When it comes to the “what are your strengths and weaknesses” interview questions, they both fall into the category of the top 10 common interview questions. Meaning, you can be confident that you’ll be asked these questions in your next interview.
The strengths and weaknesses questions also fall into the category of being seen as stupid by most candidates.
The majority of candidates feel it is an unnecessary question that is designed to catch you off guard.
And because of this, most people tend not to prepare appropriately for the interview questions, particularly not the “what are your weaknesses?” question.
The thing is, though. These interview questions are quite revealing to the interviewer, which is why you keep getting asked to talk about your strengths and weaknesses.
Here’s the other thing with these questions – because so many people get the answers to these questions wrong, they present an excellent opportunity for YOU to give an attention-grabbing answer.
Today we’ll dive deep into the question “what are your weaknesses?” I will also share with you how to prepare for this question and give a compelling answer.
If you prefer to continue reading, just scroll past the video.
⇒ Don’t try and outsmart the interviewer (it won’t work)
⇒ Why interviewers are asking you this question
⇒ How to choose what weakness to talk about
⇒ How to structure your answer
⇒ Example answer to the question “what are your weaknesses?”
Don’t try and outsmart the interviewer (it won’t work)
When you are asked the question “what are your weaknesses?” you want to stay away from answers such as “I work too hard,” “I’m a perfectionist, and that is not always a good thing,” or “I get way too involved in my work” or anything else that sounds like you’re attempting to portrait a strength as a weakness.
Interviewers are well aware of the old ‘stating-a-weakness-that-is-really-a-strength’-trick, and they won’t fall for it.
Plus, by responding this way, you signal to the interviewer that you may not be completely trustworthy, lack self-awareness, and may not take responsibility for your own growth and development.
And it most certainly won’t set you apart from other candidates since this is how most people choose to answer this question.
Why interviewers are asking you this question
When an interviewer is asking you this question, it is because they want to learn a few things about you:
- Do you have any weaknesses that may impact your ability to deliver the results needed in this job?
- Are you honest and trustworthy? In other words, will you give an honest answer or make something up?
- What type of person are you – one that is constantly looking at ways to learn and grow or someone that sees themselves as perfect already?
When determining what to say when asked about your weakness in an interview, it is also important to keep the employers intent with the interview in mind: They are searching for the person that can solve their problem.
And you have a real opportunity to grab their attention by providing a compelling answer to this question (since so many candidates are answering this question incorrectly).
What trip many candidates up is the notion of wanting to come across as perfect, but the thing is, you don’t have to come across as perfect. In fact, sharing a real weakness will help you come across as authentic and trustable.
Interviewers don’t ask this question because they want to catch you out. They do it because they genuinely want to know what you consider is your weaknesses – a real one, not one that you’ve made up.
How to choose what weakness to talk about
So how do you CHOOSE the weakness to focus on?
The best way to make the selection is by preparing for the question, in the same way as when you prepare for the “What are your strengths” question, and that is by being clear on what skills and capabilities they are looking for in this role.
An approach that I’ve used successfully and same with my clients is to do a skills inventory and self-assessment, and then map those against the skills and capabilities that are listed in the job description and pick a skill/capability that is RELEVANT for the role, but that isn’t listed in the job description. It’s a solid way of showing authenticity and building trust.
The self-assessment exercise is included in the Job Interview Preparation Workbook that you can download for FREE here.
The reason why I recommend picking a skill/capability relevant for the job (and why I started doing it myself when I was being interviewed) is linked to my experience as an interviewer.
When interviewing candidates, I found that those who talked about improving a weak skill or capability related to their ability to perform in the role came across as the most authentic and trustworthy. Much more so than a candidate that spoke about an unrelated skill or capability.
Here’s another thing I noticed with this approach (and the reason why I recommend it).
When you speak about a skill or capability relevant to the position you’re interviewing for and do it in the way that I will describe in a little while, you’re more likely to avoid getting asked to provide more examples of weaknesses.
How to structure your answer
The way to structure the answer to the question “what are your weaknesses” is very straight forward.
- Start by stating the weakness.
- Explain why you consider it is a weakness
- Talk about the actions you’ve taken (or are currently taking) to overcome this weakness.
- Speak about the results your improvement actions have had (focusing on the benefits to the business)
Example answer to the question “what are your weaknesses?”
Here’s an example answer when the candidate is interviewing for a customer service role:
I’ve always been very creative, and it is easy for me to come up with innovative solutions. In Company X where I worked between 2009 and 2012, they didn’t have any predefined guidelines on how to respond to queries, so I put guidelines together for my own use.
They soon became the company standards and were used by all of us in the customer service team. However, when I joined my current company, where they have very strict guidelines, and everything was well scripted, it was highlighted to me that I needed to rein in the creativity and stick to what’s outlined in the guidelines and scripts. I’ve done this by studying the response guidelines not to feel the need to start improvising, which is when my creativity tends to kick in.
It’s still a work in progress, but it’s going well, and my manager is very pleased with my results.
The answer works because it targets an essential part of the customer service role — consistency in customers’ responses and the importance of following guidelines. With this example, you show that you are fully aware of these to the extent that you know the guidelines inside and out. At the same time, you are also confirming that you have an excellent capability to improvise, which is not a bad skill to have in a situation that requires improvisation.
There you have it. Now you know how to prepare properly and answer the interview question “what are your weaknesses.”
And the best part is, if you do the self-assessment that I’ve taught you here on all the requirements you’ve identified in the job description, you know exactly what to answer if the interviewer starts asking you about any of the other requirements.
What is your experience with this question? Do you find it tricky or easy to answer?