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Before breaking down the steps for job interview preparation, be aware that every job interview is different, no matter what industry or position it is for.
Each job interview is held by a different employer or hiring manager, each with his or her own set of expectations and perspectives.
As such, there is no magic solution or preparation course that guarantees perfect success. However, it is strongly recommended to prepare for an interview as best you can, and in every way possible.
The background check as part of an interview
Employers often have preceding or succeeding interview processes, wherein they conduct background checks. These can either function as pre-qualifiers for interview and job candidacy, or they can function as additional criteria from which an employer bases a final decision.
Either way, always answer questions about your background honestly, with the assumption that the employer has or will conduct a background check.
Making things up about your work history, years of experience or dates of employment can and will work against you, when a background check reveals a very different story.
You should consider a background check to be part of the interview itself – an important part, at that.
It can certainly be difficult to broach the subject of a misdemeanor on your record, or to admit that you have bad credit if a credit check is involved. However, if in all other ways the employer is impressed with you, typically these things can be overlooked.
Let’s say, for example, that an interview for a medical assistant position is going very well, you decide not to mention a misdemeanor on your record.
It was five or six years ago, and the employer seems very interested in you, and you don’t want to risk creating a bad impression.
If a criminal background check then reveals your misdemeanor, 99% of employers will immediately cross your name off the list.
Not only does it make you appear dishonest or slippery, but when you bring it up yourself, you have the chance to explain, or put the employer’s mind at ease.
By contrast, when an employer discovers something negative on a background check – whether in a criminal or credit check – he or she may assume the worst, and by then you will not have the opportunity to defend yourself.
3 Important ways to prepare for an Interview
Everyone has small ways that they may prepare for an important job interview: ironing a suit, getting a haircut, clipping fingernails etc. These things should all go without saying.
If you have tattoos and/or piercings, it is imperative to cover them up and/or remove them before the interview – this should be common sense.
1. Research the desired place of employment.
It’s a good idea to learn information about the medical practice, hospital, senior home or other employer, beyond the basic facts and statistics.
Perhaps some of the doctors were featured in medical journals, or perhaps the facility holds an annual blood drive, or the medical professionals donate their time in underprivileged areas.
Whatever the case, there is no such thing as knowing too much about an employer before an interview.
2. Be ready to discuss your resume.
Your resume is not a few pieces of paper that you send in to an employer and then forget about. The employer will draw at least a few interview questions from your resume, so be prepared to answer with confidence.
Take a copy of your resume with you, so you can follow along with the HR or hiring manager – otherwise, when he or she has a question directly from your resume, you don’t have to risk looking under-prepared by asking, “Which part of my resume are you looking at?”
3. Clean up your social media
It becomes more and more commonplace for employers to use social media to conduct a type of background check. A social media background check will not be performed by all employers; and those who use this method will probably be more connected to the social media world themselves.
With that in mind, be aware of what and how you present yourself in the social media realm.
Do you have 50 pictures posted on your Facebook profile from a night of drinking and partying with your friends? Is there a lot of R-rated language on your profile or comments?
Consider things like this when you are applying for an MA position, and if you do have such things on your social media profiles – clean it up before sending out your resume.
Behavior, communication and what to do during the Interview
This is perhaps the most important part of the interview process, because it is when the employer or hiring manager will form the most influential perspective and opinion about you as a medical assistant.
How you communicate is every bit as important as what you communicate. Body language and nonverbal communication can work for or against you, so be very aware of what your nonverbal signs are telling the employer.
There are two forms of communication:
- Vocal – speech clarity, speed, frequency and articulation, in addition to the actual words you speak.
- Visual – facial cues and expressions, posture, eye contact and gestures.
For each type of communication during a medical assistant job interview, there are positive and negative actions and reactions.
Remember to smile, make eye contact, sit up straight and do not slump or slouch, avoid unnecessary information or providing answers to questions that add in superfluous content.
Be more formal than casual, but without being stiff or rigid. Your interaction with the hiring manger or employer will say a lot about your people skills, which is a big part of being a Medical Assistant.
You may even want to practice in front of a mirror before the interview, so you know how often or infrequently you smile or gesture, and whether to consciously add or refrain from other non-verbal cues.
For medical assistants at entry level, references are imperative to have on hand. References can include former internship supervisors, MA training educators, former employers, or co-workers.
Do not use friends and family members, as this is both unprofessional and provides no insight for employers into what kind of employee or professional you are.
