer will have a key set of qualities and traits that she is looking for, and this is your chance to show her how perfectly you match what she is looking for. Once you finish reading this book, you will feel very comfortable in this traditional interview format. Before you know it, you’ll being trying to see where your seat is in the classroom. The best way to do this is to follow the steps I’ve laid out for you in this book with perfectly tailored answers (more on this later.)

The Panel Interview

Imagine walking through the door and there are three smiling faces staring back at you (or maybe not smiling?) This interview format is certainly a bit more anxiety provoking, but not to worry. There are several reasons why a program uses the panel interview format, but the main reason is to eliminate any bias that one interviewer may have towards an applicant. It also ramps up the pressure a little bit on the applicant, allowing the interviewers to see how well you handle pressure and deal with authority.

To relieve some of the pressure and be prepared for this interview format, try to find out beforehand if a panel interview is on the agenda, how many people will be on the panel, and get their names if possible. If the program provides the names of the interviewers, be sure to do some research and find out as much information about each member. Perhaps one of them won a specific award or was past president of the American Academy of Physician Assistants (AAPA). Maybe you went to the same college as one of the members, or you both played the same sport. Also, be prepared for the panel to change members on you. Perhaps the three people you’ve researched conducted an interview with the first applicant of the day, but the panel switches out with three other members for your panel interview. Don’t panic! If you’ve read my book and prepared your own answers to the most common questions, you’ll be fine.

One suggestion I have—no, one strong recommendation—is to make eye contact with each member on the panel. For instance, if the interviewer on the left asks you a question, begin answering the question by making eye contact with her for five seconds, then adjusting your gaze to the middle interviewer for five seconds, and next to the interviewer on the right for five seconds. Repeat this process until you’ve fully answered the question. It is very important to engage everyone at the table, or you risk alienating one of the committee members who may develop a subconscious resentment toward you. (More on this in in the next chapter.)

One applicant told me that she was in a panel interview, and one of the interviewers got up in the middle of the session, took a seat behind her, and started asking her questions from a position behind her back. Perhaps this is a technique to see how you handle stress. If this happens to you, remember that eye contact is the key to gaining credibility and trust. So, turn your chair sideways, and look to your left or to your right so you can establish eye contact with everyone.

The Multiple Applicant Interview

This type of interview can be very stressful, as many applicants have never been involved in this type of interview. You’re sitting in a room with other applicants who want your seat in the program. Don’t worry, I’m going to give you some sure-fire techniques to help ensure your voice is heard and you stand out from the crowd in a favorable way. The multiple applicant interview is a great opportunity to showcase your ability to interact well with others and allows the committee to see if you’d be a good “fit” for their program. This is a great thing for you if you are well prepared utilizing the techniques I’ll show you in this book. Think about it, you’ll be in a room full of applicants that aren’t using Qualities and Multipliers as part of their responses, and you will certainly stand out from the rest of the applicants.

PA programs love teamwork; it’s a trait that is necessary if a class is going to gel and help each other through an intense program. This type of interview is a great way for the members to see if you play well with others. Are you going to be a team player willing to help others, or a loner who can’t be bothered by students who may be having difficulties? This group interview is not a time to be passive or shy. You want to be assertive, but not aggressive. The interview should create a win-win situation. This is a time to be balanced in your approach. You don’t want to be the person who says nothing and appears to be intimated by the other applicants. On the other hand, you don’t want to be the aggressive, chatty, know-it-all who thinks he will score high by dominating the other applicants and not allowing them the time to speak. If you want to ace the multiple applicant interview, show your leadership skills by knowing when to speak and when to listen. If someone gives an answer to a question, perhaps you can interject by saying, “I think Sally makes a good point, and I might add…” Do not use the word, “but,” because it really means you don’t agree with Sally.

The Mini Multiple Interview (MMI)

A multiple mini interview consists of a series of short, structured interview stations used to assess non-cognitive qualities, including cultural sensitivity, maturity, teamwork, empathy, reliability, and communication skills.

Prior to the start of each mini-interview rotation, candidates receive a question/scenario and have a designated period to prepare an answer.

Upon entering the interview room, the candidate has a short exchange with an interviewer/assessor. In some situations, the interviewer observes while the action takes place between the applicant and an actor.

At the end of each mini interview, the interviewer evaluates the candidate’s performance while the applicant moves to the next station. This pattern is repeated through several rotations. The questions asked are usually situational questions that touch on the following:

  • Ethical decision-making
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication skills
  • Current health care and societal issues

Although participants must relate to the scenario posed at each station, it is important to note that the MMI is not intended to test specific knowledge in the field. Instead the interviewers evaluate each candidate’s thought process and ability to think on his feet. As such, there are no right or wrong answers to the question posed in an MMI, but each applicant should look at the question from a variety of perspectives.

