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Weaknesses: Be strong with your answers

Everyone has strengths and weaknesses. In a job interview, it’s inevitable you’ll be asked about both. Most of us are pretty set to talk up our strengths. But what about this important question: ‘What is your greatest weakness?’

Kate Prior, Managing Director of face2face Recruitment, says it’s helpful to understand why you’re being asked this question.

‘You’ve already been selected for interview, so you’re a stand out,’ says Kate. ‘Employers and recruiters ask about your weaknesses to dig deeper and uncover what isn’t obvious in your resume or LinkedIn profile. They want to find out more about your self-awareness and honesty. They want perspective on whether you fit their culture and can perform in the position. They’re not trying to expose you, make you feel uncomfortable or catch you out in a negative way.’

‘A strong answer can catapult you to the top of the leader board,’ says Kate. ‘Never say you don’t have weaknesses or can’t think of any. The first answer can make you sound arrogant or defensive. The second flags you’re not real or prepared.’

Here are Kate’s tips for answering questions about your weaknesses, with strength.

Tip #1: Choose three weaknesses

Be prepared to talk about several weakness. This enables you to pick one that flows best with that point of the conversation. Also, you may be asked for another example or two and don’t want to be caught off guard.

Work on different types, including soft and hard skills. With soft skills, think about the personal attributes needed to succeed in the workplace, like communications skills and listening ability. Hard skills are job-specific and relate to the knowledge you need, like writing ability or computer capability.

Tip #2: Aim for weaknesses that aren’t role essentials

Don’t choose weaknesses that demonstrate you can’t perform well in the position.

If you’re applying to be a personal assistant, for example, it’s not smart to say that you lack organisation, an attribute that’s essential to the role. Think of a non-essential skill, such as speaking in front of a large group.

If you’re applying for a business development role, it’s not smart to say you’re an introvert. Getting out there and meeting people is essential to the role. Think of a non-essential skill, such as being over enthusiastic and trying to do too much too soon. Explain how you’ve learned to pace yourself and still be enthusiastic, without going overboard.

Tip #3: Pick your strongest weaknesses

Focus on weaknesses you’ve improved or are improving. Demonstrate you’re committed to self-improvement by using real-life examples. If you’re weak on computer skills, for example, explain how you’ve taken the initiative to enrol in a tech course. If you’re weak on leadership, explain you’ve signed up to a workshop or are working with a career coach.

Tip #4: Don’t pick non-professional weaknesses

Avoid weaknesses relating to life after work (like hobbies or social life). This can signal you either don’t understand your professional weaknesses or you think the question isn’t important. It’s irrelevant, for example, that you’re not a great skier or are afraid of planes or spend too much time on your own on weekends.

To avoid this, review the position criteria and put yourself in the employer’s shoes. What would they like to hear?

Tip #5: Frame your answer in two parts

State the weakness first. Then how you’re managing it, minimising it, improving it, and/or continuing to work on it.

Tip #6: Remember that some strengths can also be weaknesses

This is a question of degree. Confidence can be a strength, but over confidence can be a weakness—even a risk—in some job situations. Being detailed can be a strength, but being a perfectionist can be a weakness. Be clear that you’re aware of your weakness but never cast doubt that you have what it takes to perform well in the position.

Tip #7: Be positive

Even though you’re talking about a weakness, couch your answer in positive terms, without sounding like you’re ‘spinning’ the answer. If a weakness is you’re super detailed, back this up with how you’ve learned that the 80-20 management principle works in most cases and that it’s not essential to read every email three times before sending.

Tip #8: Avoid weaknesses that sound threatening

Some weaknesses are best not used in an interview, even if you’ve overcome them. This includes being dishonest, having anger management issues, or being unreliable. It’s the same with being condescending, arrogant or controlling.

Tip #9: Practice, practice, practice

Write down your answers and practice reading them out loud. Do this several times so you sound strong, confident and believable. Never wing it. Never over talk the answer. Be concise and let the interviewer move to the next question.

Final tips to remember

  1. Never say you have no weaknesses. Everyone does. No one wants to hire an employee who thinks they’re perfect.
  2. If working with a recruiter, brainstorm weaknesses and responses. Recruiters have a wealth of experience in this area.
  3. Never answer that your biggest weaknesses is that you can’t identify your weaknesses. This says you’re not self-aware. It’s a sure-fire way to not get the job.
  4. Remember the ultimate goal, which is to get the job, so pick your weaknesses wisely.

Want to learn more?

Buy Kate’s Amazon #1 best seller book Resume Success Secrets, which also talks about being strong with the weakness answer. Buy here (from $4.95).

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