At some point in every interview process you (as a candidate) will be asked about your weaknesses. This question can take many forms such as:
- What is your biggest weakness?
- When you think back to recent performance reviews you have received, what are some of the things you have been asked to work on?
- What parts of this job would be hardest for you?
Why do recruiters and HR folks ask this question? There are a variety of related reasons - we do it to start a dialogue, to see how you view yourself, to see if you are the type of person that can take feedback and not take yourself too seriously, and sometimes just to get a feel for your personality.
Recently I've had 2 candidates give me rather lame answers to this question - notice how neither one of them embraced the chance to dialogue and build rapport with the interview team:
Candidate #1 for an IT Manager position delivered his answer to the weakness question with a mix of incredulousness and arrogance designed to impress: "Weaknesses? If you're looking for a candidate with weaknesses then I am NOT your guy. I know this job inside and out and I just don't make mistakes."
Candidate #2 for an Office Manager position gave an answer that had nothing to do with her: "My biggest weakness is people who won't respect diversity. I cannot stand that." When I clarified that I was wondering what her weaknesses might be with respect to the position, not what her co-workers weaknesses might be, she reiterated, "I can't work with people who aren't respectful."
Since you know you are going to be asked the question, it's a good idea to have an answer prepared. While your answer should be uniquely you, and tailored to the position you are going for, a good basic answer to the "weakness" question is:
Timely. It's an interview. You knew you would be asked about your weaknesses. While you may pause briefly before answering, you shouldn't come across as dumbfounded by the question and have to think for an extensive period of time before offering something.
Honest. Be real about what you are working on, don't make something up.
Direct. Speak to the weakness. Don't be cheesy and try to pitch a strength as a weakness (e.g., "I'm so task focused that I take on more work than my peers do and that makes them think I am competitive.")
Relevant to the Job.An interview is a business conversation. Use the chance to answer the question as an opportunity to demonstrate that you know how the job contributes to the success of the business. (E.g, "In this PR position, you're looking for someone who can pitch stories and get press for your clients. While I had an extensive network of media contacts in [my old city] I am new to this metro area, and I am still building my contact list.
Progressive. Demonstrate that you already have a plan in place to manage your weakness as it relates to the job. For example, the PR candidate above might conclude her answer with: "My colleagues in my old city have been gracious enough to help me make contacts here. I've already joined [local PR professional association] and I have been attending their networking events. I also know from articles i have seen about you in the press that you are the type of manager who will be able to give me great coaching on getting connected in this city." etc.
Have you ever heard or given a great answer to the "weakness" question? Please leave a comment and let us know about it!