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The "Weakness" Question!

You’re in an interview, things seem to be going well, and then they ask one of the most commonly asked, and most poorly answered questions: “What do you consider to be your greatest weakness?”

Common thinking has been to give an answer that turns a negative into a positive; like: “My biggest weakness is that I work too hard and don’t know when to turn it off sometimes. Or “I push myself too hard.”

To which, the typical UNSPOKEN sarcastic response is: “Yeah, right!”

Or else people answer “I can’t think of any.” Or “I don’t have any!”


Saying you don’t know indicates you’re either clueless about yourself, or essentially telling them “I’m not going to answer that because it will hurt my chances at this job.” Not a good response. Telling them you have none makes you seem like you’re very full of yourself! Also not a good response.

So, how should that question be answered? Think in terms of what might make you an attractive candidate. What are they looking for? None of us, not me, and not you is perfect. We all have faults and real weaknesses. Generally, an interviewer is attracted to someone that’s real, self-aware, and honest.

I believe the most effective answer is one that is true! It has to be chosen carefully, but it will make you a much more “real” person with whom they can see spending 8 hours a day.

It should not be a weakness that’s critical to the position, like “I don’t have a great eye for detail” when you’re interviewing for a position as an accountant! It should not be a weakness that makes you out to be a slug, like “I’m not a morning person and have trouble getting to work on time.” And it should not be a weakness that makes it appear you may be problem, like “I get annoyed at other people’s bad habits”!

Any answer you give should show that you’re aware of the weakness and doing something about it. A good example would be: “I sometimes have had trouble doing presentations to a group, so I’ve joined ToastMasters to learn how to become more confident and a better speaker.” Or “Sometimes I have a tendency to get distracted by things that come up throughout the day, so I’ve learned how to use my calendar and task lists effectively to keep me on track.”

Those kinds of answers show you are real, willing to discuss your vulnerabilities, self aware, and interested in improving yourself. Now THAT’s turning a negative into a positive!

As with any interview question, preparation and practice will make you a much better candidate. Spend some time to think about what weaknesses to share, and how to present it best!


Answering "What are your strengths?"
What traits make you succeed?
Know Yourself!
Tell it like it is!


Michel Pitsch-Brynteson said...

Harry, this is a great answer to this question! I will coach our Job Eliminated professionals on the use of this for the future. Your answer is spot on and extremely professionally written. Displaying the professional consulting skills that you have crafted over the years! Thanks for sharing, so appropriate in todays environment.

Ask a Manager said...

Bravo! I couldn't agree more. It's completely transparent when a candidate gives one of those BS answers like "I work too hard" and it makes it appear that he/she is unwilling or unable to have an honest conversation about his/her suitability for the job, which is the whole point of an interview.

The Red Recruiter said...

Great advice Harry! Most recruiters probably wait for the fake answer to this question as much as the lack thereof. Thanks for taking the time to put this overview together.

Looking forward,

AJ said...

Just read this when Meghan re-tweeted, but excellent advice for interviewees! My recent favorite answer to the weakness question is "Chocolate!" (read that in another article/post and the author's name is eluding me for now), although a caveat would be to use it and always be ready with a positive answer like you suggest.

Rita said...

Spot on. It really isn't a trick question, just an annoying one. Biggest strength is equally daunting but for different reasons.

Even at the executive level, this question comes up. I advise my clients to show not only their remedy, but what they learned. One bloke said, "I can be stubborn. I empower my teams to push back. I learn a lot from their feedback and ideas and often change my thinking."

Rita Ashley, Career Coach
Author: Job Search Debugged

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