The PT School Interview Day

This is a day every pre-PT student looks forward to. Yet, it is also a day filled with much trepidation over the unknown. How will the interviewers be? What sorts of questions will be asked? Will you be interviewed one-on-one or in a group? What are the rest of the interviewees going to be like and will they outshine you? This may be one of the most nerve-racking days of your life because it determines such a large chunk of your future. I work as a personal trainer, and I never prepared as much for an interview for that job as I did for PT school.

First off, I would say it’s absolutely essential to download this guide by Gaurav Khanal and Karin Cathers. It’s never too early to start reading it, especially because this book contains a myriad of questions that were asked in PT school interviews along with common answers given. The authors then suggest better answers to make you stand out as a candidate. I used these questions to practice and would often do so in the bathtub, asking them out loud and then crafting my answers over time. I read it more than once too, which I suggest doing.

Now on to the interview itself.

You have gotten the interview, and one of the first things you might be thinking about is what exactly you should wear. Most PT school interviews require business formal. For men, that is a suit and tie. Avoid overly flashy colors and patterns. For women, the is a suit with a blouse underneath.

I was troubled myself because I am a colorful person, quite figuratively and literally, and my dad recommended tan or white or black or navy blue, all dull colors, in my opinion. My psychiatrist, on the other hand, encouraged me to go with pink because she rebelled in her own way. She did wear business formal, but during her day, forgoing tights was like going naked (she simply hated tights!). She also wore a full-blown dress instead of a two piece suit. Is that business formal? I don’t know, but it worked for her.

I met myself in the middle by getting a tan suit with a bright orange blouse. I also wore a gold butterfly clip in my hair to really stand out. I got some fake pearl earrings and a pretty flower necklace, both from Claire’s. I have a bad nail biting habit, so I glued on some French nails. I wore tights and black pumps. However, wearing the pumps was a massive mistake for me because my feet screamed at me in less than thirty minutes of being led around campus. So for women, I recommend wearing dress shoes you are already familiar with. I also had a slight wardrobe malfunction because one of the threads came undone at the back of my skirt. I’m pretty sure I’m the only one who noticed, but make sure you inspect your outfit before purchasing it.

I didn’t wear make-up, so ladies, this is not something you have to do. If you choose to, keep it simple. I would forego eyeliner and eyeshadow, keep the blush and foundation light, and use a minimal amount of mascara to avoid flaking or clumping. You want your make-up to be low maintenance so you don’t really have to touch it up during interview day. I kept lip balm on me, and that was it. I would also remove any facial piercings, except for earrings, obviously. Stay conservative for this day. This tip applies to men as well.

Gentlemen, just keep your face clean shaven, keep your facial hair neat and orderly.

When you are being led around campus, be alert. Sometimes the student PT’s leading you will be asked if anyone stood out to them, and you want to be that person. This means it is absolutely vital you ask questions. I had a small notebook with questions already prepared that I wanted to ask about the program itself. I was curious about their imaging class, about the fellowships and residencies they offered, and if there were any research opportunities or community involvement projects. Do not ask questions whose answers you can find online. I can tell you in all honesty that it was mostly me asking questions outside of our scheduled interviews. Did that make a difference? I can’t really be sure, but I’m certain it made me stand out.

Make sure you also interact with the other students. Do not see them as competition but potential classmates. Really, don’t be afraid to talk to them; they are just as nervous as you are. They’ll likely welcome the potential distraction, and getting to know the other interviewees will bring down nerves. We mostly talked about where we came from because we were all interviewing for the flex program.

And speaking of the flex program, our group was incredibly small, only five people. It seems to me that the University of St. Augustine heavily vets ahead of time because they do schedule calls with you prior to actually submitting the application for consideration. Nothing was recommended to me, so my app was sent right away, but some people do receive recommendations to re-take a certain class or re-do the GRE or something like that to improve their chances. They don’t necessarily have to take the advice and can still submit, but there are others who applied to other campuses whose applications were outright rejected for submission based on many factors. Your university may do this. It may not. Regardless, don’t expect your interviewing group to be as small as mine was–and I was grateful for this because that actually eliminated my nerves immediately.

Our group of 5 was broken up to two–3 for spring and 2 for fall. Obviously I am with the fall group. Now a group interview can go one of three ways:

1. A question can be asked, and it's a free-for-all. You'll have to jump in and answer when you can, obviously not cutting someone else off. Thus, if you know your university is going to be doing a group interview, prepare for this possibility by practicing interviewing enough that you are confident you can answer any question thrown at you, even if it's one you've never practiced before. 

