Dos and Don’ts on your PA School Interview Day

You’ve heard the saying “knowledge is power” time and time again, but it’s not totally accurate.  Knowledge is actually potential power, like an arrow in a drawn bow waiting to be unleashed.  Knowledge is not power until it is used, and the effectiveness of that power is relative to the skill with which you put it to use.

In the case of developing rapport between yourself and your physician assistant school interviewers, understanding how to communicate and how to develop areas of commonality is crucial.  Knowing what to do and, more importantly, what not to do, can put the power in your hands and help you easily build rapport.  All you need to do is put this knowledge into action come interview day, and you’re sure to ace your interviews.

Here are a few do’s and don’ts for your interviews:

1. DON’T regurgitate the definition of a physician assistant directly from the AAPA or your state society website.

Nobody is going to give you an award for your ability to memorize a definition.  Anyone can memorize a paragraph they found on a website and recite it as their own, and if you choose to do this it will likely end in disaster.  Doing this reflects a complete lack of originality and creativity.  The best thing to do is to express your understanding of what a physician assistant is and does as it relates to real patient experiences you’ve had.  Yes, you want to make sure you cover all of the bases of what a PA does, but sharing your own personal experiences employs powerful mental imagery that is a crucial part of building good rapport.

2. DO discuss how experiences you’ve had in volunteering, direct patient contact, or shadowing have inspired you to become a PA.
Always try to relate your answer to an interview questions to a patient context.  By doing so, you’ll find yourself at a higher level of communication with the interviewers.  Develop a conversation that provides a shared experience to create rapport.  Shared experiences can make an emotional connection with your interviewer, and this goes for almost any topic.  When you describe a patient experience you’ve had in your direct patient contact or while shadowing a PA, you’re essentially creating a bond of commonality with the interviewer.  The don’t just hear your words, they “see” the experience scenario that you’re building with your answer as its almost guaranteed that your interviewer has had a similar experience with a patient in the past.

3. DON’T use a list of adjectives to describe yourself.
Your list of adjectives is boring, unoriginal, contrived (should I go on?).  Avoid describing yourself as compassionate, dedicated, motivated, conscientious, or empathetic unless you can pair those adjectives with an experience you’ve had that can support those claims.  Just using those words on their own shows the admissions board that you know what they want to hear but it doesn’t tell them who you are.  It’s easy to talk the talk, but if you haven’t actually walked the walk then don’t bother including it in your answer.

4. DO use specific instances and experiences that describe you!
Just like we mentioned above, you need to back up any adjectives you use with an actual experience that shows off that quality.  For example, if you want to convey that you’re compassionate and empathetic, tell the interviewer about a time that you were compassionate and empathetic (preferably a time when you were compassionate and empathetic to a patient).

5. DON’T focus on your resume or academic record.
Do not ever, ever, ever, ever lead off with your GPA, your honors, or awards when asked about yourself.  All of these things are already included in your resume and application and are likely part of the reason you were granted an interview in the first place.

6. DO make the interview committee like you!
Always remember that your main goal at the interview table is to get the interview committee members to like you.  Are you someone with whom they want to spend the next 27 to 34 months?  Will you contribute as a leader and be a positive member of the class?  Are you someone that they would be proud to have representing their program? Do your best to make them answer “yes” to each of those questions!