What are your biggest weaknesses? When you hear this question, it makes you shudder. If there is one reason alone to dislike job interviews, this could be it. The conundrum here is that an interview is a place where you know you have to talk positively about yourself, however this question forces you to talk about yourself in a negatively. Help!
A popular way around this question is to state a strength as a weakness instead. You know, “I work too hard” or, “I’m sometimes too passionate”. While these might seem like the perfect option, these types of responses tend to fall in to the realm of interview clichés. Believe me – despite the interviewer being all smiles when listening to such a response, inside they’re desperately trying not to roll their eyes.
Before we go into how to build a strong answer, it’s important to ask, “well, why are they asking it?” From my experience, it’s firstly to see how you manage to navigate such a tricky question and think critically about yourself. Secondly, it’s to see your reaction. The interviewer wants to see if you panic, become nervous or get flustered. Regardless of how your answer, it’s paramount that you maintain the same level of confidence, poise and positivity as you would for any other question.
With that in mind, let’s move onto how to successfully answer the question in a genuine, thoughtful and sincere way… without the clichés!
1. Make a list of all your weaknesses. Get specific.
Instead of writing “lazy” write “slow to respond to emails”. Once you have your list, it’s now time to think which weaknesses will have the least negative impact for the particular job you’re interviewing for.
2. Think about utilising empathy.
If you’re a software developer, a weakness you could talk about is the fact that you’re can little shy when it comes to speaking large meetings. This weakness of yours has very little impact on the core skills that are required to do the job. At the same time, offers a genuine weakness. In this instance, you make yourself relatable, so they can actually empathise with you in a positive way.
For a sales role, think about which one of your weaknesses will have the least negative impact. To use myself as an example (having worked in sales), what I found difficult was filling in KPIs and basic administrative tasks. Again, the weakness that I mentioned here isn’t something that’s going to reduce my ability to do my job well, because my core job is to sell products and services, and not take care of the administration side of things. No company is going to hire a sales person who is fantastic at administrative tasks, but terrible at selling, in the same way a software developer who is a terrible programmer, but fantastic at participating in meetings, is never going to get the role.
3. Explain how you’ve identified your weakness and how you’re working on it.
For a sales role, you could say the following:
“I’ve been working on it and I realise the value of getting it right. I’ve learnt that if I stay on top of it, it will free up more of my time to focus on sales”.
For a software developer you could say the following:
“It’s something I’m aware of and I’ve been practicing a range of visualisation techniques prior to going into meetings. This has given me a lot of confidence and I’ve actually improved significantly over the last year”.
- Ensure you speak with the same level of confidence you’ve shown with the other questions
- Make a list of weaknesses and focus on specifics rather than general things
- Use the weakness in your list which has the least negative impact for the role that you’re interviewing for
- Mentioned that is something you’re aware of, followed by what you’re doing to improve on that weakness.
About the author: Farhan Raja is a career coach, former recruiter and founder of Jobinterviewology.com.