Few words are more dreaded than “What is your greatest weakness?” It seems unfair…like a trap, but this is one of the most common questions asked by potential employers during job interviews. And, love it or hate it, the interview is perhaps the most crucial part of the hiring process.
To make sure you are ready with job-clinching answers to some of the most intimidating inquiries, we’ve compiled a list of seven of the most difficult questions with answers, but first let’s address a few interviewing basics.
Regardless of how poised you are to answer the tough questions, if you forget the basic principles of a good interview, all that work will be in vain.
Three core components of a good interview:
- Be honest.
- Be professional.
- Be prepared.
It is tempting early on to exaggerate your accomplishments or even boast of invented tasks or positions. While the job search is not the time to be modest, it is also not the time to embellish. This begins with your resume and extends into the interview process. Make certain you are honest about your level of training, clinical experience, and past employment.
As embarrassing as it would be to get caught in a lie during the interview, getting hired on false pretenses, discovered within the job, and consequently fired can have long-lasting career repercussions.
Though you want to be approachable and friendly, do not fall into the trap of being overly casual and chummy. Present yourself in a businesslike way. Wear appropriate interview attire, preferably a dress or a suit. Do not use slang when speaking. Be aware of your body language—no slumping, sprawling, or fidgeting. If it is a video interview, make sure you are well lit and have a tidy background. Be polite, yet direct. Exude confidence, but not cockiness.
Do your homework. Learn everything you can about the practice/company, including their ownership and founding story, mission, scope of practice, primary patient population, available technology, and any other pertinent information. Have a list of questions prepared to ask when prompted that are specifically geared to them.
Most difficult interview questions (with awesome answers!)
1. Can you please tell me about yourself?
On the surface this question seems simple, however, it is often a wasted opportunity to explain exactly what you have to offer this particular practice. An employer doesn’t want to know that you are an avid Frisbee golfer, unless this relates to the position. Avoid listing random facts and stay focused. Break it down into where you are now career-wise, how you got there, and how the combination of these two factors make you right candidate for the role. Include qualities, interests, and personal experiences.
I am a new grad optometrist with a passion for pediatric care and a burgeoning interest in specialty contact lenses for myopia. Growing up, my younger sister had severe myopia and I saw how getting proper eyecare changed her life. So, I knew I wanted to be an optometrist. During summers in college, I volunteered at a community health center and realized I loved working with underserved populations.
In optometry school, I also realized I had a keen interest in vision therapy, so I did a vision therapy and rehabilitation residency and loved every aspect. The future of this field is so exciting. I was thrilled to find this opportunity which will allow me to bring my love of working with children from inner city backgrounds and specialized expertise in both myopia and vision therapy to those who need it most.
2. What is your greatest weakness?
This question reveals your self-awareness and willingness to learn. The tendency here is to try to veil a strength as a weakness, such as “I am a perfectionist” or “I work too hard.” These may be true, but sound too general and not personal enough. Truly look for aspects of yourself that you have struggled with in the past or have presented challenges; more importantly be able to voice how you are actively working to overcome them and recent progress you have made.
Tip: Do NOT choose a weakness that would directly impact your ability to do the job you are applying for well.
Here is a list of legitimate weaknesses that work in this situation.
What is your greatest weakness?
- Tendency toward micromanaging/trouble delegating duties
- Trouble sharing ideas in meetings/fear of public speaking
- Having less of an affinity for either numbers/analytics or words/writing documentation
- Challenge to maintain work-life balance
- Being overly hard on oneself for making mistakes
- Time management/scheduling
As a very detail-driven individual, I like to be involved in every stage of a process, which can lead to micromanaging and not delegating duties as freely as I should. For example, I was the editor of my college paper and was prone to telling the reporters exactly who they should interview, asking to see their questions, and then rewriting much of their articles. I realized this was a disservice to them and the readers, who deserved varied opinions and writing styles, not just mine.
