How to Answer "Tell Me About Yourself" During Your Residency Interview

Updated: July 1, 2020

When it comes to common residency interview questions, “tell me about yourself” tops the list. You're almost guaranteed to be asked this question during your interview, and it's not a question that you can answer well on the spot without prior preparation. In this blog, review strategies to help create your own response that will effectively answer this challenging residency interview question.

Here's what you're going to learn:

What is the purpose of the “tell me about yourself” residency interview question?

How to best answer “tell me about yourself?” in a residency interview

“Tell me about yourself“ residency interview example

Would you like us to help you with your residency interview?


What is the purpose of the “tell me about yourself” residency interview question?

“Tell me about yourself” is an open-ended prompt that can be taken in a number of different directions. The interviewer wants to see what direction you'll move in when you're prompted this way. While everyone’s answer to this question will be different, the interviewer's main goal is to determine if your personal characteristics match what they're looking for and what the program is looking for. So, what response are residency interviewers hoping for? First of all, there is no copy-paste answer that will work for this question. Interviewers want to see your ability to self-reflect while answering unasked questions such as why are you here? What sparked your journey? Why are you sure medicine is suited for you? In some ways, you already had to reflect upon this question in your residency personal statement, so draw some ideas from the essay you wrote.

How to best answer “Tell me about yourself”

You might as well be asked, “who are you?”, a question where if anyone came up to you on the street and asked it, you'd probably be stunned silent, or maybe a nervous giggle would escape, because what do you really say to that? How do you answer such a huge, thought-provoking question like tell me about yourself? Even if a family member or close friend asked, you'd probably struggle to reply. It's the question that many students struggle with during their residency interview because they don't really know where to start. When caught off guard, it might seem like the best option is to start from the very beginning and fire off where you came from, how many siblings you have and that you enjoy long walks on the beach.

Instead, you need to think about what residency directors actually want to know. Behind every question that they ask, they are looking to find the answer to the same question: Will you be a good fit for this program? In order to gain the answer, they need to learn more about you, personally and professionally. While they don't want to know your life story, they do want to know your relevant story. There is no fighting the fact that people love stories, so offering an answer that allows your interviewer to see you as a leader, communicator, collaborator, etc., will do much more for the impact of your answer than a loose string of events, benchmarks, or scores. For this reason, do not recite your residency CV when giving your response. This information is already available to the interviewers, and if they want to know about a specific detail, they will ask. Answering “tell me about yourself” requires much more depth and should give the interviewers insight into who you are as a person while highlighting your drive and dedication for a career in medicine.

Reflect

To best answer “tell me about yourself” during your residency interview, take careful consideration, self reflect, and of course, plan and prepare in advance. Let's begin with the basics, start by asking yourself some questions and writing down your responses. Try to think of three different activities that you enjoy doing, or better yet, three different activities that you'd have a hard time giving up because they're important to you. This can be anything and it doesn't have to, nor should it be related to medicine. For example, perhaps your committed to painting, playing soccer, and singing. Be sure you're not just picking three random things, make sure they are actually very important to you and you thoroughly enjoy participating in them.

When you come up with those answers start diving deeper into them to find out why these three items are important to you. For example, maybe practicing yoga is important to you because it's your way of connecting with yourself and others around you. Connecting with others is necessary for you because you love being part of something important and sharing experiences with those around you. From asking why you like yoga, we've picked out an essential quality: a desire for community, one that absolutely carries over in the practice of medicine. Not only are doctors part of a community of health care providers in a hospital or clinic, they are part of a local community, serving patients in the areas they reside, and part of an entire health care community filled with various team members including dentists, pharmacists, and nurses.

So, this is exactly what you need to do to answer the "tell me about yourself" residency interview question effectively. Find what interests and motivates you and then reflect on those thoughts and emotions and relate them to the skills and qualities necessary for success in residency programs.

