Before the Interview
This article contains information on six important steps every applicant should consider before the PA school interview:
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
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 it up. You read, “Congratulations, we would like to extend you an offer to interview at XYZ 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.
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.) I strongly recommend that you do a “dry run” and either walk, or drive, to the exact location of the building, and room, where you will be interviewing the next day. Check out the traffic conditions and the length of time it will take you to get there. Anticipate the worst-case scenario, and leave early in the morning. You can always go to a restaurant for a small breakfast if you have a lot of spare time. Don’t forget to carry the phone number of the program, just in case you hit a traffic jam, or for some unforeseen reason, you are going to be late.
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. Absolutely no alcohol that night. You certainly don’t want to smell like you just came from the bar before your interview.
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. You will be nervous enough and you don’t need to be frantically searching for your belt for fifteen minutes on the morning of your interview.
Next, 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. This technique is powerful, and it’s used by many professional athletes before a big game. A basketball player may visualize herself making every shot she takes, stealing the ball on defense, and grabbing rebound after rebound. This is the equivalent of doing a dry run in your mind.
I always advise bringing 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. Sometimes PA programs offer food and drinks during the day. Having mustard on your face, or a piece of broccoli caught between your teeth will certainly not score you any points. And believe me, I’ve seen it all.
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. Have a small breakfast before getting dressed. Take a good look in the mirror, and keep your jacket on a hanger while traveling to the interview. Be sure to check yourself again in the bathroom mirror once you’re ready to go. Do not overdo the perfume or cologne, and please; no nose rings, tongue rings, or bright pink hair. Now is not the time to “express yourself.”
I recommend that you arrive at least fifteen minutes early; no sooner, no later. If you are very early, sit in the car or a restaurant, and practice your answers to the questions I will prepare you for. Some applicants like to meditate to calm the nerves. Others like to make a call to some of their friends, or a significant other to get some extra support.
DO NOT bring a cell phone into your interview. You will be too tempted to check text messages, or perhaps sneak in a phone call. Even worse, you don’t want your cell phone to ring in the middle of your interview.
Be sure to greet everyone at the program as if they are evaluating you, and have a decision on your outcome. If you say the wrong thing to the receptionist, she is likely to pass on this negative experience to one of the committee members that she works with every day, and that will not help your chances. Be friendly, and smile at everyone.
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 she values, and this is your chance to show her how perfectly you match what she is looking for. Once you finish reading this chapter, you will feel very comfortable in this traditional interview format. Before you know it, you’ll be trying to see where your seat is in the classroom. The best way to do this is to follow infuse the qualities the program values into all your interview answers. Check out my website at andrewrodican.com and click on the Interview tab for more information on qualities.
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’re well prepared with quality answers to the most common PA school interview 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.
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
In my opinion, this is one of the most stressful interviews you will face. You’re sitting in a room with other applicants who want your seat in the program.
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 competition 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 her 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 are not likely to be asked traditional interview questions in the student interview, but be prepared to discuss the qualities that you have that make you a great fit for the program and the profession. Be sure to visit the student society website, or blog, to find out what special events or projects 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.
DOs AND DON’T’s FOR THE PA SCHOOL INTERVIEW
Now that you know how to prepare for the various PA school interviews you may encounter, let’s take a list of DO’s and DON’T’S.
DO: Your homework (research.) Learn everything you can about the program(s) where you will be interviewing. Start early. The program’s website is the first place to start. Leave no stone unturned. View every page and link on the site. Don’t forget about social media, either. Check out the program on Facebook, Google, Blogs, Student sites, and YouTube. For example, I found the following information about the Barry University PA Program using Google:
No More Tears Charity Golf Tournament (1)
by Barry University PA Program
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 come interview day? Can you infuse these qualities in some of the answers to interview questions at Barry? The qualities are listed.
DON’T: Continuously call the program and become a nuisance. Don’t ask questions that you should know from searching the program’s website.
DO: Invest in a new suit if you don’t have one. You may be able to rent a suit also. The point is, always lean toward overdressing rather than underdressing.
