The first wave of PA school interviews for this cycle has started. After years of preparation and wading through the application process, few things are as exciting as getting your first interview.
There's a load of information out there on what questions to expect in a PA school interview. (Including this prior post on the three most common PA school interview questions.) However, you can't possibly prepare for every topic that might come your way.
So, you need to find a better way to plan for your interview than chasing down every potential question.
In this post, we'll cover the three strategies that can seriously advance your interview game. Instead of worrying about the questions you'll be asked, you'll learn how to go into your PA school interview knowing what you want to say.
1. Develop your representative stories
While you may not know exactly how an interview will go, you should enter into it with a plan. Rather than wondering what you'll be asked, consider what you hope to talk about during the interview.
With this in mind, consider 3-5 stories that best represent what about your character or experience that would serve you well as a PA student or PA professional.
In developing your representative stories, think about what you have learned and taken away from your experiences. Working 3000 hours as an EMT is great, but it doesn't tell an interviewer what you have gained from that experience.
Shifting the focus to the parts of your experience that cannot be found on your application will better allow you to relate your work to skills a PA needs.
"In the early days of being an EMT, I met a patient who was very hesitant to go in the ambulance, and the way I approached her did not help.
Upon arriving, I launched straight into asking questions about her medical history. After that, I began to take a moment to ask a few questions, like "Is this your son?" or "Are you from around here?" I quickly learned that making the patient more comfortable improved the experience for both of us.
Since then, I have worked to find out more about a patient as a person before diving into the medical questions. It has helped tremendously in building trust."
Your personal stories do not need to be centered around medical experience, but you want to choose ones that demonstrate your maturity, growth, and readiness to become a PA.
Stories are more memorable than statements of fact, and they will make you a more attractive candidate for a PA program.
2. Create flashcards
Often, when preparing for a PA school interview, candidates spend a few hours at a time working through a list of questions arranged by category: traditional, behavioral, and ethical.
But, that style of prep does not mimic a real interview. Most question and answer portions of interviews last around 15-30 minutes. You may have several of these throughout the day, but the duration of any particular session is relatively short.
Also, different categories of questions are usually presented randomly during a PA school interview. Therefore, you need to be prepared to answer different styles of questions at any time.
So, rather than preparing by using only a list, it helps to create flashcards with individual questions. Write one question per card and do not include a written answer. You want to use the cards as prompts rather than scripts.
Mix the order of the flashcards randomly so that you are not always practicing your responses in the same order.
Interviewers will not always ask the questions you expect. It is important to stay nimble and focus on what you want to be sure to say. Blindly choose a few cards and see how many of your 3-5 personal stories you could use if those were the only questions posed to you in the interview.
Take your flashcards with you in the weeks before your interview and practice with a random pick here and there. You'll be surprised how, even with limited questions, you can shape your responses to highlight your stories and attributes.
3. Record your responses
The best way to practice your responses to potential PA school interview questions is to record them on video. Using a mirror is not enough.
Recording your responses allows you to see habits, pauses, and patterns that you cannot pick up by using only a mirror for practice.
Using video will help you to see if your responses come across as overly rehearsed. It can also help you practice telling your stories in different ways to various questions.
Video allows you to be much more objective about your performance. On occasion, when interviewing someone for the blog, I've thought, "This guy has seemed annoyed with me from the moment this started. Why did he agree to do an interview?" But, when I went back to the recording, everything was perfectly polite and cordial. What I thought was happening wasn't. It was just me being nervous and projecting something into the moment that wasn't there.
The same can happen when you are practicing your interview answers without the help of video. Like me, you may dislike seeing yourself on video. But, it's the best way to track your progress as you practice. Recording yourself answering questions lets you more accurately evaluate whether your responses sound natural and authentic.
You may be reluctant but taking this step can significantly boost your confidence going into an interview. And you can delete all of the recordings when you're done.
Implementing these three simple strategies will enhance your PA school interview performance.
Planning out your personal stories, using flashcards, and recording your responses will help you present your strongest case for why you deserve a spot in any PA program.
These are simple tactics. However, if you take a few moments to incorporate them into your interview prep, you can place yourself miles ahead of other candidates.