2. A question is asked, but the interviewer chooses who interviews first. This style of interviewing is most people's preferred because it gives them time to come up with an answer (save for the one who was asked first) without feeling pressured. You don't have to worry about whether or not you're going to have time to answer a question because you might be drowned out. Once the answer is given, the interviewee moves on to the next person. 

3. A question is asked, an answer is provided, and a conversation ensues. This is how my interview went. I would answer the question, and the interviewee would provide some insight. The other interviewer would then answer, and some more insight would be provided. In an interview style like this, you can still say something yourself within the same question as long as the other interviewer is done speaking. Of course, you don't want to say something that contradicts the other interviewer or steps on toes, so to speak. 

One-on-one interviews aren’t too much different. With both group and one-on-one, you could actually be interviewed by multiple people be it staff or staff and a student or two.

The best way to prepare for interviewing is just to practice it. Whether you practice on your own or practice in front of someone, it’s necessary that you have a working knowledge of the kinds of questions you could be asked. I’d write down the questions and wrote the answers to them. I then typed up everything in a word document and printed it out. As I practiced, sometimes I crossed through and wrote a better way of saying something.

The ultimate question you need to be prepared to answer is why do you want to be a physical therapist. I believe this is answered in the book I linked above, but I can tell you one thing you should never say is that you want to help people. You can help people in any profession, but why physical therapy?

I can’t remember all of the questions I was asked. I do know that all of the questions but one were questions I had already been practicing on my own. If you’re this lucky, do your best to make it not seem rehearsed. As for the question I never practiced, it was my thoughts on group studying. I had done group studying before, so this one wasn’t too hard to answer. However, the interviewer did throw a curve ball when they asked what would I do if a student came to our group with a problem and no matter how many times I tried to help them out, they just couldn’t get it.

For questions that keep you on your toes, there is no right or wrong answer. I said I’d see if I could get someone else to help. The interviewer then pointed out that sometimes as a student you just have to consider yourself. After all, if there’s a student who just can’t get it and said student is thus slowing your entire studying session down, the best thing you can do is to get someone else whose job it is to help to take over.

You also need to have an understanding of the physical therapy profession as a whole because you might be asked about it. I wasn’t, so I arguably got off easy. You need to know what vision 2020 is and what beyond vision 2020 is for sure. Basically, keep up-to-date on the profession through APTA. I’d recommend having discussions about the profession with physical therapists you’ve shadowed. And I can’t say it enough, but the book above also provides a lot of things you should consider when it comes to learning about this profession.

It’s especially crucial to have an understanding because you might have an essay question you have to do during your interview. I didn’t, so I’m not going to pretend to be an expert. Just treat it like you’re writing an essay for the GRE.

Now I know some of you who are reading this might be the nervous type and are wondering what to do about managing your nerves so that way you don’t start stumbling over your words. Again, it’s all about being prepared. The more you practice interview questions, the better at interviewing you will be in general, even if you’re given a question you are entirely unfamiliar with. In fact, if you can’t answer right away, just be honest and say you would like a moment to formulate your thoughts. This will not count against you since it shows you care to put thought into what you wish to say.

Don’t bite your nails or touch your face or tap your foot or jiggle your leg or play with your hair or engage in any other fidgeting kinds of behaviors. Do speak clearly, maintain eye contact, keep your hands folded in your lap during interview time, sit up straight, smile, relax your shoulders, and take notes, if necessary.

A final piece of advice I have is to understand where you are at as far as your interpersonal skills are concerned. You can look excellent on paper, but if you do not communicate well, the person who is average on paper but excellent in speech sitting next to you is going to get your seat. Interpersonal skills matter a great deal in this profession, as you should know.

This is your day. I was told it numerous times, and now I’m going to pass it on, but be yourself. You may not be able to fully be yourself (my morbid sense of humor had to be kept under lock and key), but don’t mute yourself to the point where people can’t get a grasp of who you might be. When I went to my interview, I assumed I had already been chosen for the school. Such a thought gave me the confidence needed to blow through the interview and come away feeling certain I had landed an offer.

You landed this for a reason. They are interested in you. Don’t be afraid to show them why.

Next post will be all about observation hours and letters of recommendation.