DON’T: Come to the interview with nose rings, tongue rings, flashy jewelry, low-cut blouses, unkempt hair, or a wrinkled outfit. Dress for success. You want the focus to be on you, and not your attire.
DO: Eat a simple, well-balanced meal the night before your interview—and a good breakfast the morning of.
DON’T: Eat a bunch of spicy food, or junk food, the night before your interview. You don’t want to have acid reflux first thing in the morning which will make you feel miserable. Do not drink alcohol before your interview to calm your nerves. I will teach you a much better way to deal with anxiety later in the chapter.
DO: Get a good night’s sleep the night before.
DON’T: Stay up all night stressing over the interview, or cramming information into your brain. Reassure yourself that you are prepared, watch a movie, and relax as best you can.
DO: Take a shower, brush your teeth, and spend the time to look your best. The visual component can make you or break you!
DON’T: Smoke before your interview; your clothes will smell of tobacco and being a smoker is not the best way to show that you are an advocate for health.
DO: Arrive early to your interview, renew your notes, and practice the anxiety relieving technique that I will teach you in the next section.
DON’T: Be rude to anyone you meet at the program, including the other applicants. For example, if the receptionist asks you, “Did you have any trouble finding us?”, your response should be: “Absolutely not, you gave excellent directions, thank you.” You want to start things off on a positive note.
DO: Be a real person. In other words, do your best to be likeable, trustworthy, and credible.
DON’T: Panic. Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them. Get out of your own head and shut off that inner critic. You are prepared for this interview. Remember that the committee wants you to solve their problem—finding the perfect applicant who has the qualities they are looking for in the Perfect Applicant.
Here is a technique to quiet your mind and relieve the anxiety that you are likely to feel on the day of your interview.
DEALING WITH ANXIETY
As soon as you open your eyes on the morning of your interview, I can assure you that your heart will start racing, your breath will be shallow and rapid, and you will probably have a knot in the pit of your stomach. Don’t panic! What you’re experiencing is healthy anxiety. Your body’s physiology is acting appropriately. The challenge is to avoid panicking.
As an example, think about the following situation: You come out of your friend’s house and begin walking to your car. You suddenly hear loud barking and a huge dog, foaming at the mouth, is making a B-line right toward you. Your physiology begins to go into fight-or-flight mode; your pupils immediately dilate, your breathing becomes rapid and shallow, and your heart rate goes through the roof. I think it’s safe to say that at a time like this, it’s not exactly the best moment to figure out your taxes. So, if you want to be able to think clearly, particularly on the day of your interview, you need to control your physiology, because you’re likely to be in fight-or-flight mode when you enter the building.
If you are not prepared for this on the day of your interview, your plan is to “wing it.” This plan is going to cause a lot more anxiety, and you will be in the fight-or-flight mode throughout the entire interview process. You will have a very difficult time answering interview questions if you can’t change this physiological response.
Dr. Eva Selhub, a mind/body expert, resiliency coach, motivational speaker, and
executive coach teaches a powerful technique used to instantly reduce a person’s stress
and anxiety level. Her technique is to put up your SHIELD. You can use this technique while waiting to be called into the room, and nobody will have to know that you’re using it.
The acronym stands for:
Honor the feeling
Author of The Love Response, (2) Dr. Selhub promotes a simple philosophy: At its best, stress motivates. At its worst, stress annihilates. Good leaders motivate. Bad leaders annihilate.
The choice is yours to decide how stress will influence your leadership.
If you find yourself in an anxiety-provoking or stressful situation (like the PA
school interview), you can use the SHIELD technique to instantly change your physiology.
As a result, if you utilize this technique, your breathing will slow down, your heart rate will decrease, your pupils will return to normal size, and you will be able to think much more clearly.
Here is how the technique works:
Once you feel your anxiety level becoming too high, stop what you are doing.
Then, honor the feeling. Are you anxious, afraid, feeling less than?
