Please shame yourself

I recently had the opportunity to talk to a few program directors and attendings who do candidate interviews both for fellowships and for residency positions, not to mention interviewing for faculty positions. And the question that I was most concerned about was the most infamous question in all of interviewing: what are your weaknesses?

This is the most patently ridiculous question that an interviewer could possibly ask, but I thought I might as well find out the motivation behind such a loaded question.

The answer almost uniformly was that it gives the candidate an opportunity to reveal some professional areas for growth. Another responded that it seemed like something valuable to learn about someone.

I read MB's post about it, and I have to say, I agree. It is such a ridiculously stupid question, because it is inviting a person at best to shame himself, and at worst to outright lie. The classic way to escape this question is to turn it into a strength: I'm too detail-oriented. I'm a workaholic. You get the idea, and if you've interviewed for med school, you've probably done this.

The people I talked to said this was a stupid answer, but hell, if everyone gives the same answer, then maybe people will stop asking it. But sometimes, I look at this question as a challenge. And the last time someone asked me this, my response was: I'm not the smartest candidate you'll interview, not by a longshot. I'm not the sharpest or the most qualified, but I'll be just as good a doctor if not better because if all you were looking for were the smartest and the sharpest, you wouldn't be interviewing me right now.


the evil resident said...

Well, sometimes they are looking for someone who has a lot of self-insight, too. Studies show that most people overestimate how good they are when self-evaluating. It's sometimes refreshing to hear from someone who has a more tempered sense of reality, and who can look at themself objectively.

TigerLily46 said...

I still think this question is bullshit. Do you want to know about self insight? Ask me a more insightful question. This is something that a lazy interviewer asks.

the evil resident said...

Yeah, I agree, it's too facile, but what do you expect in a 15 minute interview? Still, interviewers do look for the quality of being able to honestly self-critique yourself, meaning answering this question without being too clever (like by calling a strength a weakness) or too self-effacing. A less loaded way to ask the question is to ask what skill you would like to develop in the next three years or so. People who can't honestly point out their weaknesses (and everyone has weaknesses) are dangerous and can't be trusted.

Jono said...

Haha yeah in my recent (successful) med interview I was asked that question, to which I replied "I'm not that good with working in teams." Oh crap, I thought, doctors have to work with nurses and stuff. But other people seemed to think that was an example of 'calling a strength a weakness'. Yeah.

By the way, great blog, I really enjoy it, I've almost finished going through virtually your entire Old Records, so yeah keep it up.