Many candidates perceive the 'what are your weaknesses?' or 'what is your biggest weakness?' question as a possible trap, after all an interview is the place to show the best character attributes, which is why feeling apprehensive about discussing flaws in one's character is quite natural.
In this article we will discuss why this question is important, how it offers the candidate an opportunity to show strength and also possible answers and examples of what the interviewer wants to hear.
Why interviewers ask about your weaknesses and how to interpret it
Interviewers ask about your weaknesses because they want to see if you exhibit humility, if you can fit well within the culture of the company and that you can learn and grow. An interviewer may look more at what your answer communicates about your character rather than your actual answer. Here are some traits they may be looking for within your response:
- Self-awareness – In answering the question 'what do you think are your weaknesses', you show the people interviewing you how well you know yourself.
- Honesty – In making yourself vulnerable and talking about your strengths and weaknesses you also show how honest you are.
- Emotional Quotient – The ability to discuss, what you may think are your shortcomings, shows that you are balanced and able to master your emotions in stressful situations. And also, it shows you are confident and secure and also mature enough to discuss your vulnerabilities.
- Self-improvement – When discussing what are your weaknesses and how you overcome it you are essentially also laying out a path to improvement, which shows that you are willing to work on yourself and learn new things.
Why devising a proper Answer to 'what are your weaknesses' is so important
Going through an interview is a gruelling process in itself, and to top it all discussing your personal and professional deficiencies that might jeopardise your chances of securing the position. So, you answer with something like, "my greatest weakness is that I am a perfectionist", or confess to some phobia, worse yet become tongue tied in your panic and say that you do not have a weakness.
Disguising a strength as a weakness such as perfectionism shows insincerity and inability to self-reflect, not so desirable qualities in a potential employee. To best prepare yourself for this question take some time to sit and reflect. Ask yourself, is there anything that I struggle with? What are the criticisms and feedbacks that I received in the past and is there something I have been told by my superiors repetitively? Once you figure out what your weaknesses are and the mistakes you made in the past and how you overcame the problem at the time, you can come up with an answer appropriate to your situation.
Consider the position you are applying for. Find out as much as you can about the company that is hiring you. Read through their website, review employee comments and learn about company culture and work environment. Read the job post carefully and make a list of things that the company expects from employees related to the position you seek.
Identify your skills and traits that are essential qualities absolutely required for the job and exclude those from your list of weaknesses. For example, if you are applying for a position where you are supposed to manage a team, and you say that you have poor management skills, it would be a mark against you. Suppose you are applying for a post where you are responsible for taking care of accounts, accepting end of day sales, handing out checks and doing some accounting, you cannot say that you are not adept at managing money or bad at maths.
List of appropriate answers to the question 'what are some of your weaknesses?'
Here are a few examples of answers to the question 'what are your main weaknesses':
"I tend to criticise myself and my work too often. Many times I analyse my career and decisions and feel I could have done better. In the past it used to become really counter productive and it used to push me back, however, now I have come up with a system to not let negative thinking hold me back. I have created a dream board and have it with me all the time, in front of my workspace at home, pictures of it on my phone and my work computer, I look at that and concentrate on the future and how I am going to get there. I also have a set of phrases and list of achievements that I remind myself of, this helps me overcome my fears."
"I used to be swamped with work, most of the days I would be at work long after others have left, and eat at my desk all the time. I could not keep track of the projects and used to jump from one project to another. After I was passed over for a project which was supposed to take me to London, I decided to make some changes. I started prioritising, making lists, I used and app to send notifications to me about my schedule and I have been able to manage my time and work in a better manner."
3. Take on too much without thinking/Inability to say no
"I used to take on too many responsibilities all at once, sometimes working with 5 different teams and projects. Though I completed my share of work, I was stressed and felt that I would burn out if I did not do something. So, I started taking this great course on project management and now I use software that let me know how much work I have at the moment and If I have room for more."
4. Issues with Public speaking/Lack of presentation skills
"I used to have issues with speaking in front of people. I could not give presentation or speak in front of people. I used to feel put on the spot if asked to answer a question in class. It wasn't that big a problem until I joined my first job. I read some books but they weren't much help. Then this friend suggested that I teach these weekend classes she was holding for some kids in her area, I did that and for a while and now I feel much better about talking to people."
"I am a naturally shy person, or I am an introvert, it takes time for me to open up to people and be a part of the group. It gives people the wrong impression about me and sometimes they think I am standoffish, proud or I have an attitude problem. When I started my career, it used to be a problem as I could not speak up and express my ideas and it was hindering the success of projects assigned to my team. So, a senior gave me the idea that I join a local theatre group (or take an acting class), which I did, and that has helped me with coming out of my shell."
Other weaknesses that you can mention during interview, such as:
"I am not very comfortable with taking risks, which used to hold me back, I started doing little things that took me out of my comfort zone."
"I focused too much on the details in the past, which can be very counterproductive, so I came up with a process where I take a step back and remind myself of the bigger picture."
"I used to have trouble managing my personal finances, so I self-learned a few things about the topic and learned to manage my finances and create a budget and stick to it."
"I used to have a hard time letting go of projects, to get over it, I started setting deadlines for revisions and promised to stick with them."
Apart from the aforementioned
- poor time management skills
- difficulty adjusting with or working in a team environment
- delegating work to other people
- working without specific instructions or being a self-starter
are some personal difficulties that professionals have had to overcome in the past.
Write down a few sentences highlighting a certain weakness and how you overcame the difficulty, read it to yourself over and over, preferably in front of a mirror, until it becomes an automatic response and something that you believe in.