Great Jobs for Portland and Beyond

5 Ways to Answer the ‘What Are Your Weaknesses’ Question in a Job Interview

Posted on by M!ke Russell

We’ve all been there. We’ve breezed through the job interview, and then we get the dreaded question; “Tell us about your weaknesses.”

Hmmm… 

A tricky question. You want to choose an authentic answer. But you can’t hurt your candidacy. Just like politicians, briefly respond to the sticky question, then pivot back to your major strengths.

Choose how you’ll handle the ‘weaknesses’ job interview question.

Address the Obvious

For example, “You note that you’d prefer a candidate who speaks Spanish, and I do not speak Spanish.” Then, you could continue with an example of your sensitivity to Hispanic culture, or involvement in that community.

Reframe as a Positive

For example, a client of Portland career counselor Vicki Lind was very serious about deadlines. As a project manager, she frequently checked on her team’s progress. In her interview she admitted, “Some individuals have taken this to mean that I do not trust them. I have learned to minimize this reaction by telling everyone at the start that these check-ins are part of standard procedure. Then they do not take it personally.”

Draw on Context

A perceived weakness in one position might be a strength in another. Acknowledge that perception, then explain why you think it’s a strength in this new opportunity. For example, “In the past, employers have interpreted my consulting with my team members as having a negative impact on the speed of my decision making. I have chosen to apply to your company because of your reputation for inclusive decision-making.”

Highlight Improvement

Tell how you identified the weakness, what action you took, and how it became a strength. “I used to avoid public speaking like the flu. That changed last year when I started Toastmasters. Now, I am proud to say that I speak at public meetings several times a month and that my presentations get rave reviews.”

Know Your Answer and How You’ll Say It

Practice in front of people to make a strong presentation of your strengths. Every job seeker who has rehearsed with Vicki, either in an individual session or in a small-group interview clinic, has visibly grown in competence and confidence.

How have you turned the weakness question into an opportunity to demonstrate your strengths?

(Editor’s note: This post has been repurposed from Portland Career Counselor Vicki Lind’s book “Finding a Job Worth Having”).

Contact M!ke directly at http://pivotalwriting.com

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About M!ke Russell

M!ke Russell, principal of Pivotal Writing in Portland, helps service professionals, consultants, and innovators to align their online stories with their ideal clients, refine their sales funnels, and expand their online reputations. M!ke believes that that alignment yields the best results for businesses, the most enduring change, and the greatest common good. If you’d like to write a bio that connects with your target audience on a more authentic level, download M!ke’s free report “5 Easy Steps to Write a Bio that Sells” available at http://www.pivotalwriting.com/bios/ Contact Vicki Lind, Portland career counselor at vlind@teleport.com

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  • http://twitter.com/EcoGrrlNetwork Aimee Fahey

    Highly disagree with “reframing as a positive”. Recruiters know you’re not being honest about what your TRUE weaknesses are when you manipulate your answers. Applicants, please do not BS your recruiter by twisting your answer into a positive – I hear way too much of that “I’m a perfectionist” or “I just work too hard” and it drives me insane.

    Remember, a weakness is an “opportunity for improvement”. As a recruiter I never say the word “weakness” and rather I ask them what is their Achilles, or an area they most want to improve upon, or ask what their manager said their areas were to improve upon in their last performance review (then I have something to compare against in a reference check).

    You don’t have to answer with “well, I can be kind of a jerk sometimes” but rather “I’ve learned over the years that sometimes I can be ____ and therefore I’ve really focused on _____”.

    Everyone has weaknesses and things they want to improve upon. Rather than twist your answers, give your employer a realistic view of who you are and what is important to you, just as you’d want them to do for you.

    (My weakness? If you haven’t guessed it yet, I can be very, very blunt.)

    PS – An experienced hiring manager/recruiter doesn’t need to ask this question in the first place. Only about 10% of those I’ve interviewed are willing to be upfront about who they are. I’d rather focus my time in other areas, which will tell me more about the candidate than a direct question like that ever will :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/jessicajoellen Jessica Williams

      In my opinion, the article did not suggest that an applicant be dishonest or manipulate, rather they approach this question tactfully in a way that shows thoughtfulness, insight, and commitment to improve. This may require different approaches based on the situation (job interview or working with a recruiter) and is subjective to the experience of the jobseeker. As is most often the case, there exist a gray area where balance between positive and negative is necessary and I believe this example to be the case. Best ~ Jessica

    • Jen Busick Stewart

      I agree with Aimee. Everyone has weaknesses, so just share one of them (one that wouldn’t be a red flag for the job) and then tell me how you are working on this weakness. That’s it…don’t spin it into a positive.

      • http://www.facebook.com/jessicajoellen Jessica Williams

        Jen, thanks for your feedback. It’s nice to have this discussion and to get multiple opinions on this topic. I think readers will appreciate the dialogue.

  • Vicki Lind, MS

    Hi Aimee, and others.interested in a lively discussion!

    Do you disagree with the header “reframing as a positive” or do you disagree with the example. The example did not hide the action and response, only told how she mitigated the damage.

    Also, I think that there may be a difference when a candidate is working with a recruiter. The recruiter champions the needs of the employer and it is very important for a recruiter to know the true strengths and weaknesses of the candidate to make a great match.

    When I coach a client for an interview, I am helping the candidate meet two criteria: They are in integrity AND is responsive to the employer’s needs. I have had clients tell me with great integrity that they are perfectionists and it has a challenging impact on their timelines. I say, “If you know that it is true, its OK to say it because the nonverbals will be much different than someone who thinks it is a good answer,”o

    Would love to keep the discussion going. Vicki Lind, MS Career Counselor

    • Aimee Fahey

      I disagree with both. Don’t reframe a negative as a positive, and don’t say how you turned it into a strength, because it’s then not actually a weakness. Tell them something you’re currently working on improving – i.e., what is your achilles or what have you been told by your manager you need to work on in a performance review. And be honest.

      The first thing I tell candidates is they are not allowed to use “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too hard”. Recruiters and hiring managers have heard it so many times we actually roll our eyes because we know it’s a ploy to make a negative look like a positive.

      As another commenter said, be transparent. The more you are truly yourself instead of trying to market yourself to look “perfect”, the better. Then we know what we have to work with as a company. As an interviewee, you hope you get a good idea of who the interviewer is, so it’s a do-unto-others mentality. And yes, it takes confidence to admit we’re not perfect – but confidence garners respect.

  • Nanci Champlin

    For an honest and tension-breaking response I like to say “Dark chocolate.”

  • Elizabeth Pacetti

    As someone who has filled the role of both the interviewer and the applicant, I agree that transparency is often the way to win in situations like this. Acknowledging your weakness and also sharing how you work with it can create a perception that will minimize a negative result and strengthen your viability as a candidate.

  • Amber

    this is so dumb…employees are so fake…tell me about your greatest weaknesses…bla bla bla..the American work industry is so superficial.