While you should have references and their contact information on hand at the interview, only provide them if asked for – it is not necessary or warranted to voluntarily give them up.
It is also important to ask permission or let your references know you have listed them as a reference, so that they are not surprised or caught off guard.
Taming job interview nervousness
Especially for entry level medical assistants, nervousness may be hard to get under control. Shakiness, trembling, voice cracking, and even short term memory loss can all be results of nervousness and tension.
A few things to try to calm your nerves:
- Arrive early – you can use this time to sit and relax and listen to a song or two, or take a last look at your appearance. Arriving late will makes your nerves worse, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time to get ready and to arrive.
- Be fully prepared – This can include going over your resume until you practically have it memorized, researching the employer or medical practice, having a good idea how to use the research info to explain why you’re a good fit, and reviewing and preparing likely interview questions and answers, among other things. Being fully prepared will give you confidence and peace of mind.
- Go to bed in a good mood and with a full night’s sleep – this can do more for your state of mind and body than you know. If you only get four hours of sleep the night before, and your interview is at 8 a.m., not only will you feel tired and risk running late, but the interviewer will probably not be impressed if it looks like you rolled out of bed and right into the interview.
What to wear to an MA Interview
Let’s address this first by listing what not to wear:
- Never wear scrubs! The same goes for sneakers or other typical “medical office uniforms.”
- Heavy make-up and jewelry
- Visible tattoos or body piercings
- No low-cut tops or skirts more than an inch or two above the knee. Definitely do not show cleavage.
- Platform heels, stilettos, or heels more than a few inches
- Loud, bright nail polish or lipstick, or outrageous hairstyles
Acceptable job interview attire:
- Business casual appearance – dress slacks and modest blouse, suit with slacks or skirt no shorter than two inches above the knee, blouse and jacket
- Professional hairstyle – natural look, simple upswept hair, or tied back are all acceptable examples. Do not wear a whole bottle of hairspray, spiked or alternative hairstyles, or choose this time to get creative with your hair. Simple is best.
- Simple make-up and nail polish – again, go with a more natural look. Avoid bright flashy colors, no glitter, no heavy eye make-up and so forth
- Shoes – flats or reasonable heels; no super high heels.
Again, the basic idea is that simple and natural is best. Do not try to get away with riding the line of what’s acceptable. If you are not sure if it’s professional enough, then go with something else.
Scrubs are not acceptable attire for an interview, despite what MA’s typically wear. You are dressing for a job interview, not for the job itself.
MA job interview questions: What are the questions that always come up?
As stated at the beginning, there is no exact blueprint for an MA job interview. The point is to be prepared in all ways possible, and to provide yourself with enough interview “ammo” so that you are ready and confident regardless of what the questions are.
The best kind of interview structure is not a simple Q & A session, but rather a conversation between the interviewer and the applicant.
If you find yourself caught in a back-and-forth series of questions and answers, try to ask a question in return about the job, in order to create more of a conversation.
Be sure to put a positive spin on everything the interviewer asks of you, even if he or she seems to set you up for a negative answer.
This is why it is important to rehearse possible questions and answers, so that you are ready and confident with an answer with a positive perspective, regardless of the question itself.
Below are some potential questions that may arise in a job interview for a medical assistant position. Some of them may or may not be asked, or many of them could be.
While the examples below are common, there is no guarantee they will be included in any given medical assistant job interview.
However, rehearsing and preparing answers for the interview questions below will most certainly help you prepare for the real thing.
Common questions asked in a medical assistant job Interview
Q: Why should we hire you and why are you the best candidate for the job?
A: This would be a very good time to use information about the healthcare facility you researched beforehand, and use it in your answer, such as, “This medical facility places strong emphasis on serving the local community through medical information and volunteerism. I became an MA in order to serve my community in one of the most important ways possible.”
Q: Why do you want to be a medical assistant?
A: This question is very similar to the first. However, some interviewers may have a list of questions to ask all applicants, and they won’t all necessarily be ideal questions. Do your best to be positive, and avoid giving a clipped, one-sentence answer to this question. Explain your interests, your core values, how you got involved, and how that correlates to your desire to be an MA. Again, bring in the values of the healthcare facility and tie it into your reasons.
Q: Why do you want to work here?
A: For this type of question, it is very important to show interest in the healthcare facility as a specific individual place of employment. Focus upon its core values and/or mission, as well the kinds of services it provides. Does it specialize in prenatal care and gynecology? Does it provide community and volunteer services outside the practice? Does it have drug and alcohol recovery medical services? Again, use the information gleaned from your research about the facility in your answer, and correlate it to your own goals, values and work ethics.
