The Hardest Med School Interview Question

“So tell me about yourself.”

It’s not even a question.  It’s a request, and in the opening moments of your medical school interview, it may sound more like a hostile command.   But it is perhaps one of the most common ways in which your med school interviewers may invite you to join in conversation with them.  How would you respond to this non-question question?  It doesn’t seem easy, as I’m sure you’re well aware.  Because it’s so open-ended, we tend to hem-and-haw and sputter out the first thing that comes to mind, and our response usually starts with, “Well, I was born in…”  Ugh!  No!  You’re missing the point of the interviewers’ request.  They don’t care where, when, or how you were born; or where you lived until you were seven; or that you currently own a hamster.   (On the other hand, if you and your hamster have achieved world fame as a banjo duo, then you might want to mention that.)

What is the point, then, of this non-question question that so often gets us out of sorts? Well, that’s actually sort of the point:  they want to see how you respond to an unstructured situation.  Rambling on, creating one big messy non sequitur, or – worst of all – asking of your interviewers, “What do you want to know?” all point to the same problem:  a lack of both forethought and reflection.  Both are essential for being prepared to effectively manage unstructured or ambiguous situations.   You mistake their intention if you believe that they really only want to get to know you personally.  Sure, this is an opportunity to share personal information (more in a moment on what that means); but what you opt to share in response to the invitation reveals as much – if not more – about you as the actual details of your response.  Let me provide an example, but one that is so extreme, I’m guaranteeing you’ll get my point.  Saying, “Well, I love to get raging drunk every night.” reveals something about you.  And actually deciding that it would be appropriate to say, “Well, I love to get raging drunk every night.” as your opening line in a med school interview also says something – far worse – about you.

Med school interviewers rely on “So tell me about yourself.” because it is unstructured and open ended, and they know that how you respond will reveal not just some of your life details (no matter how banal or interesting) but also some of your character and values.   So give some forethought to your response by reflecting on the personal qualities you possess that are most appropriate to share with your med school interviewers.  Keep the following in mind:

1.  Your med school interview is a job interview; it’s not a first date.  Make sure the information you share is relevant to the primary goal of the interview:  to determine whether you and that medical school are a good fit.

2.  This is only the opening moment of the interview.  Keep your response short and to the point.  It should only take a minute or so to answer this question.  Like a good movie preview or a well written prologue, your response should capture your interviewers’ attention, draw them in, and get them excited to hear more from you.

3.  You can take control of the interview conversation by sharing information relevant to topics that your interviewers will be compelled to return to later (because you’ve given them a hint of something interesting about you that they just can’t wait to know more about).

4.  Remember that the interview is a continuation of a conversation that began months earlier with the AMCAS primary application, the personal statement, the secondary application essays, and the letters of recommendation.  Of course depending on whether your interview is based on an “open” or “closed” file, your interviewers will already know a lot , very little, or nothing at all about you.  Regardless, highlight a few accomplishments or qualities and illustrate them with a couple of short memorable stories.  People love stories, but only if they’re told well, so practice telling your stories before your interviews.

You’re going to be faced with this question.  Don’t fear it!  Look forward to it, and be prepared.

So, now that you know more about this question, tell me about yourself.

  • Centygal

    I love to socialize with the poor, weary, needy so I can offer them help, and service in areas I am capable to serve. Because by socialize with others it calls forth empathy, and enhanced my understanding of the world around. During my leisure times, I love to go out in the nature and observe the wonderful plants and all sorts of living organisms I found on the way.

    • Anonymous

      sorry to say, but that sounds so cliche

    • Cchristian

      Fail!
      MD, PhD.

    • Rothd51

      Has to be a joke, right?

    • Lauren Chittick

      2013 and the Internet still doesn’t understand sarcasm.

      Even these people who are supposed to be smart enough to become physicians.

  • Ant hahahah

    It’s difficult to describe myself and who I am in such a limited amount of time, but I’d say that my role in life is quite similar to a seemingly insignificant working ant. Although at first glance, an ant may be the last thing someone would want to be compare to, but like an ant, I am very structured, motivated, and have a great deal of influence on my community. I believe that medical school requires a great deal of focus and prepares you to be an influential doctor–one that cares not only for his immediate well-being but more importantly the well-being of his or her community. With the amount of focus and determination I have, I believe I can greatly contribute to the community’s welfare. The road to becoming a physician is not easy which makes someone like me an ideal candidate because I am both intelligent and hardworking.

    • Ant hahahah

      one who cares*

  • Guest

    Its one thing to “sale” yourself and another to play yourself “up” Actually answer the question, tell me about yourself is (as I have been informed by mentors) is the 60 second spiel. Remember spiel is defined as “a usually high-flown talk or speech, especially for the purpose of luring people to a movie, a sale, etc.; pitch” (found at Dictionary.com). Try not to sound inflated by giving an example or two of when you were actually intelligent, hardworking or “socializing with the poor”. Good Luck everyone with Interviews.

    • Jim Lou

      It would help to differentiate between “sale”, which you used, and “sell”. One is a noun and the other is a verb.

      Even though they are pronounced the same they are different. If you make that mistake in any essay it could be a killer.

  • Jim

    I interview people for residency and fellowship positions every year and this is the question that I always start with.  I don’t really care what the answer is (I’ve already reviewed 15+ pages of education and testing history as well as letters of rec and personal statements).  I watch to see how they answer it.  The points above get to exactly what I’m looking for.

  • Artemisprime

    weell.. I like a challenge.  I wouldn’t be here if i didn’t

    • Jim Lou

      Why are you so flippant?

  • Jim Lou

    The reference to a job interview is very revealing. It is a good analogy.

    When I was interviewing job applicants I would be looking at their body and movements. I would ask questions based on their answers to a previous question. The point was to see how they reacted. By not asking stock questions it shows how the applicant was able to react to unexpected questions in unexpected situations.

    Too many people don’t interview well and thus lose out. That is why it is important to do practice interviews. Make sure that all critiques and criticisms are reviewed in advance to the real interview.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bruce-Lee/100002403631006 Bruce Lee

    I am a doctor and i think you should answer that you want to go to medical school because you love filling out insurance forms and like dealing with moronic claims people.

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