Ten things not to do on a PA Job Interview

Out of the sea of resumes received by the hiring manager, yours was deemed worthy of an interview.  Congratulations!  You made it through, but how do you make sure your actions during the interview don’t disqualify you from the competition?  Here are 10 things to avoid doing while under the interviewer’s spotlight, based on past mistakes of candidates who didn’t make the cut*.

*I have somehow ended up on more PA hiring panels than I’m probably qualified for, but this has given me the opportunity to observe, first-hand, where candidates seem to go wrong and why interviewers favour certain applicants over others.  Read on for the 10 No-No’s of PA job interviews.

1. Don’t arrive too early or too late

Some candidates think that arriving very early is a sign of dedication, but it can actually be seen as an inability to follow instructions and an inconvenience to the interviewing team. While arriving on-time is a must, avoid showing up more than 15 minutes before your scheduled time. If it’s a larger facility, feel free to hang out at the coffee shop or explore your surroundings, but don’t formally check in for the interview until closer to your indicated time. In terms of arriving late, just don’t do it.

2. Don’t be out-of-character in the waiting room

The interview starts as soon as you arrive on-site. Chances are, the administrative assistant in the waiting area will have something to say about you to the hiring manager, so be on your best behaviour. No phone calls (especially not personal ones), no awkward mannerisms like whistling or laughing loudly (yes, it happens), and certainly no rude or impatient behaviour towards anyone around you. Those are sure ways to lose the job before you even get it.

3. Don’t dress inappropriately

Not sure what to wear?  Start with what NOT to wear.

The key is to be professional, neat and presentable, while maintaining a sense of self and comfort.  Go for what is generally acceptable in a professional environment- blouses, dress shirts, suits, dress pants, cardigans, blazers, dress shoes… you get the picture.   While everyone has a different definition of “conservative”, avoid clothing that is too tight, too revealing or too flashy (yes, some men have had trouble sitting down for the interview because their pants were too tight).  If you have any reservations about an outfit, change it.  How you feel about your look can jeopardize or enhance your performance, so choose wisely.

4. Don’t exaggerate your qualifications

If you have just graduated from PA school, it is unlikely that you are an expert clinician in every area of medicine, so don’t pretend to be. Be humble in how you present yourself. While it is important to highlight relevant experiences (eg. clinical rotations you’ve completed and courses you’ve taken), avoid exaggerating your skill-level when it comes to what you can and can’t do on the job. You will go further with a positive attitude and a willingness to learn than a “know-it-all” persona and false claims about your abilities.

5. Don’t criticize past employers

If you are asked why you left a previous position, don’t go on a rant about how awful your supervisor was and how horrible of a work environment it was. The medical world is a fairly tight-knit community; be careful who you shame as you may be criticizing a colleague of your interviewer. You also don’t want to be seen as a complainer with unrealistic expectations, so try to have a balanced approach to your answer and don’t put down others to justify your departure from a past position.

6. Don’t tell the interviewer you’re unsure about your availability

An interview is not simply an encounter; it is an invitation. By accepting the invitation, you have indicated that you are preliminarily interested in the position and fit the eligibility criteria, including availability. You may be interviewing for several positions, which is fine, but don’t tell the interviewer that you are not sure if you can commit to the job as there are other opportunities you’re looking at. By doing so, you have essentially ended the interview. The position will go to the applicant who showed more interest and dedication. Keep your options open until a job offer is actually made, at which point you can compare your options and choose the better fit. If you decline an offer, it is not the end of the world; the interviewer will pass it on to the next best candidate or try to entice you with a better offer.

7. Don’t divulge personal information

Since most applicants are not robots (yet!), some information about personal life is bound to surface during the interview.  This is okay and allows for a human connection, trust and respect.  However, you should not tell the interviewers details about your personal life; nor should they ask you for them.  In fact, some questions are illegal to ask in Canada.  If you just found out you’re pregnant, met a girl online from France, got diagnosed with Irritable Bowel Syndrome, totaled your car or bought a house on a tropical island, don’t tell your interviewer.  None of this disqualifies you from the competition but some of it may influence your interviewer’s decision and decrease your chances of getting a job offer.  Stick to information that is  related to your skills and qualifications and decide how you will handle inappropriate questions about your personal life.

8. Don’t ask the interviewer questions that are not relevant to the position

So you dodged the awkward questions and made it to the end of the interview.  Don’t ruin things by now asking the bizarre questions yourself.  “So, is that your Mercedez out there?”, might be your attempt at connecting with the interviewer over her taste in fancy cars, but it may also be seen as creepy and intrusive.  Asking questions is important; asking good questions will show your potential employer that you are prepared and aware.  Ask about the site’s familiarity with the PA role, current clinical structure, goals for PA integration and CME opportunities, but don’t ask the interviewer how many kids he has or if he likes to travel.

9. Don’t compare your role as a PA to other health care roles in a negative light

Sometimes, there are candidates who are very proud of their PA role and can’t wait to advocate for the profession, but they may go about it in the wrong way. Saying things like, “As a PA, I have a great work-life balance that is impossible for physicians to achieve,” is both naive and insulting, as many physicians are able to effectively manage their personal and professional lives. Similarly, downplaying another profession’s role to elevate one’s status is inappropriate, such as saying that nurses are limited to bedside care while PAs can diagnose and treat. Nurses are integral to the healthcare team, have various levels of practice and are routinely involved in clinical decision-making. It is important to advocate in a respectful manner that highlights everyone’s roles positively.

10. Don’t leave without professionally closing off the interview

Interviewer: “So, do you have any other questions for us?”

Candidate: “No, I think that’s it”.  *walks out of room*

Yes, this has happened and no, it is not a professional way to conclude an interview.  At the end of the interview, thank the interviewer for their time, offer to provide references or further information and inquire about the timing of the decision.  This will show the interviewer that you have a high interest in the position and will put you ahead of other candidates who closed abruptly or unprofessionally.

In Conclusion

You are now armed with a list of what NOT to do during an interview; all that remains is to figure out WHAT to do and HOW to do it effectively, but that’s for a future blog post. Until then, happy interviewing!

One Comment

  1. VELANGANI DIVYA SIRISHA GANDREDDI January 1, 2023 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    Hi Team,
    I would to take guidance on Pre PA activities. Could you please guide me on this.

    I have few questions which are below.
    1) I wrote IELTS on Nov’2020. score was 6.5 . Is it valid two year old score card?

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