In my experience, this is an all-too-common Interview question. Whether it’s to trip you up, or see if you’ve ever done any introspection, or just to see how honest you are, the question is an easy one to falter on.
The converse question is true in equal measure. A question asking you to define your strengths shows how well you know yourself, your opinion of yourself and how you present that opinion to the world.
How to approach the question
So how can you prepare for such a question? The best way to answer this is to take some time to really evaluate yourself critically. If you haven’t in the past, a good starting place can be the Myers-Briggs’ Personality Test.
This psychological personality profile types people by four functions: extroversion vs. introversion (how you relate to the world), intuition vs. sensing (how you gather information about the world), feeling vs. thinking (how do you decide on information about the world), judging vs. perceiving (how you act on information about the world).
These all sound very abstract, but essentially it boils down to the following:
Knowing the answers to these questions will not only benefit you in your Interview. They can help you decide important things about where you want to specialise or where you want your career to take you. If you don’t relate well to people but have a passion for medicine, maybe medical research is your path. Perhaps you thrive on empathy and want to heal people and so psychiatry is your speciality of choice.
It also serves you well to give some detail on how you deal with your weaknesses and strengths. Presenting a detrimental weakness or too much confidence in a strength can make an interviewer doubt your character and to that, giving some further details does not normally harm.
For example, I come up with lots of good ideas, but I don’t always share them for fear of criticism. While this is certainly a weakness, I don’t hesitate to include that I do have lots of ideas and I either find different ways of presenting them (one-to-one instead of groups), or I build my courage and present the idea anyway.
Showing that you recognise a weakness or strength and know how to use it to work for you is a great way of showing your adaptability and self-knowledge.
How to answer the question
A good way to put across a weakness without shooting yourself in the foot is to find a weakness that was ‘worse’ in the past and has got better because you’re taking steps to try to overcome it. Double-check that what you’re saying doesn’t go against any of the key qualities of a doctor – for example, don’t say you’re overly shy around people, and so find it hard talking to strangers; doctors should be able to easily connect and speak with new people.
Biggest Weaknesses Example Answer
‘I tend to do a lot of things outside the curriculum, such as sport and acting, and I find this makes it hard for me to organize my time well. I sometimes mismanage what I do and have some weeks where I have no time to study, or even relax. This can be quite stressful. Recently, I’ve started using a diary and find I’m able to keep on top of things a lot better, although there’s always room for improvement.
Another one of my biggest weaknesses is my fear of public speaking. Although I love socializing with people, both friends and strangers, I get extremely nervous if I have to speak on stage – and to the extent I find it hard to speak. I’m trying to combat this problem and have started going to speech and drama lessons. I do feel more confident as a result, and hope one day to be able to speak to a large audience without fear.’
It can certainly be a scary process to peek through the looking glass and expose yourself so openly, but there’s a reason to do this. It gets you comfortable in your own skin and know where you can improve or be wary of and also how you can use your own skills to help others and make an impact.
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