Prepping for a PA school interview requires a commitment — at least if you hope to do it well. Planning a prep schedule, developing an overall strategy, and allowing yourself enough time and practice to build your confidence are essential keys to success.
And those elements are not be skipped. But, what if I told you that spending about three minutes to learn some language tweaks could seriously amplify your interview performance?
Because that's all the time required to learn about what words and phrases weaken interview responses, and what easy changes you can make to create stronger, more authentic answers.
These might not be what you think. They're not glaring red flags that, as an adult human, you'd inherently know not to say.
They are subtle, and they are used frequently by competitive PA school candidates. I know because I've coached these out of hundreds of prospective PA school candidates during mock interviews.
These future PAs usually do a great job of concentrating on the content of their response. But, they're often unaware that their word choice may be making a faculty member cringe, diminishing the effectiveness of their response, or de-personalizing their answer.
So, if you've got three minutes, here are the simple language swaps you can make to improve your PA school interview performance.
"You" becomes "I."
There's a strange phenomenon that happens over and over again when prospective PA students talk about their future as PAs — they remove themselves from the equation.
What do I mean by that?
Ask a PA school candidate about how their strengths will help them as a PA, and they'll usually have no trouble laying out a couple of attributes. But, whenever they try to answer the second part — how it will help them as a PA — things often veer off track.
Instead, you're more likely to hear how it's an important trait for any PA or healthcare provider — "You need to be compassionate to work in medicine."
Ask "what do you think is the biggest challenge you will face as a PA?" and expect a response about how PAs are working to improve awareness of the profession devoid of "I," "me," and "my."
When, as an interviewee, you're asked questions about your future PA practice, there's a tendency to remove yourself from the frame.
You may start out sharing some information about experiences in your past. But, for the vast majority of candidates, the inclination is to jump ship when describing what's to come.
I suspect this often stems from a confidence issue. When you haven't yet had the role, it may feel presumptuous to talk about yourself as a practicing PA. But, that's exactly what's being asked of you.
When you fail to show up in the future you describe, you lose the opportunity for your interviewer to imagine you as a PA.
So, rather than focusing on what traits any good PA should have or their potential struggles, take the window to own your future as a PA.
"You need to be compassionate to work in medicine" becomes "I believe my compassion will..."
Instead of "the biggest challenge PAs face," focus on your potential hurdles by staying embedded in your experience — "as a practicing PA, I believe my biggest challenge will be..."
If you keep telling your interviewers what kind of PA you will be, they'll begin to believe your vision.
"Supervising" transforms into "collaborating."
While most people, particularly pre-PA students, refer to their future doctor colleagues as "supervising" physicians, it's not the preferred terminology in the PA world.
Practicing PAs, including those in faculty positions at PA programs, prefer the term "collaborating" physician.
(There's also a "participating" physician in states with the most considerable PA license autonomy, but it'll sound strange if you call them that in interviews, so stick with "collaborating.")
Though some have already made the swap, not all state licensing regulations have traded "supervising" for "collaborating." However, PAs that care use "collaborating" regardless of whether the state they practice in has caught up.
And you can probably see why collaborating is preferred — it sounds and feels much less parental than supervising.
So, you'll seem more in-the-know as a future PA if you use collaborating rather than supervising. And you also won't inadvertently be using a term that might feel like nails on a chalkboard to some faculty members.
But, beyond potentially buttering up faculty members, there's also a giant bonus that goes along with changing your terminology.
This particular language swap can impact your mindset.
Instead of thinking about your PA career only in terms of the early days, which is the default of most PA school candidates, collaborating feels like a career-long activity.
Supervising feels like something you need as an early career PA. However, collaborating raises the bar. It can push you to think about your chosen profession for the longer term.
By envisioning an elevated level of practice where you're comfortable and confident working independently, you'll naturally shift your perspective and deepen your responses.
As you do, you'll be inviting your interviewers to see you as a PA who will practice and contribute to the field for many years.
Words that feel inauthentic — replaced by your actual vocabulary.
If you're trying to find an elegant way to slip in self-directed, scholarship, adherence, innovative, responsiveness, administration, or something that feels equally as awkward to you, allow me to release you from that burden.
There's no magic phrase that will impress your interviewers. Attempting to mirror keywords that you found in a mission statement or that you heard would "sound good" during an interview will almost always fall flat.
Worse, they'll make you sound like a weirdo.
Most people don't speak in mission statements. If your vocabulary is such that it won't seem unusual or contrived for you to use an HR-y word, then, by all means, go for it.
But, for the rest of humankind, it will only work to make you nervous over how to get it into the conversation. So, don't drive yourself crazy over trying to "work in" some specific phrase.
Focus on the ideas and experiences you want to share. All of these can be expressed in multiple ways and still sound amazing. Their effectiveness won't depend on a token word or phrase but, instead, will rely on your authenticity.
Keep it simple — just use your real voice and vocabulary. You've been invited to that interview so that the faculty members can get to know you, so let them.
Easy peasy, right?
Even though you can make these changes in mere moments, they can have a lasting effect on your interview performance.
By taking a little time to weave these simple language changes into your prep, you'll be sure to shine even brighter during your PA school interviews.