How to Answer the “What Are Your Greatest Weaknesses?” Question

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Regardless of the specific medical schools you’re interviewing at, each medical school interview revolves around a range of similar questions that seek to get at the heart of who you are, why you want to be a doctor, why you want to join that program in particular, and what you have to offer the program as an individual. One of the most challenging of these common interview questions is the “what are your greatest weaknesses” question.

How do you possibly respond to that honestly while still ensuring the interviewer is left with a positive impression of you? Without thorough preparation and practice, it’s a question that could stop you in your tracks and derail the success of your interview.

In this post, we discuss why interviewers ask the “what are your greatest weaknesses” question and how to best prepare for it.

 

An Intro to the Medical School Interview Process

Medical school interviews are the final step in your road to acceptance, but landing an interview is by no means a guarantee you’ll be granted permission to join the program. It doesn’t matter if you scored a perfect 528 on the MCAT—the interview can make or break your entire application.

Depending on how early you submit your primary applications and secondary applications, it’s possible to receive interview invitations in August. If that sounds early, it’s important to remember the final deadline for applications and secondary materials is not the timeline you should follow. Apply as soon as applications open, as applying early is one of the most important medical school admission strategies.

Medical School Application Timeline

For more information about ideal scheduling, read our Medical School Application Timeline Guide.

Most medical schools begin sending out interview invitations in September. Interview invitations will continue to arrive until the spring of the following year, concluding in April or May. You will likely receive several interview invitations during this time, as many medical schools automatically send out invitations to anyone who submits a secondary application.

The interview invitation will arrive in your email and include a list of dates to choose from. These time slots fill up fast, so it’s important to respond as quickly as possible. Rolling admissions mean medical schools only offer spots while they’re available, so schedule your interviews early in the process.

That being said, there is an art to scheduling medical school interviews. Do not schedule your top choice medical schools first. Use your lower priority schools to refine your interview skills before you interview at your top schools.

It is vitally important you prepare for your interviews throughout the entire application process. Read our comprehensive Medical School Interview Guide for a complete overview of common interview questions, preparation advice, and mistakes to avoid.

 

“What Are Your Greatest Weaknesses?” Interview Question

While the phrasing of this question may alternate between interviews, it could show up as “what are your greatest flaws,” or, “what do you struggle with most,” it is a guarantee you will be asked some form of the “what are your greatest weaknesses” question during your interview.

But the fact that this question is quite likely is good; it means you have ample time to prepare for it.

If it sounds like a bit of a trick question, that’s because it is. Why would you tell an interviewer you want to impress about the parts of your personality you’re least proud of? It’s like having dinner with your partner’s parents for the first time and giving them a rundown of your previous failed relationships. Obviously, the “what is your greatest weakness” question isn’t an invitation to tank your interview by revealing you’re a functioning alcoholic.

Interviewers aren’t expecting you to reveal your deepest darkest secret, but they’re certainly not looking for a lily-white “well, I’m a bit of a perfectionist” type of response either. Interviewers are looking for mature candidates who are self-aware and dedicated to continuous improvement and lifelong learning. They know no one is perfect. What matters is acknowledging areas where you struggle and demonstrating what you’re doing to improve.

 

How to Answer the “What Are Your Greatest Weaknesses?” Question

When answering this question, it’s important to be honest, but positive. Look for a middle ground when it comes to your weaknesses. You don’t want to say something like, “I’m a really bad team player,” or, “I have an unfortunate habit of cheating on tests.” On the other hand, you don’t want to completely avoid the question by saying something like, “Some people say I’m too nice,” or, “I’m too dedicated to achieving scholastic perfection.”

Strike a balance. Share slight weaknesses and explain all of the ways you are working to improve upon them. It’s best to keep the focus on your professional and academic development. This isn’t an opportunity to highlight your personal insecurities. As you list your flaws, mention specifically how you are addressing them, as this demonstrates maturity—an extremely sought-after quality in a prospective medical student.

Be honest. If your application shows you struggled with research, what have you done since to remedy that gap in your knowledge? If you have trouble saying no to people or opportunities, specify how you are learning to prioritize your responsibilities.

For example, Luke Skywalker might respond to the “what’s your greatest weakness” question like this:

I’m a bit reckless when it comes to trying to help my friends. As soon as I heard that my friends Han and Leia were captured by Darth Vader, I rushed off to confront Vader alone and save Han and Leia before I completed my Jedi training, against the wishes of my Jedi mentors, Yoda and Obi-Wan. But losing my hand in a lightsaber battle and failing to save Han Solo showed me how important it is to be patient, focus on my training, and make a plan before I rush into a situation. So I picked myself up, got fitted with a new hand, and worked with my friends Lando Calrissian, Chewbacca, and Leia to develop a plan to rescue Han, which we successfully accomplished at the beginning of Return of the Jedi.”

This response is honest, the weakness isn’t a serious one, it demonstrates self-awareness, and it lists the ways Luke is addressing and improving upon his weakness.

Don’t expect you’ll be able to come up with a well-thought-out response on the fly. It is imperative that you prepare your answer beforehand. Structure your response, but don’t write out a script and memorize every word.

Scripted responses either sound forced and phony or robotic. Plus, if the interviewer interrupts you to ask you to elaborate on something you didn’t anticipate, you could become confused and lose your place, making you sound even more inauthentic.

Practice and preparation are what it takes to excel during your interview, not memorization. Instead, create a general outline of the talking points you want to hit and then practice hitting them over and over again. Practice in front of a mirror, practice in front of trusted friends, family, or mentors and ask for honest feedback, record your response and watch it back, and participate in mock interviews to truly get a feel for the experience.

You know this type of question is coming. Do all that you can to prepare for it before you sit down for your interview.

 

Other Interview Questions to Prepare for

The “what are your greatest weaknesses” question is only one of many common interview questions. Each admissions committee is trying to gather the same kind of information from their candidates, so they each ask a range of similar questions, which means there are a number of different medical school interview questions you can prepare for.

Some of the most common interview questions include:

  • Tell me about yourself.
  • Why do you want to become a doctor?
  • What makes you the right fit for our school?
  • Why do you want to attend our school?
  • What are your strengths?
  • Describe a recent challenge and how you overcame it.
  • Which area of medicine interests you most?
  • Where do you see yourself in 5 years?
  • Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
  • Do you have any questions for me?

There’s no excuse for getting stumped by one of these common interview questions. You know they’re coming, and there are a plethora of online resources that outline the most common questions and detail how to best respond to them. Don’t wait until you get an invitation. Prepare your own responses to each of the most common interview questions and practice them throughout the medical school application process.

Read our guide to 21 Medical School Interview Questions and How to Answer Them.

 

Live the Interview Experience With Mock Interviews

Don’t let yourself get tripped up by common interview questions. Med School Insiders offers a course on How to Ace the Medical School Interview that provides thorough and thoughtful training covering the entire interview process. The course covers all of the details, from what precisely to pack to making a cheat sheet to common pitfalls to how to address the most common questions.

We offer mock interviews with former interviewers who will provide you with direct feedback on your performance. Mock interviews provide an opportunity to put your interview skills to the test so that you know exactly what to expect come interview day.

Check out our library of free resources covering MCAT study strategies, primary applications, secondaries, and everything in between.

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