So, I instead focused on assigning the right reporter and then stepping back. I only allowed myself to do one check-in during the process and when they turned in the article, I performed only minor and necessary edits, making sure to respect their individual style. Through this I have learned to trust others to do their job and to direct my energy to the area of a task where my talents are invaluable.
3. Can you tell me about a time when you had a conflict with a manager/co-worker and how you handled it?
This type of question is referred to as situational-based because it narrows down your behavior to a specific incident. In addition to having the clinical training and medical knowledge to effectively treat patients, it is important for employers to feel confident in your ability to resolve conflicts with staff and bring a cooperative attitude to the workplace.
The goal of a behavior-based question is three-fold:
- To determine your comfort level with conflict
- To gauge your level of accountability
- To assess your problem-solving skills
Your answer should come in the form of a brief story that offers evidence for each of the above points.
Every workplace is going to have conflict at one time or another. Going in with this awareness and being prepared to positively participate in the resolution is key. If upon being asked this question, your body language changes and you immediately tense up and withdraw, this indicates you are not comfortable with conflict and may avoid it rather than address it. Discussing conflict calmly implies you are equipped to handle it calmly.
In every conflict, each individual holds some level of accountability. When answering with a story example, reveal your role and responsibility in the situation. Next, illustrate how you identified the problem, pinpointed the best way to proceed, and used logic, communication, and creativity to remedy it.
This is an ideal place to highlight an accomplishment, which came with challenges you overcame.
In the clinic where I previously worked, I was a proponent of and helped implement a new electronic health records system, which one of the more senior doctors refused to utilize causing confusion and frustration. After realizing he was simply not as agile with new technology and that the training had been geared to those more tech savvy, I scheduled a lunch training session for the entire office, so he was not singled out. At this time, I demonstrated how the new software would save time and mistakes and gave a slow and simple step-by-step. I also prepared a take-home instruction guide, which I realized would also be very helpful for any future employees. It has since been included in their onboarding package.
4. What is the most difficult patient encounter you have ever had and how did it resolve?
Providing optimal patient care is the most important aspect of any optometry practice. With polite and compliant patients, this is often easy. However, with anxious or angry individuals this can be a challenge for doctors and staff. It is important to remember that the customer may not always be right, but they should always be respected.
This question helps employers establish what you feel your role is within the patient care paradigm and ensures them that your priorities are in the right place.
In this answer, you should demonstrate you are:
- Empathetic to patients’ fears and concerns
- Enthusiastic about patient education
- Confident in your assessment/diagnostic skills
- Committed to maintaining the reputation of the clinic
- Focused on repeat patients
I had a middle-aged woman who was showing early signs of AMD and became very agitated and emotional with the diagnosis and immediately wanted to know if she was going to go blind.
First, I explained my findings by showing her OCT scans to her. Then, I calmly told her, “ I understand a diagnosis of this nature can come as a surprise and be very overwhelming. However, I am here to help you every step of the way and that starts with education. Do you have any questions? Also, I have pamphlets you can take home to read and then call me later should you have questions. As for the prognosis, there are many determining factors and we will work together to do whatever we can to slow the progression and maintain optimal vision.” I also made sure she had a driver to take her home”
“I called the next day to check on her and see if she had any questions. I also scheduled a follow-up visit in three months to assuage any fears of rapid progression and offered the number to an online support group. She still remains a patient at the clinic today.”
5. On a day where you do not have a lot of patients scheduled, what would you do to occupy your time?
Starting at a new practice, you often will not have a full patient load. What you do in the time between appointments can have a huge bearing on your success as well as the success of the practice. Owners want to know you are focused on growing your patient base, increasing your knowledge, helping the office run smoothly, and becoming an integral part of their team.
In addition, the right answer to this question lets the practice owner know you are a self-starter with good organizational and time management skills.
