“Tell me about yourself?” is traditionally one of the most common medical school interview questions. It’s usually the first thing you’ll be asked when you sit down. And it should be one of the easiest questions to answer — because you can anticipate and prepare for it — but, just as commonly, it’s one of the most anxiety-provoking and confusing questions. We are here to help you prepare for your medical school interview by providing a step-by step guide for how to answer the question "Tell me about yourself" and giving you a sample response that can inspire your own!


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Why do interviewers ask "tell me about yourself"?

Part of any application process is self-reflection and self-evaluation. What values are important to you? What drives and motivates you? Why do you want to be a doctor? How do other people see you? How do you see yourself? What is unique about you? This is really the type of information that interviewers are probing at when they ask you to talk to them about yourself. All too often, however, applicants interpret this question as “Tell me about your application” and either recite their CV or how they came to apply to a particular program. It’s important to keep in mind that, if someone wanted to know about your professional background, they would be asking about that instead. You’ve already provided this information in your application. Paper applications allow you to demonstrate who you are as an applicant, but “Tell me about yourself” is your chance to demonstrate who you are as a person.

You shouldn’t feel like you have to completely ignore talking about your professional background. In fact, probably a great deal of your academic and extra-curricular experiences have shaped who you are as a person. Still, it’s important to balance your personal and professional sides; provide insight into the kind of worker you’ll be and the kind of colleague you are. You can structure your response in just this way.

Check out our video on how to answer "Tell me about yourself": 

“Tell Me About Yourself” Is Not a Trick Question 

Let's set the record straight – "Tell me about yourself" is not a trick question. Undoubtedly this question has some cons:

  1. It is too open-ended. You may be unsure of what you want to share about yourself and start rambling on.
  2. There is no right or wrong answer. Some may feel uncomfortable with its subjectivity.
  3. And probably the most frustrating aspect of this question is that nobody can provide you with the right answer. You are the expert on yourself.  

In reality, this question is a great benefit to you. By asking you to talk about yourself, the interviewers want you to take the lead in the conversation. You must be in charge of your narrative. After all – it's your interview. This opening is meant to make you feel comfortable and get the conversation going. This way you start with the topic you know the most about – you. Not only is it one of the most common interview questions of all time, but it is also one that is most often used to break the ice. While it may catch you off guard to take charge of the interview right away, it is also your chance to take the reins of the conversation. Just think about it: you are allowed to take lead and steer the conversation in your preferred direction. By providing a captivating and memorable answer, you can direct what further questions will be asked. Most likely, the interviewers know almost nothing about you outside of your application. In a way, you are presenting potential topics for discussion and unique bits of information that will make you stand out in the minds of the admission committee members. Feel empowered! This is your time to take charge. And be ready to take the interviewers down a prepared path. To do this, make sure to brainstorm your answer ahead of time.

Length and Prep Strategy

Keep in mind that your answer should last no longer than two minutes. When you prepare your response, I suggest making a list of top points you want the interviewer to know about you. These should be written down as bullet points. I strongly discourage you from writing a script and memorizing it. First of all, scripting your full answer may come off as stiff and insincere. Secondly, accidentally going off-script could make you fumble and lose your poise. When you start practicing with bullet points, you will notice that you become more and more comfortable with your answer. You will become more flexible, more confident, and therefore your answer will come off as natural and sincere.

A Step by Step Guide to Answering “Tell Me About Yourself"

Step 1: Your Background

Your first step must be brainstorming and writing down events, experiences, and passions that you find unique and interesting about yourself. Do not fall into the trap of believing that your life is uneventful. Every person has a story to share, so start with simple things like your background:·       

These may seem like very ordinary questions, but they are the ones that can trigger your story. Your childhood experiences have a great influence on who you become as an adult, so starting from early years is always a good strategy.

