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Answering the “What are your weaknesses?” question in job interviews

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Q I’m trying to prepare for a job interview, and one of the questions that many sources say to be prepared to answer is “What are your biggest weaknesses?” This seems like a trick question. Obviously saying something buttery like, “I work too hard!” isn’t the way to go. But it seems like being honest and telling them what I’m actually bad at could only hurt my chances. Any advice on answering the weaknesses question?

A Ugh, the greatest weaknesses question!

This question does, indeed, get asked in interviews. I can attest that I’ve gotten it myself. But it’s not as common as many online sources may lead you to believe. The majority of good interviewers realize that this question is unnecessarily tricky for the applicant. Most will try to make their own assessments about your abilities based on your responses to other interview questions.

That said, though, I’ve got some advice for how to handle it the weaknesses question if you do get asked it.

Consider areas for improvement, rather than weaknesses

This question is best answered by thinking about “areas for professional improvement” rather than just “weaknesses.” When we think about our weakness, we generally think about personal qualities that can be extremely difficult to change, but that also don’t affect our likelihood of success at a job. For example, I tend to be impatient in some situations, but I’m aware of this characteristic and am very good at suppressing it in the workplace and professional activities. There’s no reason that I should blurt out this trait to a potential supervisor simply because they’ve asked about my weaknesses.

Instead, I recommend thinking about a recent project or responsibility that was initially a challenge, but you ended up successfully completing because of the way you approached it or because of a new skill you learned in the process. This represents your ability to overcome limitations, become proficient in new areas, and tackle challenges despite not being an expert.

You can also discuss areas that you’re currently working to improve. Having an ongoing subject of professional development is a good thing. For instance, maybe you’ve been working to get up to speed on a new industry regulation. The fields of healthcare and medicine change rapidly – physicians need to continuously educate themselves. Most employers will value a physician’s desire to be proactive about this.

The most important aspect of your answer is to indicate what you’re doing to overcome any weakness that you describe. Convince the employer that it’s no longer even a weak spot for you; rather, you’re making it a strength by focusing on how to do something better, approach a certain situation more appropriately, or work more productively.

Ways to answer an interview question about your greatest weakness

Here are a few ways to start off your answer to the biggest weaknesses question:

  • “An area that I’m continually trying to improve in is…”
  • “Because I recently took on responsibility X in my current position, I’ve realized I have a lot to learn about…”
  • “In a recent project, my team struggled to do X, so to ensure we’re more productive next time, I’ve…
  • “One of the challenges in this industry is X, and I’ve been working to overcome this in my organization by…”
  • “I’d say that X is an area that I’ll benefit from continuing to focus on…”

There are many other approaches. Think about what you’ve recently learned, what you’ve gotten better at, and what you’ve been spending a lot of time reading about. Those could all be considered weaknesses that you’ve been working to conquer.

Prepare for the biggest weakness question, but don’t fret over it

Don’t fret over getting asked this question. Run through a couple of options for how to respond by yourself or with a friend, but spend most of your interview prep time focusing on other topics that are more likely to arise.

There are a few variations of the biggest weaknesses question, as well, such as:

  • What are the things you need to improve?
  • Tell us about a time that you failed.
  • What do you like the least about your current job?

These are all questions about negative qualities or experiences. In general, you can approach these in a similar manner to discussing your weaknesses. Be sincere, and use the opportunity to discuss how you’ve worked toward becoming better at your job or improving yourself as an employee.

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