What is your biggest weakness? This is one of the most popular questions that interviewers ask interviewees. It appears in different ways:
- What’s your biggest weakness?
- List three weaknesses
- What would your friends say negatively about you?
- What are your key personal development areas?
However, they are all basically the same question. They have the same aim. To understand what your weaknesses are.
It’s not all Positive
We all know that interviews are meant to showcase the best of us – all our positive attributes. But unfortunately none of us are perfect and an interviewer knows that. They want to find out about our imperfections.
The reasons I’ve asked this question in the past are:
- To understand whether an interviewee knows their weaknesses. Are they self-aware?
- Are they telling me the truth? Is the weakness they’ve told me really a weakness or actually a strength dressed up as a weakness?
It should be easy for an interviewee to answer the ‘weakness’ question. However, you’d be surprised. Generally interviewees don’t like talking negatively about themselves. They think it doesn’t portray them very well in the eyes of the interviewer. But you can use it to your advantage, more on that in a moment.
The Weakness Tipping Point
If you don’t answer this question properly it can be a tipping point for many interviewers in making a decision about your suitability for the role. So what happens when an interviewee is asked this question?
- The interviewee doesn’t know what their weaknesses are (long pause as they try to think of one).
- They portray a strength as a weakness e.g. “I’m impatient so I like to get things done quickly”, is an example of a characteristic being turned into a strength.
A few years ago Barry came to see me for an interview and I asked him, “Tell me one thing that your friends would say negatively about you?” After thinking for a few moments, he turned to me and said, “To be honest if they said anything negatively about me they wouldn’t be my friends.”
Wow, what an answer! The alarm bells started ringing!
If you have friends like mine they’ll tell you one thing negatively about yourself. For me one it would be that I’m not good at keeping in touch regularly enough. Not having anything to say is just not believable. He didn’t go on to get a job.
The Right Way
There’s a third answer to the question that I see from time to time, which is the most appropriate answer. It shows that:
- You know your weaknesses
- Highlights what you’re doing to overcome them
One example, let’s say, is that my presentation skills aren’t that good. I tell the interviewer that this is a weakness of mine. What I say next is that I recognise that presentation skills are important to my career and that I have booked myself on a course to improve those skills. I am now seeking every opportunity to present to become a better presenter.
Here you demonstrate that you know your weakness and what you’re doing about it.
5 Questions to Help You
As the ‘weakness’ question is one that you’ll be asked time and time again, how can you prepare for it? Here are 5 key questions to help you:
- What are you not so good at work or perhaps in your personal life? i.e. any feedback from colleagues, friends and family; anything you’re less confident about?
- Why aren’t you good at it?
- What examples do you that show this weakness?
- What are you doing to overcome that weakness?
- What results have you had?
By taking this approach you are providing greater depth into your weakness and showing that you’re taking action to overcome.
Do this in advance. Taking the time to prepare for this question will turn a weak question into a strong one.
So do you know what with your weaknesses are and the action you’re taking?
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