Admissions

My Most Memorable Applicants

By Gene Jones, PhD, PA-CSeptember 6, 2017

Author Gene Jones sharing a laugh with a colleague at the Education Forum

Author Gene Jones sharing a laugh with a colleague at the Education Forum

If you’ve ever been involved in the applicant interview process, you’ll be able to relate to this article. If not, we still think you’ll find it entertaining.

After years of interviewing PA candidates for the program at UT Southwestern, there are a few I will never forget — for both good and not-so-good reasons. Now that I am retired, I can finally share some of those memories.

Can I Show You Something?

Years ago when we conducted panel interviews, toward the end of one interview, a candidate asked if she could show us something. The panelists quickly eyed one another and agreed to her request. The candidate produced a newspaper clipping of herself standing over a large black bear, with one foot atop the bear while holding a long rifle in her hands. She then proudly looked at us and said “You see this bear? I shot this bear.” OK! (nervous glancing from the panelists) … She was not offered a seat.

Frozen

As the candidate sat at one end of the table amidst three interviewers, an easy ice-breaker question was asked of him. Curiously, the candidate had elected to wear a heavy, dark  leather jacket to the interview rather than the ubiquitous business suit or blazer. The room where the interview was taking place was a bit warm. After a longer than comfortable pause with no response, the “ice-breaker” question was repeated. Beads of perspiration slowly emerged from the candidate’s forehead, upper lip, and chin. He couldn’t decide which of us to look at. Slowly a sound emerged and increased in crescendo into one long “HuhHuhHuhHuhHuh”…without a smile. We thought “OK. Understandably, he’s nervous. Let’s try another question.” Following the next question: Again, “HuhHuhHuhHuhHuh.” The panelists quickly decided this wasn’t working for him. We asked if he would like to excuse himself from the interview and perhaps give it another try at another time. He nodded his head and stood to leave the room. As he departed, we heard a trailing “HuhHuhHuhHuhHuh…” We never heard from him again.

The Glossy 8″ x 10″

In the pre-CASPA days of paper applications, occasionally we would receive unsolicited supplemental documents or media provided by an applicant with the assumed goal of enhancing their chances for an interview invitation. One day I opened an application and out fell a glossy 8″ x 10″ photograph of a man. Not a head shot mind you, but an oiled-up, shiny, muscle-bound man posing under bright lights with a toothy smile and arms flexed to accentuate massive biceps while wearing the tiniest Spandex G-string. I wondered if the reaction was just me, so I showed the image to my fellow faculty members. Their response was unanimous — “Ewwwww.” He was not invited to interview.

Can I Call You Grandpa?

For the last nine years we have been conducting multiple mini-interviews (MMI), with 10 separate stations, which gives every candidate 10 chances to make an impression. One year, upon conclusion of my station, a candidate volunteered to me that she grew up without grandparents, and she felt very comfortable with me. So comfortable, in fact, that she asked me “Can I call you grandpa?” Ummm … NO.

May I Sing for You?

My most memorable interview occurred recently with the final candidate in a daylong MMI session that included 54 candidates over eight hours. Following our brief introduction, I smiled and asked her, “Did we save the best for last?” I liked her reply — “I think so.” Without me disclosing the format of this particular station, during our conversation, the candidate informed me that she likes to sing to the residents of the assisted living facility where she works as a CNA. Sensing we had a little time left in the interview, she asked, “May I sing for you?” At first I was taken aback as I had never encountered a similar request. It took only a moment of hesitation before I responded, “Sure. Why not?”

What followed was an a cappella heartfelt rendition of the Etta James hit “At Last.” This was one of those “you had to be there” moments to adequately describe how moving and profound her singing was to me. What was a risk for her was an honor for me. Maybe I was simply tired after conducting 54 interviews. Maybe I was reflecting back on a closing 27-year career of interviewing PA candidates at two universities and never having experienced anything quite like this. I loved it. At last.

 

Jones
Gene Jones, PhD, PA-C

Gene has served on the faculty of two PA programs and recently retired as professor emeritus from the UT Southwestern PA program. He currently serves as a Professional Services consultant for PAEA.