One of the most important things to remember when developing your story further is to demonstrate your passion without just saying that you are passionate. Residency program directors will be very familiar with common mistakes students make in answering this question such as reading word-for-word from a CV or using cliches like “I'm a kind, caring person and love people.” The problem is, they are not going to buy it these responses. They don't want to hear what you think they want to hear, they want your genuine, unique story.

Develop

Through the above-mentioned brainstorming, you should start developing your main ideas and themes which will demonstrate your passion for medicine. For example, if in addition to Yoga, you also like hiking with your family, you might be able to find some common themes which are true to your personality. Both yoga and hiking with your family demonstrate a love of community, reaching goals together, and supporting others. Explore these themes further and use these experiences as you shape your answer. It's a good idea to pick one or two themes that will carry on throughout your response. For example, let's pick a love of community and supporting others. You could begin your response by discussing how yoga and hiking have always been important to you. Be sure to discuss why, what you gained from participating, and what it taught you about yourself. Then you could tie this theme into your own unique educational or personal experiences. For example, perhaps you first began volunteering at a hospital because you wanted to maintain that sense of community that you first experienced when practicing yoga. Perhaps through that volunteering, you realized how much of a difference you could make in the lives of patients and so supporting others as a physician is a natural progression for you.

Developing your own story, not someone else's is essential. Residency program directors want to understand your personal experiences and passions including where you started and what has led you to pursue this career choice. Ultimately, what has brought you here, in front of them, hoping to match to their residency program. They want to know where your drive has come from, and that it is a continual theme in your life choices.

Rehearse

Once you have your main speaking points jotted down, you'll need to rehearse. Ideally, your response should be a couple of minutes with three minutes being the maximum length. If it's any longer than that, you risk losing your audience’s attention. Try to strike a balance between continuously incorporating the important points you jotted down without coming across as too rehearsed. The last thing you want is for your answer to seem fake or robotic, so definitely don't memorize it. It's important that your answer comes across as confident and genuine. You'll be opening yourself up to the interviewers and that can feel vulnerable in general, let alone to someone you don't know, so make sure you feel comfortable and confident to tell them what makes you you, as well as where your passions, dreams, and aspirations lie. Be sure to practice your response in front of a mirror, or on camera, so you can watch yourself as you deliver your answer. Be on the lookout for any nervous behaviors, such as touching your hair, touching your face, fidgeting or pacing. Lastly, it's a good idea to consult a professional medical school advisor to ensure that your response is unique, in-depth, and conveys your suitability and desire for medicine.

Tell me about yourself residency interview example

I grew up in a small town in Minnesota experiencing both the highs and lows of competitive tennis and rugby. I thrived on the feeling of hitting a forehand winner past my opponent to seal a victory, or the surge of adrenaline consuming my body as I scampered past a tackle on the sidelines en route to scoring a try. Rugby taught me that every member of the team had a specific job to perform using a unique skill set, and team success was only achievable through strong leadership, collaboration, and trust. Besides bringing me an indescribable level of joy, these experiences instilled within me a relentless drive for success, personal accountability, and strong decision-making skills.

Unfortunately, as my passion for tennis and rugby grew stronger, my body was unable to keep up. Accepting my injuries was difficult, but having to undergo the process of diagnosis and treatment on several occasions allowed me to gain an appreciation for the knowledge and compassion of those who took care of me, and these experiences served as my first exposure to the field of medicine. I was amazed at how physical therapy and chiropractic treatments could soothe my sore muscles and re-align my bones. I decided to study Kinesiology at X University to learn more about the mechanisms of movement and different methods of bone, joint and tissue rehabilitation. I wanted the opportunity to help those with injuries recover, just as I had, so it felt natural for me to pursue medicine after completing my degree. I'm very excited to be interviewing for your program as it aligns with my interest in the human body and my desire to maintain, enhance, and maximize the overall health and wellness of others.

Additional Resources:   

Check out this post for strategies and sample questions for the standardized video interview (SVI).

Follow these links for our ERAS guide and CaRMS guide.

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To your success,

Your friends at BeMo

BeMo Academic Consulting