How To Respond To “Tell Me About Yourself” During Interviews

May 26, 2023


Reviewed by:

Luke Hartstein

Former Admissions Committee Member, NYU Grossman School of Medicine

Reviewed: 8/22/22

Talking about yourself can be difficult, even in a medical school interview. Read on to learn how to answer the ‘tell me about yourself” question for medical school. 

When preparing for medical school interviews, one of the most challenging interview questions, “tell me about yourself,” seems to cause anxiety for prospective interviewees. However, it does not have to be this way. With ample preparation and by following these tips, you can learn how to answer “tell me about yourself” in a medical school interview and stand out positively.

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How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself”

Steps to answer the question "Tell me about yourself"

The med school “tell me about yourself” question is common in all traditional interviews. When you start to prepare for this question, put things in perspective first.  

As the AAMC puts it, “When you’re invited to an interview, you should feel confident — it means you’ve already impressed interviewers with your strong personal statement, letters of evaluation, and academic history.”

Even if you only pick a few experiences to include in your life story, these experiences will focus on what is important to you and show your character. The interviewers will see how you respond under pressure, how you react in unfamiliar situations, and how you interact with strangers, all in a matter of minutes. 

Eventually, as a medical student, you will have to deal with patients, doctors, nurses, and teams of medical staff. The interviewers are looking for traits such as empathy, discipline, and many other qualities needed to be a successful doctor as reflected by the AAMC’s Core Competencies.  

It is okay to talk about your upbringing or early youthful experiences if this left an impact on you or shaped you significantly. It’s essential to start thinking about how to talk about yourself early in the process. So, how do you answer “tell me about yourself?” Follow our steps below to help you formulate your response to this question.

Step 1: Brainstorm

Think carefully about your experiences. What are your interests and passions and what gets you excited? What makes you unique? You can offer personal details that are not in your CV or in your personal statement. You want to be memorable. 

Think about your life and choose a few personal experiences that will show how these experiences have shaped you. You can ask yourself:  

  • What started my journey to become a doctor? 
  • What experiences cultivated and furthered my interest in medicine? 
  • What are my greatest passions? 
  • What do I, specifically, bring to the table that other applicants may not? 

Most people are not used to talking about themselves. You do not want to come across as boastful. However, you do not want to act too bashful. You want to talk about your accomplishments without bragging. 

Interviewers want you to succeed if you become a student at their medical school. Speaking confidently can show them that you are a good fit for their school

Showcasing your traits like being a good problem solver, liking a challenge, or thriving in a fast-paced environment using concrete examples is helpful. When you show them that you can rise to the challenge of handling stress and uncertainty, you show them your character as someone who would succeed in a medical career.

Step 2: Selection

Pick two or three main experiences from your brainstorming list. The goal is to show your strengths and offer the interviewer proof of why you would be an excellent doctor. Communicating your experiences with impressive storytelling can show your best self  and leave a lasting positive impression. 

Step 3: Put It All Together

Use your two or three experiences to generate a thoughtful response. Your answer should not be longer than about 90 seconds. Keep it brief, and if the interviewer or panel wants to follow up by asking you for more information, they will. Consider talking about your most impactful experience first if it makes sense for your response. 

Step 4: Rehearse

Practice answering questions in front of a mirror to get comfortable. Time your response so it is not too long and give yourself time to get used to telling your story. Once you go over your response a few times, it will start to flow and be natural. 

You may want to have a list in point form jotted down to refer to while you’re practicing. That way, your experiences are not memorized, but you will not forget them. Just remember to be yourself.

Timing is everything, and so is preparation for your interview. You may want to practice your response so that you do not speak too quickly. If you are at all nervous, this can happen.

Practice does make perfect, so allow time to practice. Mock interviews can help reduce nervousness and can help you answer a barrage of questions besides how to respond to “tell me about yourself.”

You do not want to ramble on in the interview and lose your focus. You want to be succinct and honest while sounding unrehearsed.

Purpose of the “Tell Me About Yourself” Interview Question

The purpose of the interview question “tell me about yourself” is to let the interviewer see the real person before them beyond your MCAT scores and GPA. Your answer will shine a light on your character and allow the interviewer or panel to see how you would fit into their medical school. 

Will your personality and character fit into their medical school culture? Where do your motivations and passions lie? The interviewers are looking for candidates who will be an asset to the school and can fit in well with the other students. 

The question gives you a chance to connect with the interviewer in a meaningful way. Remember, they want to know more about you! This question is a great jumping off point and can help steer your interview in different directions, depending on your response.

When interviewers ask about you, they are really asking you to be self-aware, tell them something meaningful, and to show what you bring to the table. 

Tips For Answering “Tell Me About Yourself”

Now that you know how to answer “tell me about yourself” in a medical school interview, here are some tips to ensure your response goes as smoothly as possible. 

