How do I respond to the question at the interview that requests that I explain my weaknesses or what I would like to change about myself at work? This is by far the hardest question that I have been asked at the job interview.
Signed: The Weakness Question (WQ)
I love the piece written by blogger Aja Frost from an excellent career blog called The Muse (although I beg to disagree with her about the intent behind the question — I do think it’s often meant as a trick question). Regardless, you need to be prepared to respond in job interview in a way that presents what we might call “your best self” yet demonstrates that you are open to learn and improve, as well as able to accept feedback and criticism with self-awareness.
You have to be true to yourself on one hand, but not be too talkative, or too arrogant. You can do this by first presenting the characteristics of the weakness, rather than the weakness itself. Always come up with a strategy on how you are working to resolve the issue, so the behaviour no longer impedes in your performance and work.
Here are some ideas on how to communicate your weaknesses professionally and effectively:
- Instead of “Perfectionism,” Say…
“I tend to get caught up in the little details, which can distract me from the ultimate goal. You might actually be a perfectionist, but your interviewer has heard this answer a billion times. If you are going to use this weakness, Frost suggests that you follow this answer with an example, such as: When I was a junior web designer at Harold’s Hats, I was asked to revamp our size guide and make it more fun and visually interesting. Unfortunately, I became so fixated on finding the perfect font that I missed the deadline.
Next, describe how you’re working to solve the issue. These days, I break each project down into mini-tasks, each with their own deadline. If I spend too long on an individual thing, I set it aside and move on to the next one. Usually, by the time I come back to the imperfect piece, I can be more objective about whether or not it needs more work.
- Instead of “Overly High Standards,” Say…
“It can be difficult for me to gauge when the people I’m working with are overwhelmed or dissatisfied with their workloads.” Stay away from any negativity or comments that put others down. Reflect on your own shortcomings. Explain how your delegation skills could be better.
Here is an example script from Frost: To ensure that I’m not asking too much or too little from my subordinates, we have weekly check-ins. I like to ask if they feel like they’re on top of their workload, how I could better support them, whether there’s anything they’d like to take on or get rid off, and if they’re engaged by what they’re doing. Even if the answer is “all good,” these meetings really lay the groundwork for a good and trusting relationship.
- Instead of “Workaholism,” Say…
“I need to get much better at knowing the difference between working hard and working productively. It’s easy for me to fall into the trap of thinking that long hours in the office mean I’m getting a lot done. But unsurprisingly, I actually do my best work when I’m not super tired or stressed.”
This sounds like a humble brag. Explain to your interviewer about a time when you pushed yourself too hard and the results weren’t good. Frost suggests that you can prove that you are managing the issue by saying: I’m making a huge effort to work smarter, not longer. I’ve begun responding to emails in batches so I don’t waste hours every day sorting through my inbox. I write down five goals every morning so that I’m focused on the priorities. I try to take my meetings outside so that I get some fresh air and exercise while we talk. These productivity changes have helped me compress the amount of work I accomplish into fewer hours—which also means I can produce higher-quality work.
- Instead of “Public Speaking,” Say…
“I’ve heard that more people are scared of public speaking than death. Well, I wouldn’t say my fear is that extreme, but I definitely find it challenging to present my ideas in front of a crowd. As you can imagine, this has proven to be a career obstacle.”
Public speaking is a popular weakness story. Expand on your answers with examples so that your interviewer knows you’re being truthful. Then explain what you’re doing to get better, As Frost suggests:
I recently joined the local Toastmasters club. We meet every Friday night, and it’s actually become one of the things I look forward to each week! In addition, I regularly volunteer to speak at team meetings. Even though they’re small, they’re definitely helping me feel more comfortable sharing my ideas. All of this experience has made it far easier to explain to a room that, say, we need to invest in big data software.
Better yet — try to identify a more original and authentic answer. Employers are looking for a candidate who stands out from the crowd, so using the same old tired answers won’t do you any favours. Figure out how you can describe the weakness without labelling yourself, and share examples that demonstrate how well you are handling it
With these genuine alternatives to over-used answers, you’ll never have to fear the “biggest weakness” question again.
Best of luck with your job search,