By Ziggy Yoediono MD MBA
A common interview question that challenges even the most proficient medical school interviewee is the dreaded “What is your greatest weakness?” If you can present yourself well, you can turn this into a positive that works in your favor. Let me show you how.
Most people don’t like discussing their weaknesses in casual settings, let alone during an interview that can determine the rest of your professional life!
Having practiced this question with many clients during mock interviews, I have repeatedly seen two common mistakes in terms of responses. Once you know how to avoid these mistakes, your answer can make you appear as a strong candidate instead of a weak one.
During Your Interview, Describe a Weakness and How You Intend to Eliminate It
Often, pre-med students discuss a weakness that most people would not consider a weakness. This includes responses along the lines of “I am a perfectionist,” “I care too much,” or “I get too involved.”
The problem with these types of answers is that most interviewers will not see these weaknesses as weaknesses at all, but as positive strengths. Furthermore, this type of interview response may backfire if the interviewer feels that you are being disingenuous with your answer. Sometimes, interviewers truly want to understand what your weaknesses are so they can see where opportunities exist.
When I was a college alumni interviewer, I eventually stopped asking this question because I kept getting false weakness responses. However, this is still a common question during medical school interviews. If you do get asked about your weaknesses, address them head-on. Then, expand your answer to include what steps you are specifically taking toward improvement or to overcome it.
For instance, my biggest weakness is public speaking. I wouldn’t just say, “My biggest weakness is public speaking” and leave it at that. I would provide more detail in terms of how this weakness manifests itself so that it can serve as a benchmark for how I’ve improved. Therefore, I would say:
“Whenever I speak, I turn red, jumble my words, and say ‘umm’ a lot. To address this issue, I prepare a detailed outline ahead of time. Then I refine the outline repeatedly until I feel it’s perfect. Finally, I practice out loud in front of a mirror several times. As a result, I don’t turn red anymore, and I jumble my words and say ‘ummm’ less often.”
Don’t Make a Weakness Make You Sound Weak
Another weakness is one that makes you look so poor that it is difficult to recover from.
For instance, I once had a client tell me that their biggest weakness was poor time management. The problem here is that you do not want to discuss a weakness, even one you have resolved, that could cause an interviewer to worry it could reappear and impact your performance in medical school – or worse, as a doctor. In my client’s case, given that being successful in medical school is fast-paced and high-volume and all about time management, such a response was concerning.
The key is to discuss a genuine weakness that will not be perceived as potentially having a detrimental impact on your medical school or physician performance.
By understanding that it is important to be truthful, not too positive, and not too negative when giving answers about your weaknesses, your answer may be just right.