Step 2: Activities, Work, Passions

As you brainstorm, reflect on your most significant experiences, such as volunteer and work activities, hobbies, passions, and so on. Remember, this is not the time to list off your academic or work accomplishments. The interviewers have reviewed your AMCAS Work and Activities section or your OMSAS sketch. In “Tell me about yourself”, your task is to genuinely reveal something about your personality and what makes you unique. You may not think that your passions, such as football, drawing, or animals, might be of significance, but you are wrong. A great narrative can be and should be created based on your sincere life experiences and interests. Reflect on what makes you happy, what you truly enjoy, and write this down in your list.

Step 3: Structure Your Answer

Once you narrow down what you would like to include in your answer, it's time to structure your response. Since we are not writing a script, simply write down a few points you need to hit to have a cohesive narrative. For example:

  1. Background: Place of birth
  2. Big childhood event: Grandmother’s illness
  3. Passions: Cello, music, performance
  4. Life event that led to medicine directly: War vet performances
  5. Experience that convinced me that I want to become a physician: Volunteering with war vets

Step 3: Show, Don’t Tell - Connecting Activities and Events to Medicine

This is inevitable. While your interviewers truly want to hear all about you, this is still going to be a medical school interview so you must demonstrate how the events you share with them connect to medicine and your desire to become a physician. This does not mean that every event you list has to steer in that direction, but eventually, after a brief introduction of your background, experiences, and activities, you must tie your narrative to why you are here, in front of a medical school admissions committee. Your experiences, hobbies, and passions must show, rather than simply tell, why you are in the right place and why you are dedicated to becoming a physician.

Personal anecdotes are the structure of your answer, but make sure that the main message of your answer contributes to the larger picture of why you want to be accepted into medical school. For example, if you want to start with your origins, do not simply say:

“I am from Detroit, Michigan. I’ve wanted to be a doctor since I was little.”

This statement does not reveal anything about your motivations. Rather, carefully link your place of origin with an experience that shaped your aspirations to become a medical student. For example:            

“I am from Detroit, Michigan. Unfortunately, over the years my hometown has undergone much economic decline, which resulted in social insecurity for the most vulnerable communities. From early childhood, I witnessed the real difference that healthcare providers make for such communities. Their sacrifices and kindness influenced my choice to volunteer in a community health center for low-income families since I was 14.”

This little bit of information provides a glimpse into where you come from and gives an opening for the next point of your story. For example, maybe you met an amazing mentor or a patient who changed your perspective. This is just one example, but you can see why it’s important to create a vivid story when you answer, “Tell me about yourself”. Your answer should be informative, but it should be more colorful than a simple statement of fact. You do not have to ignore your professional and academic experiences, but try to make them personal, make them come alive! Reveal your personality and life with your answer. 

Step 4: Conclusion

Your conclusion must tie your answer together. Preferably, your conclusion will satisfy the admission committee member's curiosity about how you got here. Then they can begin asking you other interview questions that might dig deeper into your suitability for medical school and their program in particular. Hopefully, your answer will not only satisfy their curiosity but generate further questions and leave a lasting impression on the committee. 

Sample response

“I grew up in a small town in British Columbia in a really baseball-obsessed family. My parents and older siblings all played and so did I. They’re a big support I draw on when I’m busy with a lot of things on my plate and their support helped me do well in school and balance sports, volunteering, and my extracurricular activities. Baseball was one of the things that bonded us closely together and we’ve always been really close. My mom was a big knitter and that was something that just the two of us had in common, even though we both looked a little goofy knitting on the bleachers during a game. Along with school and my extracurricular activities, baseball was one of the biggest parts of my life and I learned to really love being a part of a team, having goals for myself, and sharing goals with others. Having sports injuries and seeing some of my teammates work through their injuries gave me some experience with the healthcare system. It opened my eyes to a lot of opportunities to work with people having their own health struggles and I learned to appreciate and focus on my health while developing as an individual. I started to volunteer at the hospital in my hometown and this became almost as big a part of my life as baseball. Being thought of as someone that another person could confide in and trust and be able to offer some help and comfort was a really significant experience for me and motivated me to explore other opportunities to contribute more to the healthcare system. Always having an interest in sports, made human kinetics a fit for my university studies and I finished my program this past spring with honors. When I look back on my involvement with teams, my memorable experiences with patients, and my interest in the human body, medicine seemed like the natural next step for me personally and professionally and I’m really excited to be interviewing for your program.”

