What is your biggest weakness?

Sharing your biggest weakness is uncomfortable and anxiety provoking. There are various strategies in answering this question. Some people may tell you to list a weakness that is actually a strength. Do not do this, lest you sound like Michael Scott from The Office speaking on his weaknesses (see quote). Interviewers talk to students year after year, and they know when someone is deceiving them or avoiding the question.

“I work too hard. I care too much. And sometimes I can be too invested in my job.”

Michael Scott, The Office

You should actually discuss a weakness. The first step is to brainstorm a list of your weaknesses. This is a very difficult task. Write it down, and send that list to close friends or family for review. Ask them to provide honest feedback for areas where you could use improvement personally or professionally. I reached out to my study partners who had seen me almost daily throughout medical school for their input. These efforts gave me an initial list of my personal weaknesses.

My Weakness List

  • No knowledge of the primary literature in plastic and reconstructive surgery
  • Don’t have positive coping mechanisms for dealing with stress
  • Don’t trust my abilities
  • Lack of confidence
  • Worry too much about the little things
  • Bad at work/life balance
  • Need work on delegation
  • Can be lazy at times

Once you have a list of weaknesses, it is time to decide which of those listed you are comfortable discussing as your biggest weakness. At this stage, you should implement strategy. You want to pick the best weakness, or in other words, the weakness that is easiest to fix. You don’t want to choose weaknesses that demonstrate concerning behavior for a future resident. You don’t want the weakness you discuss to portray you in an overwhelmingly negative manner. Weaknesses such as laziness, untimeliness, or arrogance should not be stated. Look at your list and decide which of these actual weaknesses you could spin into a positive light.

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The weakness I ended up choosing was discussing my struggle with finding an appropriate work/life balance. I may have been slightly over emphasizing how much this was a real issue for me, but it was a safe answer to give and emphasized one of the overarching themes of my interview responses (that I was a hard worker). The key aspect of answering this question is to include how you are actively working on self-improvement and addressing your weakness. Briefly mention your weakness, and spend more time discussing ways you are working to mitigate the effects of that weakness. Doing so demonstrates maturity and insight which interviewers will recognize and appreciate.

Here are my response preparation notes on weaknesses: “My biggest weakness is a constant struggle to find an appropriate work/life balance. The real weakness or problem is that I say yes to too many things and overcommitting myself. At times, I’m able to manage it all, but when everything gets real busy at once or there are lots of deadlines, I can really have myself up a creek. Taking care of myself really falls by the wayside. I put friends and family off in order to focus on the work. The first thing is always exercising and eating healthy. I’ve been thankful to have become aware of this and am actively trying to make a conscious effort towards finding an equilibrium.”

While these were my notes, I certainly spent less time discussing the weakness itself and more time discussing how I was resolving it in interviews. Your goal is to find an ‘acceptable’ weakness that isn’t overly negative. Discuss it briefly, and include ways that you are improving and adjusting based on that weakness.

There can be variations to this question. Some programs may ask you to name three weaknesses, so you should have three to five prepared to discuss. This is the type of question that you definitely want to have thought about before walking into an interview.

What weakness do you plan on discussing? Wondering if you should use it or not? Comment below or contact us directly.

Back to more interview questions and structured responses.

Carter J. Boyd, MD, MBA
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