Although You’re Rehearsing, Avoid Memorizing

Don’t memorize your answer, as it may sound stilted. It’s a great idea to rehearse with a professional to avoid sounding monotone. An interview coach can give you expert feedback on whether or not your answer to “tell me about yourself” for your medical school interview works. 

A professional can identify weaknesses in your story and help you tell your experiences powerfully. 

Avoid Rambling and Telling Your Life’s Story

You know how to respond to ‘“tell me about yourself,” but it can be difficult to keep it succinct, especially if you’re nervous. Telling your whole life story is not what the interview wants from this question: avoid unnecessary tangents or elements that don’t really relate to who you are. 

Don’t Linger on Your Childhood

While giving some background is important, you don’t want to spend all your time talking about how you dreamt of being a doctor in grade 2. It’s not the most interesting use of your time: give a quick overview on your background, but ensure you talk about your recent most meaningful achievements, what you like to do now, and what you’re currently most passionate about. 

Talk About Your Current Goals

You should certainly talk about what you’re doing now, but don’t neglect to talk about how you’re preparing yourself for the future. Do you want to complete your residency in dermatology, cardiology, or another field? What are you doing now to help you toward that goal? 

Remember, the famous med school “tell me about yourself” question can also relate to who you’re trying to become, not just who you are right now. 

Sample Answers to “Tell Me About Yourself” 

“Tell me about yourself” sample answers can help you understand what your own response can look like. Although these sample answers for “tell me about yourself” will undoubtedly be different from your answers, they can help you formulate your own response. 

Sample 1

  • Beginning: I lived in a small town in the state of Michigan on the shores of the Great Lake Huron as a young boy.
  • Middle: I delivered newspapers door to door every Saturday morning to the majority of senior residents in my neighborhood. Some seniors gave me homemade cookies and were so appreciative of my service, especially during blustery winter snowstorms.
  • End: This experience gave me a sense of community and helping others. Later on in college, I volunteered in the local hospital’s geriatric department because of my fondness for seniors. My current goal is to provide the best possible end-of-life care to seniors of underrepresented populations. My compassion and respect for our aging population has inspired me to become a doctor who specializes in palliative care. 

This “tell me something about yourself” sample answer is concise, but you can even expand more at the end to talk more about your current passions. Remember to make the main focus of your answer in the present! 

Sample 2

  • Beginning: I grew up the son of a pediatrician in the western African country of Cote D’Ivoire, where my parents worked as missionaries.
  • Middle: Living within a different culture and a French-speaking one made me open to new cultural experiences. I saw first-hand how doctors improved a child’s health and life with a simple diet and routine sanitary procedures. My father died of malaria before the age of 60, and it impressed upon me the urgency to make my life goals count.
  • End: I want to become a doctor because of my father. I want to become a pediatrician and help disadvantaged children because I saw how better access to healthcare could improve the quality of life of patients and the community. I volunteered in a clinic with premature babies and babies drug-addicted at birth a few years ago. My experiences in the NICU have led me to an interest in obstetrics, and ensuring all mothers and babies are cared for, regardless of socioeconomic status. 

When you’re answering “tell me about yourself” for medical school, remember to concisely describe your background, motivation for medicine, what you’re doing now, and your future goals. 

FAQs: “Tell Me About Yourself” In Med School Interviews 

If you still have questions after reviewing the “tell me about yourself” sample answers, these FAQs can provide more clarity. 

1. Why Is “Tell Me About Yourself” Such an Important Question? 

The med school “tell me about yourself” question is so important because your responses can help steer your interview in different directions. For example, talking about a research project you’re working on can invite your interviewer to ask follow-up questions related to research. Of course, the main purpose is for the interviewer to get to know you! 

2. What Are the Most Important Points I Should Answer for “Tell Me About Yourself?” 

You should give context about your background (where you grew up, how you grew up, etc.), your passions, hobbies, interests, what you’re doing now related to medicine while subtly describing why you’d be a good doctor, and your goals for the future. 

3. How Long Should My Response Be? 

If it is a traditional 30 to 60-minute interview, keep your answer brief, between 60-90 seconds.

4. Should I Talk About Early Experiences? 

You can reference as far back as you wish. You want the interviewers to know who you are as a person. You could go back to your early life if it was influential in your desire to become a doctor. However, ensure you keep the focus on what you’re doing now. 

Getting the ‘Tell Me About Yourself’ Question Exactly Right

According to Harvard Medical School, under the eligibility requirements the ability to communicate effectively is described as “crucial to the delivery of care.” Your communication skills can make a  good impression during your interview and will be an integral part of your path to acceptance. 

Now that you know how to answer “tell me about yourself,” admissions committees will see that you are the right choice for their school based on your passions and experiences. You will rise above the noise and hopefully stand out from the crowd. Your unique life story will resonate with the interviewers.

Make your interview question “tell me about yourself” real. The interview is your chance to put yourself out there. Show the interviewer your real personality and the qualities you possess to make you successful in medical school. It is definitely worth the effort!

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