Once I have completed all required paperwork and patient follow-up, I would use this time in one of three ways. First, to build my platform and market to new patients by writing blog posts for the practice, reaching out through social media, or writing articles for optometry publications. Second, to hone my skills, either by reading articles or listening to podcasts on the latest trends in eyecare. Third, in finding ways I could help the office run more efficiently and assist staff when needed.
6. Where do you see yourself in 5 years? Is practice ownership a goal?
This question is geared to ensure you have put time and consideration into the type of doctor you want to be and the type of practice you want to grow in. This can encompass a specialty you are particularly interested in, any technologies you would hope to incorporate, and any additional roles you would like to take on, such as CE instructor, advocate, or KOL.
This is also where you may be asked whether you have plans for practice ownership and how soon. Before automatically answering “no,” on the basis that it might dissuade a practice owner from hiring, remember they may be looking for a partner or to sell their optometry practice in the future, so be candid.
In 5 years, I aim to have a broad patient base with a focus on specialty contact lenses, utilizing the latest scleral lens technology to the fullest scope. I also plan to become more active in the AOA with a goal to one day speak at their national conference. I have also considered eventually opening my own practice down the road. My most immediate goal is to serve patients and put my education to use while also building my diagnostic skills and practice management knowledge.
Be ready for a skills question
In some instances, you will also be asked a question meant to prove you have the clinical skills represented on your resume. For example, you may be given a sample patient and asked to make a lens or treatment choice.
In this situation, reiterate all the information you are given for accuracy. Make a primary diagnosis based on the facts. Offer a differential diagnosis based on variables. Then lay out all available lens options for both glasses and contacts as well as any treatments the patient may need. If you feel the patient may benefit from additional testing, mention that. Also, outline what patient education you would provide.
Let’s talk money
Often an employer will ask what optometry salary you require, putting you in the daunting position of either overpricing yourself out of a job or undervaluing yourself and asking for too little.
To avoid this, try one if these answers:
1) As I don’t fully know the full scope of this role and the totality of duties, I can’t give you an accurate answer at this time. However, if you can tell me what you have budgeted for the role, I will consider that based on my current knowledge.
2) Based on the current market, my salary range would be from $$ to $$.
3) With my skills and what I have to bring to the position, I feel $$ would be a fair starting salary.
Tip: Prospective job applicants can also leverage other employer benefits in negotiating what their total compensation will be for a new position. In addition to salary and pay, other items can include 401k/403b plans (+/- employer contribution match), sign-on bonuses, health insurance coverage, paid vacation time, paid CE/travel time, reimbursement for moving expenses, and/or travel stipends for commuting further than intended.
Don’t forget to follow up
Within 24 hours of your interview, you should follow up, usually via email, with whomever you spoke with to thank them for their time, reiterate your interest in the position, and clarify any details from the interview. In addition to expressing your gratitude, this is a great time to expound on any answers you feel were lacking.
Example follow-up letter:
Subject line: Thank You for Your Time
Dear (Practice Owner/Hiring Manager Name),
I very much enjoyed our conversation and learning more about you and (practice name) on (day of interview). Thank you so much for your time. I was very excited to hear about (specific information). After our conversation, I am even more excited about this role and certain that my (fill in personal detail) aligns with your mission/goal to (fill in based on job description/findings) and I would make a valuable addition to your team.
If you feel you left out any vital information during the interview, include: In response to your question about (fill in subject), I would love to take a moment to clarify and offer a bit of addition information. (Add paragraph here.)
If you have any other questions or concerns, do not hesitate to contact me. I look forward to hearing from you soon with updates.
You have the answers to be the most hireable optometry candidate; the next step is saying them aloud. Prior to interviewing, take time to prepare your individualized answers for each of the difficult questions above. Write down the answers and practice them in the mirror or with friends—practice until they no longer sound rehearsed. Now, you can relax and let your personality shine through.
Being prepared for the tough talking points puts you one step closer to the optometry position of your dreams. Go forth and get that job!