How to Address Your Weaknesses in a High Stakes Interview

Posted by Grace on 7/23/18 5:53 PM


The interview for any job or graduate school can be the gateway to success. Employers want to see potential in their applicants, and how we respond to interview questions reveals a lot about our creativity and ability to think on our feet. Common questions ask us to talk about ourselves, explain why we are pursuing our respective fields and describe our strengths. And while highlighting our strengths comes naturally to us, pinpointing our weaknesses has proven to be a much more difficult task. When asked to describe our flaws, we are unsure of whether to be brutally honest and risk portraying ourselves as incapable, or to downplay our weaknesses and risk portraying ourselves as immodest. Ultimately, answering this question requires a delicate balance of both.

One of the most essential things to remember during the interview is to be genuine. Interviewers have been in their positions long enough to differentiate a truthful candidate from a deceitful one, and the truthful candidate will always shine brighter. It may seem more tactful to tell the interviewers that you cannot think of any major weaknesses or have not identified any areas of improvement in your life, but this can be an unforeseen downfall. Failing to answer the question can set a negative tone for the rest of the interview because interviewers may label you as arrogant. Furthermore, self-reflection is an admirable attribute because being able to critically evaluate ourselves and admit our flaws can be difficult to accomplish. Everyone has weaknesses and it is acceptable and even encouraged to point them out because they allow us to grow and learn from our mistakes.

Although being truthful is the key to successfully answering this interview question, be cognizant of your answer and steer clear from responding in a detrimental way that could raise red flags with the interviewers. For example, admitting that you procrastinate on studying and cram for your final exams could be a setback for medical schools that expect you to retain your knowledge and apply it to future patient encounters. Confessing you do not work well in groups may not be suitable for a company that assigns multidisciplinary projects and requires communication between different branches of the organization.

The weaknesses that you mention should be minor blemishes with tangible solutions so that interviewers know you can not only identify areas of improvement but also turn them into strengths. For example, I have never found confrontation easy. I find myself shying away from voicing disapproval or disagreement because I am afraid of conflict. In an interview, I admit that because I am flexible with other opinions and believe there are multiple correct methods to address an issue, I do not always voice my personal thoughts. But, I am working on this because I realize that disagreement can create a positive environment to provoke further discussion. Then, I would describe how I have been working on this weakness- because I am not as comfortable voicing dissent in large group settings, I first express my thoughts to an individual colleague before addressing my larger team. I have also learned to phrase my opinions in a way that does not reject other ideas but rather provides a different perspective. In this way, I am willing to voice my concerns more frequently.

Ultimately, the interview should be an honest portrayal of yourself demonstrated in a crisp and captivating way. Although you want to put out the best version of you, do not oversell your credentials and seem too confident in your abilities. On the other hand, do not put yourself at a disadvantage by instilling doubt among the interviewers. Interviewers ask about your weaknesses to see how you can deal with a tricky situation and although there is no golden answer, answering truthfully and spinning the weakness into a potential positive is a strategic way to tackle this question.

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Tags: career advice, graduate school