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Careers in Health Care: Tips for Nailing the PA School Interview

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Careers in Health Care: Tips for Nailing the PA School Interview

Jul 10, 2015
You’re excited you’ve advanced to the interview round for physician assistant school, but then the weight and pressure of that interview come crashing down. Doris Dalton is the director of admissions at the University of Utah’s PA program—one of the top PA schools in the country. In this podcast, she shares her top three tips for showing your best self during the PA school interview.

Episode Transcript

Interviewer: You made it to the interview round for physician assistant school, so congratulations. But now what? We're going to give you a few hints on how you can make a lasting impression with your PA school interview tips, which will be coming up next on The Scope.

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Interviewer: The interview for PA school is fast approaching but there's not a reason to freak out because we are going to give you some advice to help you prepare. Doris Dalton is the director of admissions for the University of Utah Physician Assistant program. She's going to explain what makes for a standout admissions interview. So what are the three most important components for a good interview, in your mind? I'm asking you to come up with the top three.

Doris: Top three. Number one is being prepared.

Interviewer: Yeah. And what does that entail?

Doris: How do people prepare for interviews? We had a candidate who has since graduated from our program and he was addressing some pre-PA students during one of my presentations. They asked him, "What did you do to prepare for your interview?" And he said he sat down and wrote down every question he could possibly think of that he might be asked and rehearsed them. He said he had 15 pages of questions.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Doris: And went through every one.

Interviewer: Sure. And had those answers ready. So that's number one. What else should I do, other than prepare?

Doris: Relax.

Interviewer: Okay. That's easier said than done.

Doris: Relax is probably number one.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Doris: And it's the hardest thing to do, but being relaxed will allow you to be comfortable. It will allow you to be confident and put your best foot forward to really be able to communicate well over the table.

Interviewer: So just be yourself, just be your well-prepared self? Is that part of relaxing? Don't try to be something you're not.

Doris: Be your well-prepared self.

Interviewer: I'm trying to think, if I went into that situation what might cause me not to relax, because I want it so much. So how do I get over that?

Doris: That's the biggest factor. And there's an intimidation factor. You're sitting across the table and that person is a PA and you want to be one.

Interviewer: Yeah.

Doris: And this interview is depending, my future is depending on this interview.

Interviewer: I know.

Doris: So it's high stakes and people get very, very nervous. And with our process we have multiple interviews and our candidates who come and interview with us always say, "Of course, you're nervous on your first interview." But once they figure out that we're nice people, you're a nice person, it allows you to relax and our candidates consistently say that by their second or third interview they felt a lot more comfortable.

Interviewer: Yeah, because they've gone through it. It's not unknown anymore.

Doris: That's right.

Interviewer: Maybe a little practice of the interview, have your friends interview you maybe. How about number three?

Doris: Number three, know your stuff.

Interviewer: Okay.

Doris: Know your stuff. Be familiar with your background that you've listed because you will be asked questions beyond what you've listed on your application. You will be asked to reflect on some of your experiences that you've already shared. You will be asked about the PA profession itself, the PA role. Do you have a solid understanding of what you're asking to get yourself in to?

Interviewer: Do you find that people come into the interview process without doing these three things or one of the three?

Doris: We do. We do.

Interviewer: More than I'd expect?

Doris: I think that most people who are really committed to going to PA school really know their stuff.

Interviewer: Gotcha, sure.

Doris: But I think being nervous about them prevents them from sharing that in a successful way.

Interviewer: Oh, all right. What are some of the common mistakes that people make in these interviews?

Doris: I think people fail to really think some of their responses out thoroughly. It's okay to sit back and breathe for a moment and ask yourself the question and take a moment to think about how you want to respond to it.

Interviewer: Yeah, what are they trying to find out with this question, what kind of answer could I give that will illustrate that?

Doris: And even better yet, how can I answer that question well. If you ask yourself in your brain, someone just asked me this question, and I'm going to respond with the first thing that comes to my head, I can ask myself internally, "And what about that and so what?" And challenge yourself to dig a little deeper.

Interviewer: So I would have five seconds, ten seconds to respond to a question and that's not going to count against me if you were across the table?

Doris: No, your interviewers know that you're thinking about how you want to respond to that.

Interviewer: That's not going to show you that I wasn't prepared?

Doris: You don't want a two-minute silence, but-

Interviewer: Okay.

Doris: Taking a breath and thinking about how you want to respond to that is normal.

Interviewer: What surprises people at these interviews, do you find. What did they not expect that might throw them for a loop?

Doris: People don't expect that it's not as tough as they think. And they get into their heads too much. Because, again, once they get to their second or third interview they feel a lot more relaxed and this is something that the candidates who come to interview with us and those that we accept consistently tell me, "I was so scared during my first interview and then I relaxed and I figured out that the faculty is nice people."

It's really more of a getting to know you process. Truly when you're invited to interview at all, for a job, for anything that you take an interview for, you know you're qualified, otherwise they wouldn't have invited you in. This is just a getting to know you process.

Interviewer: That's good advice. You don't need to prove your qualifications anymore, now you just need to prove your passion, or that you're a good person, or that you shower daily, or wear pants.

Doris: No, we just want to know a little bit more about you. You look great on paper, let's meet you, let's get a sense of your interpersonal skills. Relax and be yourself to share that.

Interviewer: Give me one killer tip that's going to really help me when I walk into that interview.

Doris: The thing that I often advise people is to try to understand what it's like to be on the other side of the interview table. This is something that's certainly worked for me in my experience with interviews, is being an interviewer. So that may not be something that you have an opportunity to do in your workplace, but if there is some hiring coming up where you work, you can ask your employer, "May I sit in?"

You don't have to be a voting member of that committee hiring the new person, but having a little bit of a perspective of what it's like to be on the other side of the table and looking at a nervous candidate, being in an interview, can really help you with some of your own confidence, that you understand from that perspective, it's just a getting to know you process.

Interviewer: Yeah, and also you could pick up, "Wow, I really liked it when they did that." Or "I really liked it when they did this." I always thought, coming in with a big smile and shaking the hand was kind of cheesy, but that really does make a difference.

Doris: It does. And it also will help you to understand why certain questions are asked. Why did you ask that question?

Interviewer: Any resources on this topic that you would drive people towards?

Doris: Practicing the interview and developing interview skills.

Interviewer: Okay.

Doris: Understanding what exactly an interview is. So one example might be if you're asked in an interview, "What are your weaknesses?" I'm not literally looking for "what are your weaknesses?" I'm looking for what is your level of self-awareness.

Interviewer: So pretty much any resource that helps you become a better interviewer is going to serve you for your PA interview.

Doris: Understanding those skills from the interviewer's side and from the interviewee's side.

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