When I speak to job seekers about the interview process, it doesn’t take long for them to ask me how to answer the dreaded ‘what is your greatest weakness?’ question!
These questions are asked in many different ways and can include:
First of all you don’t want to make the blunder of saying you don’t have any weaknesses or areas for improvement … we all do, so you’re going to have to do better than that! We all, no matter what stage of our career, have the capacity to learn, grow and refine our skills. If anyone tells you they are a perfect human being you would look at them aghast. So don’t try to tell an employer you have no weaknesses – it is embarrassing for you and them.
Equally lame answers include palming yourself off as a perfectionist:
I will never forget interviewing for a role and a guy sat in front of me, brushed off his shoulders and said, ‘Weakness … what does that mean, it isn’t in my vocabulary’. Give me a break! He didn’t get the job.
Employers can see you coming from a mile away with these cheesy responses. Some will inwardly cringe and mark you down for the response, and others will call your bluff and keep pushing for a better answer.
What you do want to do is be honest. Show employers that you are self aware, you know where you need to improve and the steps you are taking to do so.
Take a genuine weakness, something you struggle with in your work and then describe the ways you are working to overcome this. For example, you might say that you can become flustered and overwhelmed during unusually busy periods and you have had times where you’ve not known where to begin. Then describe what you do to get you through those times. For example, ‘Knowing I am like this I keep to do lists all the time and reorder them depending on changing priorities. That allows me to keep track of where I am at with my work and ensures I meet deadlines’.
You could also talk about a fear. I had a recruiter in for an interview once and when asked this question she said, ‘I have to be honest, I don’t respond well when I am thrown in the deep end’. She went on to describe a situation where she was handed a colleague’s file and told to run with it, conducting candidate interviews and shortlisting for a client she had never met, a business she knew little about and in a tight timeframe. She countered it with, ‘I am just a very detail-minded person and I need to be able to speak with confidence about a client and their business to candidates. Likewise, I find it hard to have confidence in the candidates I select without knowing more about the client. I am a better performer when I have time to prepare and research’. Great answer!
You can also take the approach of saying ‘In the past I had a problem with …’ and then describe the things you did to resolve the issue. One of my clients was telling me about a time in her role where she had great Microsoft Word skills and was able to do anything asked of her; in fact she used those skills to present and order documents much better than they had been. After a year though, probably because the boss realised how much more efficient it was to use software packages, he started using the Microsoft Access database. He wasn’t a computer person and had no idea that packages differed greatly and figured she’d know. She didn’t. She had no idea and was well and truly out of her depth. Instead of trying to bluff her way through she found a 2-day course and submitted an annual leave request. When her boss realised what it was for, he told her it was not annual leave, he would pay her to attend the course and asked for the receipt so he could reimburse the cost. In her words, ‘I should have just told him how out of my depth I was in the first place’. She went on to use this as an answer to the weakness question and it is a good response because she was honest and demonstrated to potential employers how she rectified the problem.
We all have weaknesses and as much as you dread this interview question, it will continue to be asked.
So start preparing now and have two or three examples up your sleeve the next time you attend an interview.
© Michelle Lopez, Owner/Career Consultant | One2One Resumes
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