We’ve all been there. We’ve breezed through the job interview, and then we get the dreaded question…
“Tell me… what are your weaknesses?”
It’s a tricky question. You want to choose an authentic answer. But you can’t hurt your candidacy.
The trick is to respond just like politician; briefly respond to the sticky question, then pivot back to your major strengths.
Of course, this is easier said than done! If you need some help addressing this all-too-common question, consider the following approaches:
Address the obvious
If there’s a glaring hole in your resume, or you don’t meet one of the key requirements for the job, you may consider putting this front-and-center as one of your “weaknesses.”
The truth is, the employer probably has already noticed this flaw in your candidacy. But the fact that they are interviewing you means that this weaknesses isn’t a deal-breaker.
Tactfully acknowledge the obvious, already-known issue. Transparency makes you look honest—and it avoids disclosing some other professional weakness that the employer doesn’t know about!
Just make sure you tell the employer how you can compensate for your professional deficiencies.
For example, if the employer prefers a fluent Spanish speaker but tú no hablas Español, you need to identify some strength that counterbalances this weakness. You could continue with an example of your sensitivity to Hispanic culture, or involvement in that community.
Reframe as a weakness as a strength (or a strength as a weakness)
No… don’t pull a “Michael Scott” and claim that your biggest weaknesses are “working too hard” and “caring too much.” Such claims come across an insincere.
But it is possible to spin some of your perceived weaknesses as positives.
For example, I once knew a project manager who was very serious about deadlines. As a supervisor, she frequently checked on her team’s progress. While interviewing for a new job she admitted this “weakness” to prospective employers, noting:
“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.”
In this situation, you’re highlighting the between perception and reality. What looks like a weakness to an outsider, is actually a hidden strength.
Draw on context
“Weakness” also depends on context. A perceived weakness in one job or organization may well be a strength in another.
You can use this fact to your advantage by highlighting how a shortcoming from your past is actually a benefit for your next employer.
For example, consider this answer I once heard from a job seeker:
“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.”
The message here is simple: the skills your past employer didn’t appreciate can be a value-added for your future employer.
Regardless of how you answer the question, remember that you’re talking about weaknesses. As such, its important to discuss ways that your working to address or remedy this weakness.
Tell the employer how you identified the weakness and the actions you’re taking to get better. If possible, share 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
I’ve listed above a few strategies for answering the “what are your weaknesses” question—any of which can help you get through this tricky question.
But want to know the real secret to a great answer? It’s simple: PRACTICE.
You know the question is coming, so prepare a head of time. Write out an answer and practice in front of people to make a strong presentation of your strengths. There is no better way to grow your confidence—even when you’re talking about a weakness!