Dr. Samir Desai
Common Medical School Interview Questions: What Are Your Hobbies?
Updated: May 17, 2022
Sometimes even the easy questions can represent important opportunities. Such as "What do you like to do for fun?" or "What are your hobbies?"
That sounds like a really simple question and an easy one, but you can still use it as a chance to distinguish yourself.
In this blog post, we provide four sample before and after responses to this common medical school interview question.
We cover why interviewers ask this question, what are some similar questions, and how you might approach your own response. If you’d prefer to listen, here’s our podcast episode on answering this (deceptively simple) question.
Why do interviewers ask questions such as this one?
This question is essentially meant to be an icebreaker. Interviewers ask these types of questions to help you relax and to help initiate a more easygoing conversation.
Not every interviewer uses this approach. The ones that choose to ask questions such as this one are focused on setting a more relaxed tone that allows for an easier exchange of information.
These types of interviewers are typically looking for a more conversational interview, and are looking for a fuller, more nuanced view of your interests outside of medicine. Interviewers often ask this question, or similar ones, early on in an interview.
Some interviewers are interested in setting the tone for a more conversational interview and are interested in who you are outside of medicine. Be prepared to answer non-medical questions
What are other ways to ask icebreaker or “getting to know you'' questions?
In our blog post that lists 350 common interview questions, we emphasize the fact that this long list essentially covers about 30 main questions. There are lots of different ways to get at the same information.
Sometimes the goal of an interviewer is just to get you talking and to get the interview on a more relaxed, conversational footing. In thinking about icebreaker or conversational questions, here are some other ways that interviewers might approach this question:
What do you think about [current event]?
Tell me about a book that you read recently. Why does it interest you?
Tell me about a movie that you recently saw.
If you could be any character in history, who would it be and why?
Who is your hero and why?
Of all people, dead or alive, who would you most like to have dinner with and why?
What are you passionate about?
What things give you the greatest satisfaction in your life?
What is a book that you recommend that I read?
What do you do for fun?
What are some common mistakes that applicants make when asking this question?
Your goal in answering this question is to set the tone for an easy exchange of information and to encourage a conversation.
Therefore, you want to avoid the one-line or two-line response. That’s the biggest mistake that we see.
Beyond that, a short response also represents a lost opportunity. Your goal with this response is to help your interviewer to remember you as an individual.
One of the things that make you unique are your unique interests.
Key Points to Elevate your Answer
Expanding on your interests with an anecdote or a few memorable details can help you stand out.
You don’t need really unusual hobbies or interests, such as skydiving, to be memorable.
Instead, you can think about explaining why you enjoy cooking so much. Or provide a few details that highlight what you enjoy about cooking. Or share a small anecdote about a fun experience you had with it.
We recommend that you:
Focus on a few interests that you really enjoy
Avoid a long list of interests. You’re not going to score points for having the longest list.
The question is asking what you do for fun. Make sure you bring in your enthusiasm when you respond
Honesty is also important. Applicants have been known to make up or exaggerate hobbies or interests to try to impress interviewers
Are there certain hobbies or interests that are “better''?
Are there others that I should avoid?
The hobbies and interests that you share should be ones that you genuinely enjoy and that you have spent time on. What’s important is that you speak genuinely and passionately about your interest.
What should you avoid? Obviously, avoid anything that could be viewed as concerning. I doubt that applicants would talk about anything concerning, such as their love of partying in college, with a faculty interviewer. But we've heard some cases where applicants have let their guard down with their student interviewers.
Also avoid the response of “well, I don’t have much free time.“ Schools are looking for individuals who are well-balanced and who have interests outside of academics and medicine. A career in medicine is hard, and schools need to ensure that you have outside interests that help maintain your well-being.
Make a list of your hobbies and interests before your interview and pick one or two to focus on
A True Story: An Applicant Exaggerating His Interest in Golf to Score Points with the Interviewer
Here’s one true story of how one applicant fumbled his interview by exaggerating his interests.
A colleague of mine is an avid golfer and has met some famous golfers. He has framed some of these pictures and has them on display in his office.
During one medical school admissions interview, an applicant spoke of how much he enjoyed playing and watching golf. However, it quickly became apparent that the applicant knew very little about the game, including the difference between a birdie and a bogey, or even the names of the major golf tournaments. He was hesitating and fumbling with his answers and it colored the whole interview.
Before and After Medical School Interview Question Responses to
“What are your hobbies?” or
"What do you like to do for fun?"
Here are a few before and after responses. Notice how the “after” response is stronger because it includes specific details. These types of responses are just more memorable.
BEFORE: "I like to spend time with family. It's something very important to me, and I make it a priority."
I'm sure we all agree that spending time with family is great. But we can make this answer even better with specifics. Let's try it again.
AFTER: "I like to spend time with family. It's something very important to me, and I make it a priority. Our family has always enjoyed visiting the local farmer’s market. There’s one very close to our house every week. And we really enjoy strolling through the stalls hearing amazing stories from farmers and supporting these small family farms."
"I like to watch TV, especially reality TV shows." You can easily make this more powerful by focusing on a particular show, and describing why you enjoy it so much. So let's try it again.
I like to watch TV, especially reality shows. One of my favorite shows is Shark Tank. In listening to entrepreneur stories, I'm reminded about important personal qualities for success. Every time I watch, I see people who demonstrate a strong work ethic, find solutions to difficult problems and bounce back with resiliency when things don't always go in their favor. I think that there are some important lessons that you can learn from the show.
BEFORE: "I love animals and like to volunteer at the wildlife rehab center."
Here again, the applicant has chosen to provide a brief answer, although this answer has significant potential to be far more interesting and memorable. A story here can easily elevate its impact.
AFTER: "I love animals and like to volunteer at the wildlife rehab center. The center takes care of baby squirrels until they're old enough to be released back into the wild. I was so impressed with how they nurture animals in distress that I had to become a volunteer.
With other team members, I take care of hundreds of baby squirrels. We do everything from weighing to feeding. It's been great to be part of a team that cares for animals with respect and compassion."
"I like to cook." Answer:
I like to cook. What I really like about cooking is learning about and trying to make ethnic foods. I find that whenever I do this, I learn so much about other cultures and perspectives. I've even taken cultural cooking classes at several cultural centers, met some wonderful people, and expanded my palette too.
The Bottom Line: Although this question sounds like a really simple and easy one, you can still use it as a chance to distinguish yourself and be seen as the unique, memorable applicant that you are.
Dr. Rajani Katta is the creator of Medical School Interviewing 101, the course that teaches students how to ace their interviews. She is also the author of the Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty, the Casper Test Prep Guide, and The Medical School Interview. Dr. Katta is a practicing dermatologist and served as a Professor of Dermatology at the Baylor College of Medicine for over 17 years.
Dr. Samir Desai is the author of The Clinician's Guide to Laboratory Medicine, The Medical School Interview, and Multiple Mini Interview: Winning Strategies from Admissions Faculty. He is an Internist, on faculty at the Baylor College of Medicine, and has served on the medical school admissions and residency selection committees at the Baylor College of Medicine and Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.