Answering “Tell Me About Yourself” in Residency Interviews
“Tell me about yourself.”
A fair request, no doubt. Certainly makes you wonder why you spent countless hours writing and rewriting that blasted personal statement.
The truth is that this is meant to be more of an ice-breaker and not a deep dive into your life. This is an important realization. More on this in a minute.
High Yield Preparation
You will be asked this dozens of times. DOZENS. Maybe even on a single interview day. So it really pays dividends to have an organized response you simply rattle off. It’s going to sound so polished and natural. I can see it already. They’ll want to rank you just because of how well spoken you are.
What should I say? How long should it take? Give me an example!
Simmer down friends. We’ll get to all of this.
What should I say?
It’s helpful to think of your life story in chunks. Brainstorm each chunk separately. Step back, squint a little, maybe tilt your head to the side, and identify the storyline that flows naturally.
Telling a chronological story makes the most sense to me.
Background/Upbringing: This is your origin story. More like your origin sentence. Some people will have formative experiences that make the cut, for most of us, this is a brief statement that provides the context for how you got to where you are right now. Your name, where you’re from, and the medical school you go to might be all you share here. And that’s fine! Remember, we’re staying brief and to the point!
Educational/Work Background: Touch on any relevant work experience, unique adult life experience, or educational feats you are proud of. Bonus points if it’s something not in your personal statement already.
Medical School Experience: Treat medical school as a separate category. This is likely the most up to date information and closes the gap between your origin story and why you’re in the interview today. Here you might include a (brief) summary of important leadership activities, professional interests, and experiences that guided you towards your specialty of choice.
Remember how I said this isn’t a deep dive into your life? Well remember this while you’re trying to draft your answer. This should be casual information you want your interviewer to know about you. It helps them understand what is important to you. It also allows you to steer the conversation and mention things you’d like to talk more about.
How long should it take?
Keep your answer to less than 2 minutes. Ideally, less than 90 seconds.
Remember, you probably only get 8-12 minutes per interview. Interviewers are often tasked with asking some canned “behavioral” questions they are supposed to ask everyone, so you want to leave them time to get through those. Most importantly, you want to have enough time to make a connection and demonstrate genuine interest in the program.
The last thing you want to do is accidentally ramble for 7 minutes straight.
Let’s budget time for each of the things we’ve discussed so far:
- First 15 seconds: who you are, where you’re from, what med school you go to.
- Next 30 seconds: educational background, relevant work experience, and unique life experience.
- Next 30 seconds: experiences specifically from med school (leadership, impactful things that pushed you towards your specialty, professional interests)
- Final 15 seconds: BRIEFLY transition to how you became interested in the specialty and maybe why you’re so stoked to interview with this particular program.
You will probably have far more than 10 minutes of material you could draw from to answer this question. This can be helpful because you may get variations of this question and you can adjust your response according to the situation.
I suggest that you practice your response extensively before your first interview day.
I remember sitting in my car at lunch while on my family medicine sub-internship with my stopwatch app on my phone. I delivered my “Tell me about yourself” answer 42 times in one 60 minute lunch break. I practiced it at least another 30 times in front of a mirror. It was the single most common question I was asked. I entered every interview with rock solid confidence that I had the first question pegged.
My example response:
I’m a 4th year at UWSOM. I grew up in South Eastern Washington in a small town on the Snake River. I earned my AA degree during my junior and senior year of high school. I then took a break from school to serve a 2-year mission through my church to Curitiba, Brazil. When I returned, I studied Chemistry and Exercise Physiology at BYU-Idaho where I met my wife. I took another short break to work while my wife earned her degree in Dental Hygiene. I’ve worked as a diesel mechanic’s apprentice, worked several construction jobs, and spent a year working in physical therapy before starting medical school at UW.
During medical school I have been able to lead interest groups, serve as a wellness representative, contribute to curriculum committees and career advisory boards. I’ve also worked closely with fellow students as a peer-tutor, which I have enjoyed immensely. My interest in radiology was initially piqued after seeing how much we relied on radiologists during research projects and in my clinical rotations. The more I learned about it the more my interest grew. I’m super excited to be interviewing with _______ because I am really impressed with ________.
What I actually said during my interviews may have varied a bit from this original script, but I had this memorized and could filter as necessary based on the situation.
Do your own brainstorming and figure out what you want your interviewer to know about you!
And don’t forget to practice, practice, practice.