Unless you’ve suddenly morphed into Henry Cavill’s Superman and can confidently reply “only Kryptonite,” “What are your weaknesses?” is the one interview question you can’t avoid. While there is no one-size-fits-all response, the following tips will help you prepare for the inevitable question.
1. Be honest with yourself: We all have weaknesses. We all make mistakes. You need to be as clear on your weaknesses as you are on your strengths. If you’re unsure, take an online personality profile test or ask colleagues who you trust to give you a candid opinion of what they perceive your weaknesses to be (and strengths).
2. Put a positive spin on it: Always highlight examples of where you’ve turned your weakness into a strength, but don’t mention a weakness you’re still working on. Any you reveal to the hiring manager must be those you’ve resolved, especially if they are in any way related to the vacancy for which you’ve applied.
3. Watch your language: Words such as “frustrated” and ‘impatient” will reflect negatively on you, for example, “I get frustrated when analyzing financial information.” Respond with, “I don’t always find financial analysis an easy part of this job, but I have attended additional training courses and spent time with our financial manager to gain a thorough understanding of what’s needed. He was so pleased with my progress that last month he asked me to prepare a financial report for his department.” This demonstrates a depth of self-awareness and an ability to respond to your personal weaknesses.
4. Don’t rehearse the response: It’s impossible to role play an exact response to this question as it will be influenced by the way the interview is progressing. Mentally prepare a general answer but nothing more. Most hiring managers prefer a natural reply, not a clearly rehearsed one.
5. Some weaknesses won’t be relevant: If you struggle with admin but you’ve applied for a sales position, that won’t generally be an issue. Good sales people are notoriously bad when it comes to admin. You are demonstrating that your job search is focused on roles that will play to your strengths. Apply a positive approach, for example, “I’m quite weak when it comes to admin so I have developed my own checklist in every job that I’ve been in and monitored it throughout the project’s life cycle.” In that way, you demonstrate your awareness of your weakness and how you manage it.
6. Stick with work-related weaknesses: Your inability to resist munching your way through copious amounts of popcorn every time you go to the movies isn’t really relevant.
7. Don’t use clichéd responses: “I work too hard” or “I’m a perfectionist” are typical responses to this question uttered by many candidates. They don’t ring true and sound rehearsed. Don’t be tempted to use them.
8. Make it specific: By citing “lack of organizational skills” as a weakness, your response is too vague. Give specific examples, such as those mentioned above. Why are your organizational skills poor? How have you taken steps to resolve those issues?
9. Avoid jobs that work on your weaknesses: Continually being called to work in an area of weakness is demoralizing for employees and one of the top reasons that people change jobs. If you know you lack the confidence or ability to make a formal presentation to a room full of potential clients, don’t apply for jobs that rely on those skills.
10. Above all, be authentic: Having a weakness doesn’t make you inadequate, it makes you human. Even Superman had a weakness, remember?
Michael Kingston is a top industry hiring manager with over 18 years’ experience and author of the internationally best-selling Pass The Job Interview guide.