Applying to Medical School

How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” During an Interview

How do you answer such an open-ended question?

“Tell me about yourself.”

It seems like an easy enough question to answer. After all, who knows you better than you?

Having asked this question many times before as an interviewer, I discovered that this is one of the questions that interviewees struggle with the most. 


Because spontaneously condensing about two decades of your life into a response that is succinct, meaningful and interesting is hard! I’ve seen response after response start off strong before it eventually resembles a car driving aimlessly around without a destination.

Therefore, given that this is a common question, you should prepare for it ahead of time. Here’s how.

First, as with any question, you need to understand why it’s being asked. Otherwise, you will answer it incorrectly. For this particular question, many applicants interpret it to mean, “Why do you want to be a doctor?” As a result, they tell me where they were born before diving right into college and rehashing parts of their work/activities section. While this isn’t necessarily the wrong approach, I think taking this route is a missed opportunity. Many of the other interview questions will be geared toward understanding your healthcare motivations and experiences, so why not take advantage of this question to discuss non-healthcare facets of your life such as your family, your upbringing and personal interests?

For instance, if I were to answer this question, I would focus on being an only child, a Chinese American born in Indonesia, a military brat whose father is a pathologist and mother is a homemaker as well as my passion for playing tennis and reading. 

That being said, the aforementioned list represents the starting point for a more robust answer. After all, I wouldn’t just say the above verbatim and call it day. Each component of that response should be evolved so that you’re telling a story, not sharing a list. So, for instance, in terms of my passion for reading, I would discuss when I became interested in reading (as long as I can remember), my favorite types of books (mysteries and thrillers) and even my favorite book and/or author (The Secret History by Donna Tartt).

For this question (as well as others that you plan on preparing for ahead of time), type out your response in bullet point form and revise it until you feel like it’s as perfect as possible. Then practice it enough so that you’re comfortable, but not so much so that you end up sounding like a robot. Finally, print out all your responses (or be able to access them via your phone), and bring it with you to your interview so you can quickly review if necessary.

Taking this approach to the “Tell me about yourself” question will better enable you to connect with your interviewer, which is what it’s all about!

Ziggy Yoediono MD

Dr. Yoediono was a Duke University pre-major advisor, and an adcom member for Duke University School of Medicine, the University of Rochester School of Medicine and the Harvard Longwood Psychiatry Residency Program. Today, he is an Associate Director of Advising at MedSchoolCoach.

Related Articles

Back to top button