Career Resources

Monday, February 21, 2011

What's your greatest weakness?

Ah, the dreaded weakness question...the bane of every college student's interviewing existence.  Each semester I conduct about 75 mock interviews with students and, invariably, they struggle with this question.  Admittedly, it is probably one of the most difficult questions you will have to answer on your interviews. I think the problem is that most students think it is a sign of weakness to admit that they have a weakness.  During a recent mock interview, I asked a student why it was so difficult for him to answer this question honestly, and he replied, "Well, aren't the interviewers screening out candidates based upon how bad their weakness is?"  While I could definitely understand why he felt this way, I told him that this was not the case (unless you give a horribly horrendous weakness!) and proceeded to explain why interviewers ask this question and the appropriate way to answer it.

Interviewers ask this question for a number of reasons:  1) to see if you can remain confident and positive when discussing a negative aspect of your life; 2) to see if you will answer it honestly and not try to pretend that one of your strengths is actually a weakness (for example, "I'm such a perfectionist that I end up spending way too much time on my projects."  Excuse me, but where is the weakness here?).  Here's a clip from The Office where Michael does exactly what you're NOT supposed to do:; and 3) to determine if you are mature enough to routinely reflect on areas of your life that offer room for professional growth.

The typical way that most career experts say to answer this question is to state a true weakness, but then show how you're working on overcoming that weakness. If the thought of stating your true weakness makes you break out into a cold sweat, then consider my approach to answering this question. Reframe this question in your mind and think about it as, "In which areas do I need to grow professionally, and how am I doing that?"  This is what interviewers are trying to evaluate with this question. And if you're not growing professionally, then that is undoubtedly a weakness. As I always point out to students, every professional, no matter what level, needs to be continuously assessing themselves to find ways to improve in order to increase their chances of upward mobility and to remain competitive candidates in the job market.

Listed below are a few examples showing how your answer to this question can be changed from the weakness approach to the professional development approach:

Weakness approach: "My public speaking skills are not that great."
Professional development approach: "Because my public speaking skills were not up to par, I enrolled in a Toastmaster's course."

Weakness approach: "I tend to dominate team discussions and not listen to others' opinions."
Professional development approach: "Being an extrovert, I tend to get excited about sharing my ideas, but now I'm stepping back more to give everyone else a chance to speak before I present my opinions.  I've realized from doing this that my teammates have a lot of great ideas to contribute."

Weakness approach:  "I tend to be really shy and don't like to attend networking events."
Professional development approach: "I am attending at least two networking events each semester so that I can improve my professional networking skills."

One last point:  Never state a really bad weakness, that is, one that is directly tied to the job responsibilities.  For example, if an internship requires strong analytical skills, don't say, "I hate working with numbers."  If the position requires strong customer service skills, don't say, "I always lose my patience with people."  If the job involves a lot of writing, don't say, "My writing skills aren't the best, but I'm taking a creative writing course." If writing is a major requirement for the position, you should possess that skill right now.  If you're finding that your true weakness is in direct opposition to the job requirements, then it might be time to pursue another career direction or find a way to overcome that weakness through some form of professional development before you embark on your internship or job search.


lee woo said...

Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time. See the link below for more info.


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