Top Five PA School Interview Mistakes

If you’ve made it to your Physician Assistant School interview, you’ve already passed the first round of screening. The admissions panel thinks that you’re worthy of meeting to determine if you have the right motivations, demeanor, and drive to become a PA. You’ve come so far, so why risk making a mistake during your interview?

The five most common mistakes physician assistant candidates make are:

  1. Poor answers to questions
  2. Not appearing to be likable
  3. Having a sense of entitlement based on your resume or other experiences
  4. A lack of emotional connection
  5. Inappropriate attire

1. Poor Answers to Questions

The inability to effectively answer a question can be solved by the use of a simple three step process.

1)    Listen to the question.When you’re nervous, you tend not to hear the question properly or interpret it as something different than what was actually asked. Make sure you absorb the entire question so you don’t accidentally only answer part of what was asked. If you don’t answer the question that was actually asked in its entirety, it will seem like you didn’t know the answer to begin with and went with a pre-prepared answer to a related question

2)    Think. It sounds straightforward but you should actively think about the question being asked of you. Process the information in a concise manner so you can pinpoint all of the topics or elements the interviewer is trying to cover. Don’t let your nerves get the best of you- take your time and answer each part of the question.

3)    Relax and Respond. Yes, you can’t sit there thinking forever, you need to respond. Being relaxed during your response will allow you to answer at a conversational pace. If your interviewer is quickly asking you questions, take two to three sections before answering each question to gather your thoughts. If the interviewer is more deliberate and slow in their delivery, take a slightly slower approach to match their speed. This type of mimicking technique helps build rapport with your interviewers because they’ll subconsciously sense a similarity between you. Just remember- people tend to like people that are like themselves.

2. Not Being Likable

People tend to base their decisions on emotion and support them with logic- not the other way around. Keeping your answers relevant in the interview room while combining them with an enthusiastic demeanor will boost your likability. Remember to use the mimicking technique listed above so that your responses are given in a way that’s familiar and favorable to the person asking the question.

One of the best ways to show your likability is to demonstrate empathy. Empathy for others is a hugely important trait in the physician assistant profession and, if you don’t appear to be empathetic, your chances for being accepted into the program will decline. If you cannot demonstrate your ability to empathize with others in a genuine way, you’ll come across as insincere and your motivations may come into question.

3. Sense of Entitlement

You are not entitled to anything in the interview room. You are not guaranteed success in your interview just because you have an outstanding resume. If you’re perceived to have a sense of entitlement because of your outstanding grades, impeccable record, or high quality hands on experience, your likability will go down because you’ll seem arrogant. This type of entitled thinking lends itself to a “me first, you last” mindset which is dangerous for a physician assistant. Be as genuine and humble as possible and remember that your resume got you into the interview room, but it won’t get you into the program.

4. Failure to Make an Emotional Connection

This misstep is typically a result of poor communication skills, another important trait a physician assistant must possess. Avoid speaking in a monotone voice and maintain eye contact with the interviewer. If there are multiple interviewers in the room, be sure to give each person an adequate amount of eye contact and always look directly at the person speaking.

Remember when we said that people tend to base their decisions on emotion and support them with logic? If you fail to make an emotional connection, you’ll have a very low chance at getting accepted into the program. Take time to master the skills of verbal and non-verbal communication before you step foot into the interview room. This includes things like maintaining eye contact, using open body language, posture, and gestures, speaking clearly and concisely, and subtly mirroring the interviewers’ mannerisms whenever possible.

5. Wearing Inappropriate Attire

If you show up in jeans and a wrinkled polo shirt, you’ll come across as unprepared and underdressed. This has the potential to give off a nonchalant attitude to the point of disrespecting the interview panel. You want to wear appropriate business attire and be well groomed to make a good impression, so make sure you don’t put off that haircut!

Communication is as much verbal as it is visual. The way you dress says a lot about the person you are, so make sure to dress conservatively and keep modesty in mind. You’ll want to wear neutral colors, dress-attire shoes, and not go overboard with accessories. There’s nothing wrong with a fun pop of color, but remember to keep it tasteful. When in doubt, it’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed (although we recommend skipping the tuxedo, 3-piece suit, or ball gown).

A final note- the interview doesn’t begin when you step foot into the interview room. It begins the moment you enter the building, even if your personal interview doesn’t start until later in the day. There is a very strong chance that someone from the program will be observing you even if you’re not directly interacting with them. As long as you’re on your best behavior and are warm and courteous to the staff as well as the other interview candidates, you’ll have a great chance at making a lasting impression.