Being asked ‘what are your weaknesses?’ used to be a real curveball during an interview but it’s a question being asked more frequently. Despite candidates being aware this may crop up, it can still leave interviewees week at the knees and lost for words. The best approach is the Boy Scout one – be prepared.
Of course, it feels counter-intuitive to start talking about your weaknesses, especially when your goal is to impress and demonstrate how competent you are. However, pre-empting the ‘weaknesses question’ and replying with eloquent answers may give you the edge over unprepared candidates.
Why do interviewers ask about weaknesses?
Rather than setting a trap for you to fall in to, asking about weaknesses is one way of establishing what training you might need, should you be successful. It’s also a question that’s clumsily phrased on purpose. This style of inquiry gives the interviewer a chance to see how you react in an unnerving situation – character qualities that are immeasurable on a CV.
Here’s some sage advice for turning a personal negative in to an interview positive:
No weaknesses? Really?
Are you convinced that saying you have no weaknesses marks you out as the leading candidate? Employers know there is no such thing as the perfect candidate, so they expect some form of admission if they ask the question. Replying that you have no weaknesses is egotistical and unrealistic, so admitting a negative can actually be a positive.
Don’t be irrelevant
It’s easy to feel clever by citing weaknesses that apply to life generally. Saying you’re no good at tennis or that you can’t stop eating chocolate is almost as bad as saying you have no weaknesses at all. It suggests you are deflecting the question, covering up and lacking the ability to be professionally introspective.
Don’t fall in to cliché traps
Once of the biggest weakness clichés is saying “I’m a perfectionist”. Human error means none of us are faultless and what appears to be a clever answer ends up being fake and unimaginative. Ditto “I work too hard” or “I can’t say no”.
Select the right weakness
It’s great to have some examples up your sleeve but your choice of weakness will affect your ability to turn it in to a positive. Choose a weakness that you’re already working on or one where you can demonstrate it was rectified. Check the job spec too as you don’t want to choose a weakness that’s a critical, deal-breaking skill needed for the position.
Demonstrate willingness if there is a glaring gap
If you do lack experience or a specific skill but secure an interview, resist temptation to bluff the situation. You can, however, address any shortcomings in your ‘weakness’ answer. It’s OK to highlight an area you need to develop (as long as it’s not the job’s number one requirement!) but you must explain how you’re improving – perhaps taking an on-line course or listening to webinars on the subject.
Choose your language carefully
Although your interviewer may use the word weakness, you can put a positive spin on your answers by not repeating the word weakness back. The idea is to demonstrate that your weak spots are not insurmountable. Explain you’re keen to gain more experience, increase your depth of knowledge and develop a new skill.
Don’t go on a self-deprecating ramble
An affectionate trait of British people is self-deprecation but there’s no place for this in an interview. If you labour your faults and bumble on, you risk convincing employers that you’re not right for the role and lack positivity.
If you’d like advice on answering the weakness question with confidence, get in touch today.
Hannah Hashtroudi (nee Darby)
Principal Recruitment Consultant
Hannah is a specialist in the Office & Commercial sector. Dedicated, hardworking and motivated, Hannah thrives on sourcing and placing the best talent from SME’s through to large blue chip companies across the region and in London. Hannah has grown an enviable reputation for sourcing high level senior appointments together …