‘Describe your weaknesses please‘ or ‘what are your weaknesses?’ is probably one of the most common interview questions asked by employers and is undoubtedly one of the most troubling questions for most interviewees.
People think you shouldn’t expose a real weakness
There is common belief that tells that you should never expose a real weakness of yours if you want to pass an interview. Moreover, you should be smart and cunning and present a strength in disguise such as ‘perfectionism’ or ‘stubbornness’ or ‘finding it hard to strike a work-life balance’ or that ‘I tend to work too much’ as a weakness of yours. That should do the trick…. right?
We all seem to think there is an unwritten code and that in fact the interviewer expects such an answer. Better yet, if we were to actually disclose a real weakness, chances are we would be disqualified at that very point in the interview.
However, ff this is indeed the case, then what is the point of asking this question in the first place? Is it written in some ‘interviewer protocol’? If both the interviewer and interviewee know the ‘correct’ answer to this question, then what exactly is the point of them asking it?
How to describe your weaknesses
The fact of the matter is that this question is in fact a key interview question and there is most likely no agenda behind it. When the interviewer asks ‘can you describe your weaknesses?’, they mean exactly that.
So does this mean you have to tell him/her that you are intolerant and at times suffer from panic attacks? Or you have serious trouble accepting any sort of criticism? Or you find it hard to sit down and get to work every morning? Or that you have a nasty habit of daydreaming? The answer to these questions is definitely NO!
When describing a weakness of yours the first thing to do is imagine yourself in a work environment. There is no point in bringing up weaknesses that are exposed when socializing with friends or at home; these environments are irrelevant to the workplace and the interviewer has no interest in them (or at least should not have).
Assuming you are an intelligent person aware of your own strengths and weaknesses, you probably know better then anyone around you what are your weaknesses and what are your biggest challenges.
How to make a real weakness a strength
Failure and weaknesses are human – we all failed in the past and we all have our weaknesses (including the interviewer). This is all part of life. The main distinction between those that fail and those that pass this interview question is our ability to learn from our mistakes, acknowledge our weaknesses, embrace them and show how we strive to improve them.
Demonstrate to the interviewer you can face this question head on. Name a real weakness of yours and show how you consistently strive to improve it. Moreover, in many cases a weakness is a strength in disguise.
For example a person who is ‘talkative’ may be a very good ‘negotiator’. A person who is not very ‘sociable’ is very ‘conscientious’ and does not like to be distracted at work. In fact, when describing a real weakness and showing how you are working hard to improve it, or better yet demonstrating how it can actually work to your benefit – you are likely to impress the interviewer.
If you claim that ‘perfectionism’ is a weakness, not only is the interviewer unlikely to be impressed; you are likely to compromise your credibility and reduce your chances of success.
When asked to describe your weaknesses – do not avoid the question and do not hesitate or be reluctant to answer it. You are expected to answer it not avoid it. Face the challenge and expose a real weakness of yours.
Do not expose a weakness which is irrelevant to the work environment or a weakness that can seriously compromise your chances of success; yet be honest and sincere. Show that you are aware of your weaker qualities and that you in fact are trying to learn from them and improve your ways; demonstrate that you are a worthy and serious candidate.
Weaknesses that you may wish to disclose at a job interview:
- Being too demanding
- Lack of humor
- Being too sensitive
- Lack of assertiveness (for IT professionals such as programmers)
Think of this “what are your greatest weaknesses” interview question as an opportunity to show the interviewer what you are really ‘made of’ and that you are on the path to success.
About the Author:
Ron Clover is an organizational psychologist, part of the team of psychologists at JobTestPrep that have created leading preparation courses for psychometric tests for jobseekers worldwide (http://www.jobtestprep.co.uk) On-line job interview test preparation at: http://www.job-interview.com