Next, inhale and exhale ten times in a row. (When you breathe in, imagine filling an empty balloon in your belly with your breath. When you breathe out, imagine deflating
the balloon.) Repeat the breaths ten times, and you will notice a soothing, calming
effect. By this time, your adrenaline is dropping, and you will be able to think
clearly and focus on the task at hand. So, listen to your mind and become aware of
your thoughts and feelings. Finally, decide to do something different than ruminating,
which is counterproductive. Now, your body is out of fight-or-flight mode.
You can repeat the above technique as many times as necessary to help you relax
SILENCING THE “INNER CRITIC”
In a variety of stressful situations, we become our own worst enemy. I can remember
arriving for my interview at Yale and meeting all my “competition.” Everyone in
the room had a master’s degree, except for me. My inner critic came alive. “I’m never
going to get in!” I was being very hard on myself and extremely judgmental. Negative
self-talk only serves to perpetuate the anxiety and make things worse.
Here are some things your inner critic may shout at you on the day of your interview:
· “I should have prepared more.”
· “Everyone here is more qualified than I am.”
· “I’ll never get accepted.”
· “I’m a loser; I don’t belong here.”
· “I’m going to blow this interview.”
Don’t wait until your interview to address your inner critic. Here are some steps
that you can take to deal with your inner critic weeks or months before your interview:
1. Monitor your thoughts.
Becoming aware of your inner critic’s voice-if you will- is the first step. You can
achieve this by simply being mindful of those thoughts. Just notice when and where
the thoughts occur, and then write them down on a piece of paper or in a journal.
You may become acutely aware of certain patterns in your thinking. Once you master
being mindful and get the negative thoughts on paper, you can begin to silence the
2. Notice your judgments.
Instead of making judgments, try describing your thoughts or feelings. For
example, you may be having a conversation with a fellow student about a class you are
both taking. You may really like the professor, and during the conversation,
you might say, “Professor Jones is a great teacher.” Your classmate might not agree with
you and say, “I think he’s a terrible teacher.” Both of you are making judgments and
probably putting the other person on guard to defend his or her decision.
If you said instead, “I appreciate that Professor Jones always comes prepared to
class. It makes it easier for me to stay focused.” You are not being judgmental; you
are simply describing the way you feel about him. Nobody can dispute that, not even
The point is that when we are being judgmental, especially of ourselves, we
promote more intense feelings of negativity. And at the interview, we want to stay
3. Challenge your automatic negative thoughts.
Feelings aren’t facts! Once you practice mindfulness and become good at documenting
your thoughts (judgments), it is time to challenge those negative thoughts
with the facts. You may feel like you don’t have what it takes to be accepted, but if you
look at the facts, you may change your mind.
For example, if you were to review your CASPA application, you would see that
you’ve worked hard to complete the requirements for PA school. The fact that you
received an offer to interview means that you’ve already beat out several hundred applicants
to get the interview. So, although you may certainly feel like you don’t have what
it takes to get accepted, the facts prove otherwise.
Try to challenge all your negative thoughts with the facts. Chances are you will
find that you are beating yourself up for no reason.
4. Practice, not perfection.
The goal of practicing mindfulness and keeping your judgments in check is
to achieve awareness and make gradual changes. Becoming aware of the problem is
the first step. However, if you are in denial about how your judgments and negative
thoughts affect your mind-set; you will not be able to make any progress at all. It
takes constant vigilance to achieve improvement with being mindful.
5. Reevaluate your values.
Make sure that whatever you are beating yourself up over is worth striving for.
Some goals, like kindness, integrity, and being self-disciplined, enhance the meaning
and quality of life, whereas others only feed into your sense of defectiveness. Some
people think, If I only went to a better school, I’d have more self-esteem. By the way, the best way to increase self-esteem is to do estimable things!
I feel like I’m starting to sound like Dr. Phil!
Remember—your job at the interview is to help 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.
I hope this article is helpful. For more information on the PA school application process, visit my blog (paschoolapplicant.com) or my website (andrewrodican.com.)
Best of luck!
Andrew J. Rodican, PA-C