Virtual Interviews: The Current “Normal” for Admissions

The pandemic has created numerous opportunities for innovation. To explore some of them, PAEA is writing a series of three articles about admissions in the time of COVID-19. In part one, we discussed virtual shadowing as a way for pre-PA students to gain experience during the pandemic. In part two of PAEA’s virtual admissions series, we cover another key admissions process: interviewing.

While there are a few PA programs that have always done virtual interviews and have had to make only minimal adjustments because of the pandemic, most PA programs in the country have had to shift their interview practices to be completely virtual. Lessons can be learned from both types of programs about how best to conduct these virtual interviews, with innovative pieces that can and should be carried forward post-pandemic.

Paul Gonzales, MPAS, PA-C, assistant professor at Touro University – California’s PA program and Janie McDaniel, MS, MLS(ASCP)SC, director of admissions at the Yale PA Online program, have graciously provided some tips to help programs and pre-PAs adjust to a virtual interview environment.

Tips for PA Programs 

Some PA programs are just beginning the interview process for their 2019–2020 cohort while others have already completed multiple virtual interviews. At Touro, they completed four successful virtual interview sessions using Zoom and a multiple mini interview (MMI) format. While Yale Online’s interview process has always been entirely virtual, they are constantly working to innovate and improve upon it. Based on their experience, the two programs have suggested the following tips for adapting future interview processes:

  • Do not interview too many applicants at one time — it can become overwhelming for the interview team and the applicants.
  • Have a moderator available who will not be participating in the actual interview.
  • Be sure everyone is comfortable with the chat features, joining virtual breakout rooms, and screen-sharing options in case they are needed.
  • Have a complete set schedule beforehand and do a trial run with current students.
  • Have an online source for all documents, including pre-created folders with necessary files for the day.

As mentioned, Yale Online has been working to innovate and improve its already virtual interview process throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the creative new ideas they have implemented that other programs could consider are:

  • Webinars covering admissions, program overview, and financial aid
  • Virtual post-interview sessions held at the end of each interview round that include a program overview and Q&A session, followed by a one-hour session where applicants can ask questions of current students
  • Post-interview virtual tours of campus, classrooms, labs, and other amenities
  • Admissions surveys sent out at the end of each cycle to all admitted applicants to request feedback for enhancing the online admissions process and online interviews

Tips for Applicants

In a typical environment, one of the most common questions we receive in the recruitment space is, “How should I prepare for my interview?” This question, along with the anxiety about not doing or saying the right thing, has only been magnified for applicants transitioning to a virtual interview process. Everyone is still figuring things out, and that can be unnerving. Luckily McDaniel and Gonzales have shared some guidance for applicants who may be doing a virtual interview for the first time:

  • Do a dry run, making sure you know how to connect your camera and audio via the live streaming platform. 
  • Make sure your lighting is good and your background is appropriate, including minimal clutter. Avoid the backgrounds that project a photo behind you. 
  • Do not panic if you are not admitted to the interview room until the designated interview time. 
  • Dress and act professionally, even though you are in the comfort of your own home. 
  • Do not worry if your internet connection is weak or the call drops. Most of the time, things can be rescheduled, and it will not affect your chances of acceptance.  
  • Be yourself. 
  • Try to be self-aware. If you enter a group discussion late, do not interrupt. Wait until you can assess what is going on or until you are addressed.  
  • Make sure to read directions carefully (e.g., there are two prompts and only eight minutes to answer both). 
  • Use your time wisely and ask for feedback. 

For some students, the monetary cost of attending an in-person interview can be a severely limiting factor in applying to PA school. It is true that virtual interviews introduce the possibility for technology challenges and could limit the amount of interpersonal interaction that applicants have with other applicants along with faculty members’ ability to witness that interaction. However, virtual interviews save money for both the students and programs, they provide more flexibility in scheduling for faculty, students, and applicants, and they allow students to interview in an environment that is more comfortable for them. They also allow programs to attract students from outside their typical sphere of influence. For some programs, the benefits may outweigh the challenges for programs and applicants. A silver lining to the pandemic could be that innovations around virtual interview processes give programs the ability to complement the live interview process in a post-COVID-19 world.

Thank you, Janie and Paul, for sharing the work of the Touro University – California PA program and the Yale PA Online program with PAEA members! Stay tuned for the last article in the series, which will be focused on virtual program onboarding.