This would be a good response because it’s personal, memorable, and equally demonstrates the desirable qualities of a medical student (interested in the human body, goal-directed, etc.) and classmate (good team player).

FAQs

1. What is the best format I should follow for answering “tell me about yourself”?

As previously mentioned, the very first thing you need to do to answer this question well is to reflect on your experiences. You'll need to be able to identify what makes you, you. In your response, you'll want to highlight a few experiences or key events (2-3) in your life that are significant, have helped shape you as a person or are part of your identity. With each experience or key moment, be sure to discuss what you learned from the experience.

Lastly, you'll want to make the connection for how these skills or experiences will be beneficial in your future endeavors. Where possible, ensure your response is in chronological order so it's easy to both understand and follow.

2. How long should my response be?

You don't want to give a one-line response, but you also don't want to be rambling on about where you grew up, how many siblings you have, and that you enjoy long walks on the beach. As with answering most medical school interview questions, the quality of your response is much more important than the quantity. As a general rule of thumb, a response between 1-3 minutes would be suitable, but too much longer than that and you risk losing your audience's attention.

3. In which interview style can I expect to be asked this question?

“Tell me about yourself” is one of the most common interview questions so you can expect this question to come up in every interview format including traditional, panel, MMI, video interview, etc.

4. What is the most common mistake students make when answering this question?

The most common mistake students make is reciting their CV. The purpose of the “tell me about yourself” question is to learn more about you, what makes you unique and of course, every question is tied back to the often-unasked question: Are you a suitable candidate for our program? Do not recite your CV or other information that is easily found in your application materials. This is your chance to open up to the interviewers and allow them the opportunity to get to know the real you.

5. Why should I only talk about three experiences?

Remember, you want to share actual examples and SHOW the interviewers who you are. If you talk about too many experiences, you cannot really give specific details, and the quality of your answer will suffer. For this reason, we recommend sticking to a maximum of 3 experiences and talking about these experiences in some detail. This will allow you to give a concise but detailed answer.

6. What type of experiences can I talk about?

You can mention any type of experience you wish! When you look back on your life, which experiences or relationships stand out to you? Do you have a hobby that is a big part of your life, like cooking or working out? Do you speak a different language? Did you immigrate from another country to where you live now? Did a particular job, volunteering, research, or extracurricular activity make a particularly big impact on you? Maybe you have a role model or mentor who made a big impact on your life. You want to spend time reflecting and picking the 3 key experiences that resonate most with you.

7. Should I talk about medicine-related or academic experiences?

You certainly can talk about either of these, but don’t feel that it's required. As noted in the above answer, any experience can be a good one to mention here, and this is a great opportunity for you to stand out and be unique. Don’t be afraid to talk about something unrelated to your studies or to medicine (or whichever profession you are applying to). If you give details and show why it was important to you, your answer will be strong no matter what experience you talk about.

8. My answer sounds rehearsed. What should I do?

While this is a question you must anticipate and plan for, you don’t want it to sound rehearsed. You should brainstorm and create an outline of the experiences you want to talk about, but you do not want to memorize your answer word-for-word. Instead, if your answer comes out a bit differently each time, that’s OK! You should focus on relaying your experiences honestly, and simply keep your outline and the order of experiences in mind, rather than memorizing your answer. This ensures you come across as polished, but not rehearsed.

Final Thoughts

Preparing your answer for the question “Tell me about yourself” is challenging but a strong answer will set the tone for your interview. Feeling confident will allow you to establish rapport and likability with the interviewer. As I already mentioned, do not memorize your answer. Rather, practice answering it in front of a mirror and try to remember the points you truly want to hit in your response. Practice will allow you to grow comfortable with talking about yourself. After ample practice, you will eventually map out the answer in your head, so there will be no need for memorization. 

To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting 

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