I am not sure if any surveys have been conducted to determine how many medical admissions officers start medical school and residency interviews with this request but, based on my experience, I can tell you that a very large percentage of interviews begin this way. Most applicants are terrified of this prompt. They don’t know what they should say, how far back they should “go,” and what topics they should cover. I advise applicants to capitalize on the opportunity that “tell me about yourself” presents. When you respond, you can provide information about topics that are most significant to you and then allow the interviewer to “cherry pick” and ask you about those topics that most interest him or her. Here are a few general guidelines on how to reply to “tell me about yourself”:
1) Before walking in to any interview, have a general idea of how you will respond to “tell me about yourself.” As you prepare for your interviews, think about who you are and your path to the interview seat. One approach is to create an outline of your most meaningful experiences – both personal, academic, and extracurricular. Then “talk through” the outline.
2) Speak about those experiences and qualities that distinguish you most. These details will obviously differ for every applicant. Don’t feel that you must limit your reply to medically and scientifically related pursuits and interests; you should talk about your background and meaningful and significant extracurricular accomplishments as well.
3) Stay on topic and give a comprehensive overview of your candidacy and life. Some people make the mistake of responding to “tell me about yourself” by talking about why they want to be a doctor or rambling randomly about a variety of topics.
4) Don’t talk about any one experience in tremendous detail. You should think of your response in an “outline” format. You don’t want to elaborate about any one topic; give your interviewer room to ask about those topics she would like to hear more about.
In reality, “tell me about yourself” is what you want your interviewer to say first. It allows you to talk about those topics that are most important to your candidacy, and your answer sets the stage for what you most want to discuss. If you practice your response and know your general approach before walking into your interview, not only will you look forward to “tell me about yourself” instead of dreading it, but you will confidently deliver your reply, establishing a good tone for your entire interview.
This information is based on content in The Medical School Interview, The Residency Interview, The MedEdits Guide to Medical School Admissions, and How To Be An All-Star Residency Applicant: From The First Year of Medical School To Match Day, books that help applicants prepare for the interview process. If you want help preparing for interviews, contact MedEdits.