By the time you get a face-to-face interview, the company has determined (through your resume, Linked In, and maybe a phone screen) that you’re a good candidate for the role. Hiring Managers are busy and have limited time to interview. So, once you’re invited to come into the office, the role is essentially yours to lose. The chosen 3 -5 candidates all have the skills and experience to perform the work, but the Boss wants to assess “fit” (translate: who can they stand sitting next to for 40 hours each week).
The weakness question (aka, “What are your areas of development?”, “If I called your last Boss, what would she say you most needed to improve?”, etc.). is great for narrowing down the final few because many candidates shoot themselves in the foot when answering it. Here’s how to ace it, while being genuine:
- Demonstrate insight and drive. Companies are looking for self-aware employees who see their development edges AND take action to improve. These two factors must come through in your response.
- Be human. One goal of an interview is to make a connection with the people with whom you’ll be working. The “weakness” question can be an opportunity to bond on a human level with your interviewer.
- Avoid “perfectionist” and “work too much”. True or not, these responses are overused and will likely get you an eye roll (see point #2). Saying you don’t have any weaknesses is the kiss of death.
- Select a skill, not a personality trait. Skills can be learned, whereas personality characteristics tend to be harder to change. You can learn a computer program. It’s more challenging to overcome anger issues.
- Avoid a core skill. If you’re interviewing for an accounting position, pointing out you’re bad in math won’t win you points. When possible, select something you haven’t had an opportunity to do in previous jobs versus something you just suck at.
- Steer clear of superlatives. If asked for your “greatest” weakness, avoid the temptation to divulge your deepest secrets. This is not therapy, it’s an interview.
- One and done. Give a thoughtful, authentic response, then diplomatically move the conversation forward. If asked for another weakness after you’ve answered the question, politely say, “Well, that is the one coming to mind right now” and move on. When able, end on a positive note.
Sample response our Accountant friend might use to answer: “What is your greatest weakness?”
“Well, in my previous roles as an Analyst, I haven’t had as much experience presenting in front of large groups (lack of experience of a non-core skill). Since I believe this is an important skill (NOT a personality trait) to hone, I joined ToastMasters about a year ago so that I could sharpen this skill (shows insight and motivation to take action). While I still don’t feel 100% comfortable in front of large crowds (human, which helps connect to others), I have improved significantly. In fact, I was recently asked to present at my alma mater to a group of 200 undergraduates and received some great feedback on my speech (ending with a positive).
While it may take a little thought to shape your answer, it’s worth the time. Chances are this question will come up and your ability to answer genuinely and skillfully may make the difference in getting called back for a second interview.