The Student Interview

The student interview usually consists of two or three first or second year students, asking you questions in a more relaxed format. But don’t be fooled by the conversational nature of this interview. The students will have a say on whether they like you or not, particularly evaluating you as someone they would like to have as a classmate. Treat the students with the utmost respect. Look at this interview as a great opportunity to let them sell you on why you should attend their program.

You’re not likely to be asked traditional interview questions in the student interview, but if you’ve followed the guidance in this book, you’ll be prepared to discuss Qualities and Multipliers that you’ve researched before the interview. Be sure to visit the student society website, or blog, to find out what special events or projects that the students are involved with. Students are very proud of their program and the events they participate in. Perhaps a group of students went on a mission trip to South America to provide vaccinations to children in isolated regions of a country. It would be nice to know this information ahead of time. Take the time to do your homework and let the students know that you have the same values and Qualities as they have.

next chapter, the visual component of an interview will weigh significantly on your score.

FINAL PREPARATION

Remember—your job at the interview is to help make the interviewers job easy by showing her that you have the qualities and values she is looking for in a perfect applicant. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Your interviewer is not out to trip you up. She’s a regular person, with a family, worries, and insecurities just like you. In fact, she may be just as nervous as you are.

Be prepared for multiple interviews. I recommend that you call the program beforehand to see if they will tell you how many interviews you will have, and perhaps even who will be your interviewers. Find out if they use traditional questions, behavioral questions, or a mini multiple interview (MMI) format.

From the time you enter the building, until the time you exit the building, you are being evaluated. Maintain a professional appearance and persona throughout the entire process. Greet everyone with a smile and a handshake, from the Dean of the program, to the janitor vacuuming the floors. Remember that although you may only be there for one day, these people spend forty hours a week together, just like in any other job. They’re like a small family, and they’ve seen a lot of candidates come and go. If you say something negative or controversial in front of the receptionist, don’t be surprised if she passes that information on to the committee members. You’ve done too much work to be here, it would be a tragedy to be rejected because you insulted one of the staff.

Finally, be sure to treat the student interviewers with the utmost respect. Don’t let your guard down because you think students don’t have much of a say with respect to scoring your interview. Take advantage of the opportunity to let them tell you what they like most about the program. What qualities the program values. Your goal should be to convince the students that you’ve worked hard to be here and that you would make a great classmate. You must be likeable.

Becoming the Perfect Applicant

The Physician Assistant (PA) school interview process, like the PA profession itself, has undergone a lot of changes in recent years. If you are applying to PA school, or if you have an interview already, you may be rolling your eyes and saying, “Tell me about it! I’ve interviewed at 3 PA programs last year and I did not get accepted to any of these schools.” Even if you’re a first-year applicant, and you have an upcoming interview, you may be anxious about doing well at your interview and getting accepted.

You’re right, it’s tough out there, and there are many unique features to today’s PA school application and interview process. Don’t worry, if you learn how to provide answers that are tailored to the program you are applying to, you will always be ahead of the competition.

DO YOU WANT TO BE A “VANILLA” APPLICANT, OR THE “PERFECT APPLICANT?”

Every PA program admissions committee (ADCOM) already knows the qualities they are looking for in the Perfect Applicant, before applicants come for an interview. Your goal at the interview is to simply convey to the ADCOM that you are a perfect fit for their program, based on what they are looking for.

In the second edition of my book, How to “Ace” the Physician Assistant School Interview, I teach you “The Tailoring Method,” where I show you how to answer interview questions by infusing these “Qualities” into every interview question they ask. This technique will help you stand out as the Perfect Applicant. You will be basically telling the interviewer, “I have all of the qualities your looking for in the Perfect Applicant; I’m a great “fit for this program.”

THE PERFECT APPLICANT

This section is going to explain the Tailoring Method and explain the ideas of the Perfect Applicant. I’ll also introduce you to the most important pieces to the interview question puzzle, the “Qualities and Multipliers.”

What is a Perfect Applicant?

As I’ve mentioned above, every PA program already knows the qualities they’re looking for in their Perfect Applicant. You will need to demonstrate one, two, or more specific qualities that the program really emphasizes.

