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Job interviews are stressful enough as is. I mean, there you are, nervously wondering if you’re answering the questions thrown at you one after another correctly, and whether your shirt has huge sweat stains around the armpits. Not to mention you were almost late because Google Maps had no idea where this office is.
But so far, so good — you seem to be managing.
And then you hear something that makes your blood run cold. The question everyone dreads and only the well-prepared have any idea how to answer.
“What is your greatest weakness?”
Beethoven’s 9th echoes ominously in your mind as you scramble to think of something to say that won’t make you look disorganized, untactful and clueless. Your mouth opens but nothing comes out, then you chuckle nervously.
That’s not making a very good impression, either — now you look undecided. Darn it. Can you even win this one?
Yes, you can!
Talking about your weaknesses without undermining your candidacy is not easy, but it is doable. And believe it or not, it might even end up making you look good in the end!
How’s that for some circular logic?
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Why do they even subject us to this torment? you might be asking.
Are they trying to make us more uncomfortable than we already are?
Are they setting some sort of trap?
Wait, didn’t I come here to talk about my skills and qualifications?
Do they just not like me?
What’s going on?
I can guarantee you that it’s none of the above, so you can relax. As it turns out, there are at least 3 pretty good reasons recruiters like to ask this question.
The first reason
is a very practical one — your potential employer wants to make sure you don’t have some basic issues that could make you unfit. If the recruiter knows the position will involve high levels of stress, hearing that a candidate is bad at stress management is very useful information. Fair enough.
The second reason
is also pretty straightforward if you think about it: by putting you in an uncomfortable situation, the recruiter can see firsthand how you deal with stress. Will you stutter and mumble or do you face the uncomfortable situation head on and with confidence?
The third reason
may seem a little less obvious. When asking about your weaknesses, what a recruiter often really wants to find out is how you have handled challenges and problems in your past jobs. Did you learn a useful lesson, maybe even one about yourself? Were you able to adapt to new circumstances?
As you can see, how you handle this question says a lot about you.
So, are you ready to strike talking about your weaknesses off your list of weaknesses? It’s not as tricky as it sounds. Let’s get started!
Everyone has weaknesses — all humans are flawed, it’s not personal 😄 And just like every person is different, there are different ways to approach answering this question that allow you to escape it unscathed. Take a look at the strategies below and decide which one is right for you.
This one is my personal favorite. We’ve already established that we all have our problems — it’s how you deal with them that matters, and this is where positive framing comes in.
No matter what your weaknesses are, positive framing is supposed to demonstrate that while an aspect of your behavior can be problematic, you have been working on it. Ending on a positive note is what makes this type of answer work.
I tend to get a little impatient when a project is nearing its deadline and I know we’re not going to make it. I am a bit of a stickler for due dates and punctuality and knowing I am going to be late makes me uncomfortable to the point that I can start trying to push other people, too. Being aware of this helps me be able to look for solutions to be motivational to others and increase efficiency.
This is an easy way to keep it real without sabotaging your chances of getting the job. Are you applying for the position of, say, writer? Your potential employer probably does not expect or need you to be the type of person gossiping about the last episode of The Bachelor by the water cooler every other day.
And that’s why you can be straightforward about the fact that you’re not all that sociable without having to worry about undermining yourself. Win-win!
I have never been particularly good with numbers, and so luckily my job as a writer does not involve any math at all. However, having to help my kids with their math homework has opened my mind a bit, so maybe it’s not that bad!
This strategy is somewhat similar to the first one in that you use talking about a negative trait as a way to show off your better qualities.
So you used to be pretty bad at negotiating? That’s alright if you can show how this motivated you to take a course and practice until you got it right. Once again, it’s about how we deal with problems.
Public speaking has always made me nervous, even when presenting to small groups. But that bothered me, so last year I signed up for an online course that taught me a few really interesting tricks to avoid getting too stressed. I feel quite a bit more confident now, though I am sure I could still use some work.
If you don’t decide on one of the main strategies listed above, here are some more ideas on how to answer the question about your weaknesses in a way that presents you in a relatively positive light.
As you will see, these answers might sound negative at first, but at a closer glance they are actually quite positive. Finish by adding that you are working on balancing things out, and you’re home!
I sometimes have trouble asking for help
This is basically a way of saying that you are independent. Smooth.
I sometimes focus too much on the details
You are precise and you pay a lot of attention, even to the little things. Who could hate that?
I can have problems maintaining a healthy work-life balance
This shows that you are very passionate about your career — maybe a little too passionate, but better a little too much than not enough, right?
I could use more experience in…
This demonstrates not only humility, but also that you want to learn, and that’s actually a pretty good combination!
I sometimes have trouble delegating tasks
Much like the first weakness on this list, this one translates to “I want to make sure everything is done properly.” And that doesn’t sound that bad at all!
It can be hard for me to say no
This is basically saying that you are a helpful teammate who cares about the greater good.
I sometimes take on too much at once
This one means you are ambitious and hardworking. Seems like an easy issue to deal with, right?
I can be too direct/honest with criticism
They do say that honesty is the best policy. Just remember: the line between honesty and rudeness is a thin one!
Don’t undermine your fitness.
Make sure the weakness you do decide to talk about is not something that would completely undermine your fitness for the position in question. If the position you’re applying for is, for example, that of event planner, telling the recruiter you’re disorganized is probably a bad move. In fact, if that’s the case, maybe you are applying for the wrong job altogether?
Just don’t. Even if you get away with it for the moment, all lying will do is get you in hot water when your future boss eventually figures it out. Or worse yet, you might actually get stuck doing the thing you really dislike every single day. Afraid of public speaking but didn’t want to admit it? Enjoy your new job as company spokesperson! 😄
Don’t talk about others
Maybe that Jenna woman at your previous job really did bring out the worst in you, but this is not the time or the place to bring up whose fault a negative past work experience was. Own your shortcomings, you’ll look more mature for it.
Don’t go overboard
Telling the recruiter about all your shortcomings, past and present, real and imagined, is going way too far. Sure, you should be honest, but this isn’t a therapy session. Listing numerous issues, especially ones you don’t know how to deal with yourself, is not going to go over well.
Don’t pretend to be perfect
Everyone has weaknesses, so acting like you don’t can come off as either supremely arrogant or just plain dishonest, and neither of those is a good look. Not to mention nobody really wants to work with someone who is convinced they are right 100% of the time. Eek.
The dreaded weaknesses question doesn’t seem all that bad after having read this, does it? After all, every challenge is also an opportunity. So instead of squirming uncomfortably, take matters into your own hands and show that even at your worst, you are a diamond in the rough!