Q: Why do you find difficult about being a Medical Assistant?
A: This is an example of a question that is designed to set up a negative answer. The absolute best approach is to put a positive spin on it. Instead of “I find it difficult to work with frenzied or erratic patients,” instead try “I have had difficulties dealing with upset or distressed patients, but I have learned to remain calm and ask them how I can help – this usually gets to the root of the problem, and enables me to help solve their problem or distress.” Whatever your “difficulty” is, be sure to illustrate how you’ve learned solutions to deal with it, or ways to conquer the difficulties.
Q: How would you handle a conflict with a co-worker? How do you interact with them?
A: It may seem like the best answer here is to reply “I’ve never had any problems with co-workers.” However, that tells the hiring manager or employer nothing about how you work with others, or how you deal with potential problems in the workplace. You also do not want to bad-mouth previous co-workers or employers, as this is one of the top inappropriate interview responses. Never rant about any of your previous co-workers or bosses during an interview. Instead, you could say something like, “I once worked with an individual who never finished her work, and always left it for others. Rather than telling her or my boss, ‘that’s not my job,’ I usually just finished up what was left, and said nothing about it. Eventually our boss noticed I was doing her work, and I was rewarded for it.” Always focus upon the positive in all of your replies, regardless of how the question is set up.
Q: How do you handle irate or upset patients?
A: The best way to help an upset or irate patient is to calmly and sympathetically ask them point blank, “What is it that you need” or “What can I do to help you?” This usually retrieves an answer from the patient which can be assessed and provided a solution. In non-verbal ways, maintaining a calm demeanor and voice, and even smiling, or if appropriate something like holding a patient’s hand can also help calm them down.
Q: Explain a procedure, for example, a vasectomy.
A: There’s obviously no correct or incorrect answer to the explanation of a procedure. However, it’s wise to choose a procedure that you can showcase positive work ethic, leadership, or other traits that employers want in an employee, or that illustrates your knowledge and scope of experience as a Medical Assistant. It’s probably not the best idea to describe the simplest of procedures, such as administering a shot or taking a patient’s BP. The more complex the procedure you describe (drawn from your experience; again, do not lie about a procedure you haven’t done simply to impress the employer) the more experienced you will come across.
Q: What do you like the most and the least about your job?
A: Again, while the second half of the question sets the applicant up for a negative answer, remember to use a positive approach to what you like least. While it considerably easier to come up with a positive response about what you like best – or several things – what you like least should be answered carefully. An answer like “One of the things I like least is the fact that medical assistants are limited as to where and how they can work. MA’s can’t work in ICU, or aid in surgery, without going back to get further training and certification.” This kind of answer shows enthusiasm about being a Medical Assistant.
Q: What is one weakness and one strength that you have?
A: This is another common interview question used to set the applicant up for a certain kind of response. It is worded so that it is natural or easy to give a negative trait about yourself as a weakness, but the best approach for response is to include how you’ve managed that weakness or negative trait. For example – “One of my biggest weaknesses is time management, but I have learned to put a system in place which helps keep me in check, so that I now use my time wisely.” You can even stress that others don’t know you have difficulty with time management because you’ve learned how to overcome the difficulty, but that it is something that has been a challenge for you.
When addressing your strength, be sure not to brag or be arrogant – employers and interviewers are put off by an arrogant answer even more than a poor answer for weakness.
Q: Do you work on holidays, weekends?
A: It is always best to communicate a willingness to work whenever it is necessary, which is what you can say. If there is a day, like Sunday,” when you absolutely cannot work, it is best to emphasize all the other times that you can work.
Q: How well do you work alone? Do you prefer to work with a team or alone?
A: Typically, the correct answer here is “both.” Whether the job entails more team work or more independent work, most jobs require at least a little of each. An employer wants to know if you are a team player, but responsible enough, and have enough initiative to work independently, without having to be led or given detailed instructions every minute.
Q: What do you see yourself doing in the next five years?
A: It’s a good idea to answer this in a way that again shows enthusiasm and a desire for growth within your industry, but not so fast that you seem like someone will only be there a few months. An answer such as, “I love being an MA, but eventually I would like to go back to school and become an RN” would a good way to answer this question.
Preparation is the key to success for any interview. Whether it requires practicing in front of a mirror, researching the facility in depth, or reading interviews with medical professionals from the healthcare facility, you cannot prepare enough for job interview.
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