I am an inventory manager with over 10 years experience in purchasing and inventory management in a manufacturing company.
I am happy to report that I am getting lots of interviews for relevant positions, but have always been stumped on the question from the hiring Human Resources staff which requires me to identify and present my weakness. Sometimes I’m asked for a couple of examples even! It can be asked in numerous ways, but the most popular question I have experienced is “What is your biggest weakness?” or “What would you like to improve about yourself”? But, Joanna – I HAVE NO WEAKNESSES!!! How can I respond to this crazy question so that I won’t look bad in the eyes of the interviewer. I know that I must have an answer ready to go.
Please could you give me suggestions as to how to respond to this question in a professional, yet honest fashion. Thanks so much.
Signed by: Worried about my Weakness (WAW)
Great question. I get asked this all the time from our job seekers at JVS Toronto.
According to Cynthia Shapiro in her fantastic book, What Does Somebody Have to Do to Get a Job Around Here?: 44 Insider Secrets That Will Get You Hired (2008), “interviewers will trick you into sharing information that is not in your best interest”. Gone are the days of the straight-forward interview that allow you to talk about your skills and qualifications, she continues. Shapiro clarifies that for a higher paying position, the interviewer might even ask for your three biggest weaknesses. For your question, I will stick with one weakness question and response which Shapiro defines as a “classic trick question”.
The best approach is to share an issue which you have become aware of, one that you’re already began improving. Share how you did it. Your response should show the interviewer that you are willing to accept feedback and criticism, as well as always looking to learn from it. You want to indicate that you are committed to improving your workplace skills. Focus on a skill you have successfully improved; share an example with a happy ending, Shapiro recommends.
Fellow blogger and Employment Counsellor, Karin Lewis and I recommend the following 3-step structure to creating and presenting a response to this question:
Part 1 – identify a specific experience in your past work history and a skill with which you needed help
Example: I’m always looking to improve, learn and grow. About 6 years ago, when I first started working as a job developer at JVS Toronto with people with disabilities, my manager told me that I needed help with organizing my time, to find a balance between my job coaching and job development duties, as well as all the administration work I needed to do. I appreciated my manager telling me about this. Her feedback really helped me.
Part 2 – Explain a concrete solution, strategy or technique which helped you overcome this weakness (i.e. organizational skills or time management – you could use both)
Example: So, after brainstorming solutions with my manager, she recommended that I learn how to use Microsoft Outlook, which is an effective system to organize my time. I learned to input all my activities with the clients. It has been a very useful tool, which has helped me work so much more efficiently.
Part 3 – Describe the impact of the solution (to show a positive ending to the story)
Example: Now in my work and in any of my future work situations, I know that I can always be organized, and stay on top of my work so that the clients don’t fall between the cracks. I have a lot less stress balancing the different parts of my job.
So, WAW, I strongly advise you to prepare and practice your answers to this and all the other typical general, situational and behavioural questions which interviewers might throw at you in the interview. To practice, ask your employment counsellor for a mock interview.
Good luck with one of the most challenging interview questions in the world!
To submit your questions for this column IN CONFIDENCE, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.