How to answer the dreaded interview question: “Tell me about yourself?”
Traditionally, this is 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.
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.
Want to test yourself with some sample questions?
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":
Here is an example
“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 and 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). It’s not hard to create a similar response for yourself with enough time and thought. You’ll probably find that, with preparation, you’ll be looking forward to answering this question and can be confident that you’ll do a great job!
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About the Author
Dr. Ashley White, former admissions committee member at McMaster, family physician.
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