It’s a very common job interview question, but still has the power to completely stump potential employees.
How can you possibly give an authentic answer about your weaknesses without portraying yourself as an undesirable candidate?
As with everything else in your job interview, this question will require some preparation on your part.
So don’t let it take you by surprise! Here are some guidelines to help you use your weaknesses to your advantage.
First, let’s look at some things NOT to do when responding to this question. Here are the common mistakes.
“I don’t have a weakness.”
This may seem like the easiest and safest option for a response, but in fact it’s a trap. For one thing, it’s dishonest. Everyone has weaknesses! Pretending that you don’t have any just makes it seem like you’re in denial…not a good trait in a prospective employee. It never looks good when you frame a response in a negative way. Besides, the interviewer has very good reasons for asking this question and deserves to hear a real answer. He wants to see how your weaknesses will fit into the organization. He’s also trying to see how you hold up under the pressure of responding to difficult questions like this one. So don’t dodge it.
Giving a fake “weakness” that is not a real weakness.
It is possible to turn around your weakness to make it appear as a strength. (More on that later.) However, avoid offering up a staged or unrealistic weakness, such as “I work too hard” or “I’m too much of a perfectionist.” Much like #1, this answer is just a way of avoiding the real question, and interviewers will pick up on that. They are looking for an authentic answer so don’t waste their time with a response that seems fake.
Answering with a joke.
Spare us the lame humor about your weakness for Greek pizza or your struggles with doing push-ups. Chances are it won’t be funny, anyway. It also signals to the interviewer that you do not take this position seriously. If you’re not serious about the job, why should they be serious about you?
Responding with a deluge of personal information.
Remember that the purpose of this question is to gauge your ability to do the job. Do not take this as a question about your personal weaknesses, such as your fear of heights or your shopping addiction. They’re not interested in your personal life and some of these revelations may cause them to question your competence. So keep your answer firmly centered on professional weaknesses, rather than personal ones.
Revealing a weakness that is potentially damaging.
Yes, you want to be honest, but in this case, less is more. There’s no need for you to share that you have a tendency to gossip about your coworkers, or that you frequently sneak out early on Friday afternoons. Choose a less damning weakness if you don’t want to completely ruin your chances.
So…now that we know what NOT to do, here is how you can prepare for responding in a positive way.
To come up with the best response to an interview question about your weaknesses, you will have to reflect on yourself as well as the requirements of the job description.
Begin by jotting down some occasions in your professional life when you struggled, and consider what the result of that struggle was. In particular, how did that professional struggle make you stronger?
Keep in mind that the most impressive candidate is the one that can overcome her weakness, and even transform that weakness into a strength. So how have you done that?
Consider these questions as you reflect on your weaknesses and professional struggles.
- Did you grow as a person as a result of these experiences?
- What did you learn from them?
- Do you hold grudges or perseverate about difficulties?
- Do you fear change?
- Have other people told you about some of your character flaws? Maybe you are too quiet, or perhaps you sometimes overreact to things.
- Is it difficult for you to take criticism?
- And most importantly…what are you doing to work on these problems? How have you addressed these flaws, and how do you apply the things you have learned in different professional situations?
Next, start thinking about the position that you’re applying for. How might the weaknesses that you’ve identified affect your performance in this position?
As with all the other components of your interview, you need to tailor your response to fit the job and the company.
Remember to identify just the right kind of “weakness.” You don’t want to mention such a severe weakness that it may be a professional liability. On the other hand, you don’t want to choose a weakness so minor that it comes across as evading the question. You also need to choose a weakness that can be fixed.
Here are a list of some possible “weaknesses” that might work well in a response.
- A tendency to be too blunt and honest.
- Too much of a “people pleaser.”
- Too critical of yourself.
- Difficulty with public speaking.
- Lack of experience. (If you are a recent graduate or a career changer, your lack of experience will come up anyway, so this is a good moment to acknowledge that and use it to your advantage.)
Now you can go ahead and begin preparing a “script.” Write a draft of a positive statement of your weakness. Then practice it until you can deliver it with confidence.
How to turn your “weakness” into a strength
When preparing a statement about your weakness, it’s important to frame it as a “strength in disguise.” To do this, you will need two parts to your response:
- A confession: explain what your weakness is, and how it affects you.
- A recovery: explain what you are doing to overcome this weakness, and how this actually makes you a stronger candidate.
Here are a few sample answers to the question “What are your weaknesses?” to give you some ideas.
The People Pleaser
“It means a lot to me to get along with everyone. Very often, I’ve taken on extra work in order to avoid disappointing anyone. On these occasions, I would get very stressed about getting everything done. I still look for opportunities to help others in my workplace, but I have worked on becoming more assertive and learned how to prioritize. Now I only offer to help if I’m certain that it will not compromise my ability to complete my own projects in a timely manner.”
The Self Critic
“I have very high standards and can sometimes be excessively critical of my own work. I’m proud of my ability to produce top-notch work, but these high standards can affect my job performance in a negative way. I sometimes waste time on excessive checking and proofreading. I have learned to put more trust in my abilities. While I still proofread carefully, I understand that there are limits.”
The Blunt Communicator
“I’m a very honest person and sometimes I say the first thing that comes to mind without considering the effect it might have on others. In some situations, this has caused me to come across as unkind, especially when giving feedback. I have worked on stopping to reflect before I speak. I’ve also learned how to frame feedback as constructive criticism which offers possible solutions rather than simply shooting down other people’s ideas. As a result, my relations with co workers have improved and they are more appreciative of my suggestions. ”
“The fact that I have never worked in this field could be perceived as a weakness. However, I’m very adaptable. I learn quickly and I’m open to change. I have no preconceived ideas about how to do the job, and I do not have any ‘baggage’ in terms of having already learned to do it differently in another organization. My past experiences show that I’m easy to train and that I adapt quickly to new tasks. I’m committed to learning how to do the job in the way that you want it done.”
The Socially Anxious
“I don’t like public speaking or sharing my thoughts to a group of people. There have been times when I have failed to address important problems or issues because I didn’t want to speak up during meetings. Eventually this failing would lead to more work for me as I tried to deal with important problems on my own. My supervisor has worked with me on addressing this weakness by directly asking my opinion at meetings. Although I found that quite scary, it helped me learn the importance of making my voice heard. Now I have become much better about expressing myself in public, and this has led to increased productivity for my team.”
Recognizing the question, in all its possible forms
Now that you have prepared and practiced an effective response to the question, you need to learn the different forms that it can take in an interview.
There are a variety of ways that a hiring manager may phrase this question, but she is still asking the same thing.
- Do you set professional goals for yourself? Are you working on any goals right now?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
- If I called your last supervisor right now, what is an area that he would say you need to improve on?
- What are your greatest strengths and your greatest weaknesses?
- What do you most want to improve on this year?
Practice adapting your response to these different incarnations of the same question. You can still use your prepared answer. You just may need to tweak it a bit.
So now you have no reason to fear the dreaded “greatest weakness” question. Answer it with confidence, and you will rise above the other candidates as the one who knows how to turn weakness into strength.