In an interview, talking about your weaknesses and flaws is difficult.
One of the most common and aggravating interview questions is: What is your greatest weakness?
Most candidates hate this question and consider it pointless. After all, they aren’t about to confess candidly to their biggest flaws in the middle of a job interview.
However, this question has become a cliché for a reason. Interviewers continue to ask it even though they know they are unlikely to get answers that are 100% honest.
Why? Because the way you answer a question about your weaknesses is very telling. You may not even realise what you are communicating when you answer this question.
1. Trying to turn a negative into a positive.
You’ll find many books and articles that advise you to “turn a negative into a positive” by sharing a supposed weakness that is actually a desirable quality in an employee. A few examples:
• I am too much of a perfectionist.
• I work too hard sometimes.
• I care too much about my work.
Clever idea. At this point, though, it’s an old trick and the interviewer sees right through it. Interviewers have seen many candidates try the same song and dance. In fact, this approach will likely make them think you are hiding something.
2. Refusing to answer the question.
Some candidates will assert that they can’t think of a single weakness. This is probably because they don’t prepare for the question properly and freeze up, afraid to say the wrong thing. This answer also makes you look like you are hiding something.
3. Revealing a weakness that raises red flags.
Another mistake is to be too candid and confess to a weakness that would hinder your ability to excel in the role. If a candidate was to respond, “I have trouble getting up in the morning and getting to work on time.” The real weakness was dumbness not honesty.
Ways Interviewers ask Questions About Weaknesses:
What is your greatest weakness?
This is probably the most common phrasing.
What are some of your weaknesses?
Here you are being asked for more than one. The interviewer knows you have that one B.S. weakness prepared and wants to push you for more.
What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Some interviewers will ask you to sum up both strengths and weaknesses in one answer.
If I called your current/previous manager, what would he/she say that you need to work on?
This phrasing is tricky. By planting the idea of calling your current/last manager, the interviewer is trying to subconsciously encourage more honesty. Some candidates immediately start thinking, “What if they actually calls them?”
Tell me about a development goal that you have set.
This question probes for weakness, but also emphasises your ability to proactively set development goals.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Here’s another phrasing — again asking for your GREATEST weakness, or at least the one that you feel is most limiting.
What do you most want to improve in the next year?
This phrasing takes a more positive approach, but it is still a question about weaknesses.
Follow-up Questions To Expect
You should also be prepared for follow-up or probing questions, especially if your answer to the original weakness question was vague or unconvincing.
How has that weakness negatively affected you?
You’ll often hear this follow-up question if you’ve failed to describe a REAL weakness.
OK, how about a real weakness?
This is a more pointed follow-up when the interviewer is sceptical about your answer.
Can you share another weakness or area for development?
A tough interviewer may ask for more than one weakness, especially if the first one provided sounds false or over-rehearsed. Some interviewers just know that candidates often prepare only one weakness and want to see what they come up with on the spot.
Why Interviewers Ask This Question
So why do interviewers ask about weaknesses when they know that most candidates don’t answer honestly?
They’re trying to get past your nice, presentable interview facade and get a sense of what you’re really like to work with — the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Even if you don’t answer honestly, your answer tells them something about you. If you dodge the question or try to fake your way through, the interviewer will wonder if:
1) You’ve got scary secret weaknesses that you won’t discuss.
2) You think you’re perfect because you have no self-awareness.
3) You think you’re perfect because your standards are very low.
4) You’re a con artist. (this may be okay if you’re in politics or public relations)
Even experienced interviewees get tripped up with the weakness question. It can be very difficult to talk about your flaws in a stressful situation like a job interview. Negative topics require added diplomacy.
Meanwhile, you’re nervous and thinking about 1,000 other things (Is my hair sticking up? Is my breath okay? Why did he just frown like that? What am I going to say if he asks why I left my last job? How am I going to remember that teamwork example? Can he tell that I’m sweating?)
However, there is a way to answer that is honest and authentic and still increases your odds of getting a job offer.
How to Answer This Question
(and other interview questions about your flaws and weaknesses)
A good weakness answer has two important parts:
Part 1) Your weakness.
Briefly describe a real weakness that wouldn’t be a major handicap on the job.
Part 2) How you are already working on it.
Part 2 is the critical component. Discuss your proactive efforts to improve. This shows that you are self-aware, have a drive to be your best, and that the weakness will not slow you down.
Part 1: How to Choose a “Good” Weakness.
Don’t select a weakness just because it sounds good. You will make a better impression with sincerity. That doesn’t mean you have to share a weakness that makes you look bad. If you’re like most of us, you have several weaknesses and at least one of them will be interview-friendly as defined by the additional guidelines below.
Pick a weakness that is acceptable for the job at hand.
Be aware o
f the job requirements and don’t cite a weakness related to any of the required skills or desired qualities. If you’re an accountant, don’t talk about hating math or lack of attention to detail. If you’re in sales, don’t confess to being too reserved or lacking persistence.
Select a weakness that is relatively minor and “fixable.”
By fixable, I mean it’s something you can improve through work and motivation.
Fixable: “I get nervous when speaking in front of large groups.”
(You can get better through practice and learning new skills — and this is a common development area.)
>Harder to fix: “I am more of a supporter than a leader and often have trouble speaking up in meetings with senior management.”
(While there’s nothing wrong with being a supporter, an interviewer could assume that the candidate would have trouble collaborating in a team environment. This is a preference or personality quality that would be more difficult to change.)
Describe your weakness in a concise, neutral way.
Don’t feel like you have to go into great detail. Be brief and, most importantly, avoid sounding defensive or overly negative.
Read on to the last section for examples of good weaknesses to describe in job interviews.
Part 2: How to Demonstrate That You Are Working on Your Weakness.
In the second part of your answer, you need to describe how you have already taken steps to improve in your area of weakness. Here’s why:
1) A great candidate is always looking for ways to learn and grow
2) A fabulous candidate then takes the initiative to improve
Use your answer to demonstrate your motivation to be the best at what you do. This is how to truly emphasize the positive when talking about your weakness.
Strong Answer Example
“I think one area I could work on is my leadership skills. I am always so concerned about everything being done right and on time that I can get stuck in that mentality of “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” Unfortunately, that’s not always possible and I’ve realised that I can slow things down if I am too controlling.
I learned this recently when given the opportunity to mentor two new salespeople. I had never been a mentor before, so this was a big learning curve in many different ways. It definitely taught me how to lead and my sales manager noticed the difference in my leadership style at the end of the summer. I know that I can benefit from additional development in this area, so I signed up for a leadership skills training course and am always looking for opportunities to use these skills in our group.”
Why It Works: This is a great example for a salesperson stepping into a leadership role. Please note that the last sentence in the first paragraph is important because it acknowledges how the weakness can be a problem and why it’s worth working on.
The weakness is acknowledged and described, but the emphasis is more on how the candidate has sought out ways to improve.
Keep in mind that this is
not such a terrific answer if you’re applying for a job that requires you to lead and manage experienced people.
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