How to Identify and Handle Inappropriate Interview Questions

When you’re in the interview room, the last thing you want to do is lose your focus. It’s easy to lose your focus if you’re unprepared, but you can be thrown off if you’re asked a question that’s out of bounds or inappropriate, even if you’ve spent the past year preparing for your interviews.

Questions should be about your qualifications to become a physician assistant, not about your personal information. If you find yourself facing an uncomfortable or seemingly inappropriate line of questioning, know your rights as an applicant. You do not have to answer out-of-place, unrelated, or illegal questions directly and can choose to either defer your answer or address the questions as inappropriate.

Here are some examples of questions that should not be posed during your interview.

Personal/Family Questions

“Are you married?”
“Do you have any children?”
“Are you planning on having children?”
“Are you pregnant?”
“Who will be watching your children when you are in school?”

If you’re being asked about your marital status or children, chances are the interviewer is trying to determine if you’ll need to take time away from school to watch your children. Having a family or being in the process of starting a family does not hinder your performance or commitment to PA school if you’ve properly planned, so don’t let an interviewer’s perception of your family situation prevent you from getting accepted to your dream program.

Questions about Age
“How old are you?”
“When is your birthday?”

If you’re being asked about age, chances are they’re trying to determine your level of maturity. They could also be sizing you up if you’re making a career change later in life. Either way, you should choose to focus on your experiences to show your level of maturity or commitment to the PA profession, regardless of your age. Remember, age is just a number (and they already have this information on the application you submitted).

Personal Questions
“How much do you weigh?”
“How tall are you?”
“What is your sexual orientation?”
“Under what gender do you choose to identify?”

Questions about physical appearance, sexual orientation, or gender are a big red flag. These are a crude and heavy handed attempt to ascertain if you’re able to handle the job duties physically or emotionally. If you run into this line of questioning, do your best to not answer directly. Remember, interviewers are typically working PAs or educators and not professional interviewers, so you may have the unfortunate luck of having an interview run by a judgmental or biased individual. If this type of questioning persists or you feel like you were denied a fair interview based on your responses to these questions, consider following up with the program regarding their interview practices.

Questions about Disabilities
“I see you have a limp, are you injured?”
“What medications are you taking?”
“Are you suffering from any mental health issues?”
“Do you have any heart trouble?”
“Have you ever been in rehab or treated for substance abuse?”
“Do you have an eating disorder?”

These are more examples of poor attempts to figure out if you can physically and mentally handle the rigors of the PA profession. Most disabilities would have been disclosed to the school on your initial application, so either the interviewer missed this information on your application or is trying to get more information about your disability. Regardless, do your best to acknowledge your disability and then show how it’s allowed you to grow as a person.  You can also find ways to showcase how your disability makes you unique and puts you in a prime position to empathize with and treat patients with the same condition.

Questions about Nationality
“I notice you have an accent, where are you from?”
“Are you a US citizen?”
“Were you born in the US?”
“Your last name sounds Russian, is it?”

Once again, your nationality and citizenship information will be included on your initial application so there is no place for questioning of this type during your interview. Light conversation and pre-interview small talk aside, you are not required to disclose your citizenship status or nationality to your interviewer if they ask, so do not feel as if your interview success depends on this information. That being said, if your path to citizenship or nationality is an integral part of your journey to becoming a PA (such as knowing a foreign language, experiencing healthcare in other countries, wanting to become a PA and return to your country to provide healthcare, etc.), make sure to include this in your response.

Questions about Criminal History
“Have you ever been arrested?”
“Have you ever been convicted of a felony or misdemeanor?”
“Are you on probation?”

If you have a criminal background, make sure to check your arrest record before you apply to PA school. Even if you have charges that will be expunged, it’s important to check on the status of your record to ensure everything is in order before you begin your application. You will undergo a background check upon graduation to see if you qualify for a medical license and will be disqualified if you have any drug convictions or felonies. That being said, if you’ve been arrested for minor offenses but not convicted, you’re not required to divulge this information. Know you rights before you step into the interview room, otherwise you may not get a chance to explain why you’re a great PA candidate.

Questions About Military Service
“Have you ever served in the military?”
“Are you currently on active duty?”
“Were you honorably discharged?”

In this political climate, you never know if some members of the admissions committee are pro-military. While your military experience should not count against you, you really should only mention your military service if it is relevant to your application. If it is relevant, be sure that you only refer to the parts of your service that apply to your merit as a future PA.

Political Questions
“Are you a conservative or a liberal?”
“For whom did you vote in the past presidential election?”
“Are you a member of a union?”
“What do you think of the president’s policies?”

Political questions have no place in the interview room. If you find yourself posed with a political question, it’s the best to simply answer “It’s my personal policy to only discuss politics with family members and close friends.” This will help you avoid any touchy subjects and will show that you’re professional enough to separate your personal beliefs from your career.

Questions about Religion and Race
“Are you Caucasian/African American/Hispanic/Asian?”
“Do you attend church/synagogue/temple regularly?”

Your race has no impact on your performance as a PA whatsoever. When posed with a question about race, feel free to defer to your application materials as this will be included on there. When asked about religion, there is a chance the interviewer may be trying to find out if you will have any restrictions or schedule conflicts working on Sundays or other observed holy days.

 

The more you know about taboo questions in the interview room, the easier it will be to answer them. Make sure that you at least have a “blanket response” for questions like these so that you don’t come across as rude or get taken off guard. Try to always base your responses on experiences rather than attributes or physical characteristics and ask the interviewers to refer to your written application materials if necessary. By knowing which questions you have a right to not answer and what information aren’t required to divulge, you’ll have an easier time keeping your focus if an inappropriate question happens to come up.