Here is a formula that will show you what makes up the Perfect Applicant:

m

PA=(A+Q)

PA= Perfect Applicant

A= Answer: should be a success story from your past

Q= Qualities: These are generally diverse types of knowledge, skills, or abilities that Physician Assistant programs consider to be of utmost importance.

m= multipliers: “icing on the cake in your interview” Multipliers are tidbits of information that you can bring up in your interview that the interviewer is not expecting you to know

Let’s look at an example from Barry University:

No More Tears Charity Golf Tournament

by Barry University PA Program

EVENT DETAILS

A group of motivated, civic-minded Barry University Physician Assistant Students have committed to raising money and awareness for the No More Tears Project. No More Tears’ is a 100% not-for-profit organization that is operated entirely through the selfless efforts of volunteers and donors whose mission is to rescue the victims of domestic violence and human trafficking.

How many applicants do you think will know about this event on interview day? This event is not on the Barry University website. I found this information on their Facebook page. Most “vanilla” applicants start and end with the program’s website; not the Perfect Applicant; she digs deeper into Facebook, Google, YouTube, and any blogs available.

Can you infuse these qualities in some of the answers to interview questions at Barry? The qualities are listed, and the multiplier is the Event.

(I dedicate a full chapter in my book, How to “Ace” the Physician Assistant School Interview on the Tailoring Method.)

Sample Interview Questions and Answers

At a typical PA school interview, you should expect to encounter of variety of interview questions:

  • Traditional
  • Behavioral
  • Situational
  • Ethical
  • Illegal

Here are examples of each type of question, with qualities infused into each answer (underlined.)

TRADITIONAL QUESTION

“Tell me about yourself.”

You may see this question asked in a separate way, “Why are you a good fit for the PA profession?”

This question is the mother of all interview questions. I guarantee you will be asked this question at your interview, and, trust me, the committee doesn’t want to know that you love to meditate on the beach at sunrise, or that you’re an avid runner. What they’re really asking is, why are you a good fit for our program?

Your answer to this question can greatly influence the outcome of your interview. The interviewer(s) wants to know that you have the necessary qualities to fulfill exactly what they’re looking for; the “Perfect Applicant”.

When answering this question, you’ll want to weave a story that explains how your experiences and skill sets have led you to the PA profession, and their program in particular. Show them that you have the qualities they’re looking for.

Here is a good answer that will help guide you and help you build your own responses.

EXAMPLE

I have been in the medical field for the past five years. My most recent experience is as a paramedic in in a large urban community. One reason I particularly enjoy this job, and the challenges that go with it, is the opportunity to connect with my patients, often in a significantly vulnerable time of their life. In my current job, I formed some significant patient relationships resulting in a deeper understanding of what it takes to be a competent medical provider.

My real strength is my ability to put my patients at ease. I pride myself on my reputation for being a team player. When I commit to a job, I make sure I can be trusted to do my part to gain the trust of my coworkers.

What I am looking for now is a profession that values diversity, compassion, and life-long learning, where I can use my qualities and strengths to become a competent physician assistant.

Qualities: medical experience, ability to connect with patients, collaboration with coworkers, compassion.

BEHAVIORAL QUESTION

In today’s competitive PA school interview process, Behavioral Questions are responsible for more rejection letters than any other factor. In my book, I show you a simple trick for answering any behavioral question with ease, so you can avoid being one of those applicants who bombs the interview because of your lack of knowledge dealing with these non-traditional questions that are becoming more popular with admissions committees.

EXAMPLE

“Tell me about a time when you had to handle a stressful situation”

You can count on being asked this question. The interviewer is looking for a specific example of a stressful situation you’ve had to face and how you resolved it. He may also want to see what you consider to be stressful.

Example Answer

SITUATION: I started a new job as a medical assistant in a family practice. After working there for a week, I noticed that the medical providers were complaining a lot about the examination rooms not being stocked appropriately with supplies. A provider would come out in the middle of an office visit and become angry that there were no paper towels, no band aids, no gauze, etcetera. We all felt like we were walking on eggshells

The office manager held a meeting and came down heavy on all of us. I felt as though my job might be in jeopardy and I had only been there for a week.

ACTION: I also have a lot of experience as a medical assistant, and I suggested that the MAs all get together to discuss the problem. I proposed that we come up with a checklist and place it outside the door of every treatment room. Every morning we would all be responsible to complete the checklist and stock the rooms appropriately.

RESULT: This system worked, and the providers were very appreciative. I was complimented by the office manager for coming up with the solution and for alleviating a constant source of stress in the practice.

Qualities: Ability to handle stress, problem-solver, leadership

SITUATIONAL QUESTION

 “After working a double shift, you realize you gave one of your patients the wrong medication. The patient seems to be doing fine, but you are concerned about your mistake and a possible negative outcome for your patient. What would you do?”

This scenario is not as uncommon as you may think. We all make mistakes at one point or another. It’s the way you handle your mistakes that makes the difference in the type of provider you will be in the future.

