Physician Assistant Job Interview Tips Part 1: Common Interview Questions and What to Expect

That first PA job interview is always a little nerve-racking for PA students. The combination of inexperience along with the unpredictability of interview questions in general, creates a lot of anxiety. But preparation will help you show up as the best version of yourself. These PA job interview tips will help you feel confident and land that first physician assistant position. 

This blog series comes in two parts. Part one focuses on preparing you and covering common interview questions. Dozens of PAs submitted questions asked during PA interviews, and those are covered here.  Part 2 will focus on what question you should ask to make sure the job is the right fit for you. Interviews are always a two way street.

The Interview

Remember, landing an interview means you are qualified for the job. The biggest obstacle for new PA students is inexperience. The fact that they are interviewing you, means they are willing to accept this. So let that settle your nerves a bit. Show them you are worth hiring.

Who Interviews You?

This depends completely on the position and setup of the clinic or health system. Often, multiple people are involved. This includes office managers, other PA or NP providers, physicians, HR representatives, medical directors, etc. Each person brings a unique perspective, so it is important to present yourself as a well-rounded candidate. For example, while one person focuses on your clinical skills, another might prioritize your communication skills or personality.

For this reason, they will ask a variety of questions. These questions will fall under subcategories. You can not predict what questions will be asked, but it is helpful to practice responding to question from different categories.

Question Categories

Questions tend to fall under one of several general categories. These include

  1. Get to know you questions
  2. Personality questions
  3. “Out there” questions
  4. Skills and clinical questions

Get to know you questions

These questions are all but guaranteed. Which means you should consider them soft balls. Have a script prepared and ready to go. Use these questions to showcase your best features and things that are interesting about you. Show them you are someone they want to work with. Examples include

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What gets you up in the morning?
  • Why do you want to work in this specialty?
  • What are your career goals?

When you answer these questions, be honest. But do not be boring. Talk about where you are from, or describe your family, but also tell them something interesting about you they are unlikely to hear from someone else. Describe a hobby or project you completed. Share about a fun trip you went on. They key here is to connect with them on a human level.

Personality questions

The objective of these questions is to determine how well you interact with people and if you have the personality traits and people skills to succeed. Examples include

  • How would your friends and family describe you?
  • How do you handle conflict?
  • What is your greatest strength?
  • What is your greatest weakness?
  • How would you describe your work ethic?
  • What would you bring to the team?
  • Tell me about a time you had to think outside the box.
  • Tell me about a challenging situation and how you navigated it.
  • What is something people misconstrue about you?
  • What is the last book you read?

Out there questions

The purpose of these questions are also to learn more about your personality, but are asked in a more non-traditional form. They require you to think on your feet and often leave people stumbling. Examples include:

  • “Would you rather” questions
  • What animal would you be and why?
  • If you were a vegetable, what would you be and why?
  • If you were a kitchen appliance, what would you be and why?

The sky is really the limit on what they could ask. The trick is not to think about an animal or an appliance, rather think about traits you want them to know about you. One way to not stumble on these questions is to “think out loud.” For example, if asked about what kitchen appliance you are, you could say “Well, I am a hard worker and I am reliable, so I would probably say a dishwasher. You can count on me to be efficient and work hard. I also clean up pretty good.” Verbalizing your thoughts avoid awkward silence and serves the purpose of expressing attributes about yourself.

The point is it does not really matter what your answer is. Rather, it is what you are relaying about yourself. People often stumble through these questions trying to think of something creative. If you first think of the traits you want to express, then find a response that matches that, you will be fine.

Skills and Clinical Questions

These questions are to get an idea of how you will perform in this specific role, and where you stand regarding experience. Remember, they know your experience might be limited as a new grad but still granted you an opportunity to interview. Let your work ethic and willingness to learn shine through.

Additionally, there is a chance you may be asked about procedures, guidelines, or specific clinical scenarios. Think about your experience in this rotation. If you did not have an opportunity to rotate in this particular specialty, think of cases you saw or draw on everything you know about the specialty. Have a challenging case in mind to present if asked. Think of the top 5 things you saw on that specialty, and be prepared to talk through a very general workup of those diagnosis. They may not ask specific clinical questions, but you do not want to draw blanks if asked. 

Examples include

  • How would you handle an influx of patients? 
  • Why are you a good fit for this job?
  • What is your experience in this specialty? 
  • What are your favorite patients to work up?
  • How would you manage (insert case scenario or diagnosis)?
  • What screenings would you recommend for a 60 year old male patient?
  • What would nurses/other staff say about you? 
  • How comfortable are you with (insert procedure or task)?
  • What are you comfortable and not comfortable doing?

Wrap it up

While part 2 of this blog series will focus on what questions you should ask (the last question will inevitably be “What questions do you have?”), I recommend ending an interview by asking “Are there any reservations you have about me?”

This allows you to address any concerns or questions about you not presented in your previous responses. But be careful what you ask for. Be prepared to respond. For example, if they are concerned about how you respond to clinical questions, tell them “As PAs we are trained broadly in multiple specialties. I know I have a lot to learn in regards to this specialty, but am confident once I am in a clinical position I will master the clinical skills and knowledge required to be successful here. ”

If they express concern about your experience, respond by stating you understand their concerns but that you are a hard worker, willing to learn, and are confident with time you will be a valuable team member.

Two priorities for every employer are that you will do a good job and that you are going to stick around. Turnover is extremely costly for employers. End the interview by expressing a desire for the job and relaying confidence you are a good fit for the long haul. Consider something like, “Thank you for this opportunity. This interview only solidified my desire to work here as a PA in (insert specialty). I am not looking for just any job, I want to work somewhere that is a good long term fit for me and where I know I will make a difference. I really feel like this would be a good fit. Thanks again for your time.”

Come back for Part 2: What to ask to make sure it is the right job for you.

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