Do these 4 things to set yourself up for PA school interview day success!
As summer comes to a screeching halt and application deadlines are looming, we are shifting into full-swing interview season.
Since many programs adhere to a rolling admissions format, interviews are conducted as early as June and as late as April, right before the cycle reopens.
Whether you have several interviews under your belt or are waiting for your first invitation, there will always be ways you can optimally set yourself up for success.
I applied this cycle and was fortunate enough to interview over the summer and conclude the process by the end of August.
For a brief synopsis, between June and August, I received 4 interviews, accepted 3 of them, and was offered seats in 2 programs.
I’ve since withdrawn my other applications as I got into my top two choices and desperately wanted to put my application days behind me.
Through a rather tumultuous few months of learning what strategies work best, I have broken down how I approached PA school interview preparation.
1. Identify your major talking points
I was so incredibly overwhelmed going into interview prep starting at ground zero. I felt like I couldn’t organize my thoughts and had so many things I wanted to say without any sort of direction.
The first thing I did was pick 3 "big ideas" that, if all else failed, I wanted my interviewers to know about me. I made sure these ideas 1. related to the PA profession, 2. had some sort of personal meaning to me, and 3. were things I could speak extensively about.
For example, I focused on wanting to alleviate provider shortages. Since I was a CNA for a healthcare staffing company and worked through the COVID-19 pandemic, this concept was directly in line with my patient care experience, is a major facet of the PA profession, and gives the interviewer a sense of how I want to practice as a PA.
Other examples could be ideas like wanting to improve health literacy, integrating nutrition into clinical practice, increasing access to medicine for underserved communities, providing culturally competent healthcare, or truly anything that you feel propels you to become a PA.
Write your ideas down as your major points and think of responses to questions that reinforce these ideas.
Practice “The Big 3”
The "Big 3" are the standard, most-asked questions during interviews, and are as follows:
- Tell me about yourself.
- Why PA?
- Why this school?
These are the questions I practiced the most, and subsequently, the questions I was most thankful to have had solid responses to.
Before I go on, I must reiterate that, in my opinion, it is a complete waste of time to memorize verbatim responses. Do not make this interview mistake!
It is incredibly obvious when you’re regurgitating a scripted answer, and you could spend your preparation time in more productive ways.
Instead, think of your major points for that question and practice saying them in a way that feels natural without focusing on the minute details of every sentence.
These were the first questions asked in all of my interviews, and, of course, these initial moments were when my nerves were at their absolute peak.
Being confident and prepared with my responses allowed me to start off on a positive note and somewhat go into "auto-pilot" while I settled into the interview.
2. Become familiar with commonly asked questions & create a mental organization tool
PA school interview questions are no secret, and you can readily find an arsenal of questions online.
Again, I do not advise memorizing a response, but becoming familiar with common questions can mitigate feelings of being "thrown off" by questions you could have been prepared for (even bad ones like this or this).
Create a bank of questions you come across and practice answering them aloud. This is an instance where I find the major talking points to be helpful; I hear the question, decide which talking point category it falls into, and curate a response based on that idea.
Additionally, some of the best advice I’ve been given for answering interview questions is to follow a "fact-story-relevance" format; answer the question, insert an anecdote, then relate it back to your goals as a PA. This organization will ensure concise and eloquent responses.
Question: Describe your experience working in a team
Major talking point: Reducing healthcare provider shortages
Fact: Worked in a team as a CNA during the pandemic to ensure patients were cared for despite healthcare worker shortages.
Story: *Describe an impactful experience with your team.
Relevance: "Building my skills as a teammate has taught me to prioritize a team environment as a PA to maximize healthcare in areas of medicine that face provider shortages."
When you break down questions into these categories, it’s much easier to get your point across and avoid rambling (my greatest struggle).
Most questions are more similar than you may think, and you’ll be able to easily come up with intelligent responses if you can work down from your "big ideas" and through the "fact-story-relevance" format.
3. Schedule a mock interview
Once you’ve spent some time practicing your "big 3" and reviewing other commonly asked questions, I HIGHLY recommend scheduling a mock interview.
Initially, I didn't think it would be worth the money as most services are between $100-$200 for a measly 1-2 hours of prep. However, I was pleasantly surprised with my experience.
A mock interview is the closest you can get to the "real deal" without having to wait for the "real deal" to hash out your weaknesses. Going through questions sequentially with a stranger really pushes you to enter the realm of an actual interview, an experience I could not have replicated by practicing with a friend or family member. The interviewer can also offer you unbiased feedback and accurately judge your first impression, a vital factor in being accepted.
I waited until I got an invitation to my first interview to schedule a mock so it could be tailored to the interview format, and I made sure to practice as much as possible beforehand.
By going in prepared, you’ll have the easy fixes under wraps, and you can avoid corrections you could have learned on your own by just answering a question aloud a few times.
Go into the mock as prepared as possible and engage in a healthy dose of self-deception that it is an actual interview. This approach will make your actual interview feel like a re-run of something you have already done before, which is much less daunting than feeling like you’ve only practiced questions sporadically.
4. Record yourself
This took me much longer than I would like to admit. I simply couldn’t. The thought of a recording of my voice, stuttering over responses and rambling for minutes on end, was enough to put me off from doing this for as long as possible.
Lo and behold, I was far more blind to my flaws than I suspected. Once I miraculously conquered my irrational fear, I noticed things that had not been pointed out to me before.
Of course, we’re all our harshest critics, but being able to record several times and notice an improvement propelled my preparation far faster than blindly speaking to thin air.
As I mentioned before, my biggest problem is/was rambling. I felt like it was out of control and being nervous not only doubled down on the speed at which words were spewing from my mouth but the disorganization of my responses.
Once I heard the extent of this, I made it a point to focus on being concise and intentional with my responses. I was surprised at how much the quality of my responses improved without my various tangents and unnecessary words, which ultimately led me to feel the most confident, and rambling the least, in my final interview.
I hope you’re able to take inspiration from my strategy for interview preparation and go into your interview feeling confident and capable.
Although interviews can be incredibly anxiety-inducing, they are also a great opportunity to showcase your qualities "off-paper" and demonstrate directly to faculty why you should be a student in their program.
Prepare diligently, but recognize that the premise of the interview is for them to gauge your personality rather than your ability to reiterate their mission statement.
Be excited, use every obstacle as a learning experience, and bring your best self to each interview. Good luck!
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