EXAMPLE

My first concern would be for my patient’s welfare. I would double check the medication to see if there is a potential for it to harm my patient. I would then speak to the patient directly, informing her that I made a medication error and apologize for the mistake. I would take the patient’s vital signs and make sure she is stable. If she appeared to be clinically well, I would advise the patient that it appears the medication did not affect her clinically in any way. I would address any questions or concerns that she may have relative to the medication error. I would then document in the patient’s chart that I made a medication error, notified the patient, checked her vital signs and clinical status and addressed any of her questions or concerns. I would then notify my supervising physician about the error I made.

Qualities: putting the patient’s welfare first, taking responsibility for the mistake, communication with the patient and supervising physician.

ETHICAL QUESTION

The way you handle ethical issues tells a lot about your character, integrity, and maturity. In medicine, ethical issues come up all the time and you should do “the right thing” and not take the easy way out because you don’t like to confront people.

EXAMPLE

I was in college taking an examination in biochemistry. I noticed a student who was sitting in the bottom row using small notes written in blue ink on the palms of both hands. He kept referring to the notes before answering questions.

After the exam was over, I approached him and mentioned that I saw the writing on his hands and I mentioned that I felt like he was cheating. He immediately balled up his fists and denied it. He told me to mind my own business.

Our test scores are based on a curve in this class, and I didn’t think it was fair to everyone else in the class who may be graded lower because of his cheating. I advised him that if he didn’t acknowledge this fact to the professor, I would be forced to do so myself. I first asked him if he was having difficulty with the material, or perhaps he was having some personal problems. I offered to help him study if that was the case. He denied having many problems and maintained his rigid stance. At that point I gave him three choices: he could tell the professor that he cheated on the exam, I offered to go with him to tell the professor, or I would have to notify the professor what I observed during the test.

He refused all three options, so I had no other choice but to go to the professor and advise him of the situation; I thought it was unethical to let this go. The professor called him into his office, the student received an F on the test, and he was reprimanded. Many people in the class approached me afterward and said that they also saw him cheating but didn’t feel comfortable confronting him. They all thanked me.

Quality: Maturity, compassion, ethical, leadership, ability to do the right thing

ILLEGAL QUESTION

If you are asked an illegal interview question, don’t assume the interviewer is doing it on purpose. Don’t become defensive and don’t say, “Hey, that question is illegal!” Ask yourself, “Do I want to be right, or do I want to be effective?

To be effective, versus being right, I recommend that you assume the interviewer asked the illegal question out of ignorance, and not to trip you up. The good news is that you don’t have to answer an illegal question directly. There is always a hidden question behind the question. As you will see, there is a way to deflect the illegal question and address the real question behind it.

“Are you a Republican or a Democrat?”

This is a loaded question. Never discuss politics at an interview unless you want to sabotage your chances of being accepted. People usually have strong feelings about their political persuasion and you wouldn’t want to make them angry.

The best way to answer this question is:

“It is my policy never to discuss politics with my friends, and certainly not at a PA school interview.”

Comparable questions to consider:

“Who did you vote for in the last election?”

“Are you in a union?”

“What do you think about the president?”

the MULTIPLE MINI INTERVIEW

Some programs utilize the MMI format. This could be a very challenging, and stressful, interview if you do not know a blueprint for working through the prompts.

A multiple mini interview consists of a series of short, structured interview stations used to assess noncognitive qualities, including cultural sensitivity, maturity, teamwork, empathy, reliability, and communication skills.

Prior to the start of each mini-interview rotation, candidates receive a question/scenario and have a designated period to prepare an answer.

Upon entering the interview room, the candidate has a short exchange with an interviewer/assessor. In some situations, the interviewer observes while the action takes place between the applicant and an actor.

At the end of each mini interview, the interviewer evaluates the candidate’s performance while the applicant moves to the next station. This pattern is repeated through several rotations. The questions asked are usually situational questions that touch on the following:

  • Ethical decision-making
  • Critical thinking
  • Communication skills
  • Current health care and societal issues

Although participants must relate to the scenario posed at each station, it is important to note that the MMI is not intended to test specific knowledge in the field. Instead the interviewers evaluate each candidate’s thought process and ability to think on his feet. As such, there are no right or wrong answers to the question posed in an MMI, but each applicant should look at the question from a variety of perspectives.

Because the process of learning the blueprint for answering MMI scenarios is very complex, I would recommend that you find a book, video, or other resources online. I also have a complete chapter in my book dedicated to the entire process of dealing with an MMI.

In summary, since 1996, I’ve coached thousands of PA school applicants to success, and I’d like to help you too.