Having conducted hundreds of interview trainings, I have observed that job seekers tend to struggle the most when responding to the “weakness question.” The advice most job seekers receive about responding to questions regarding their weaknesses is to simply “turn a negative into a positive.” I cringe when I hear this advice because it encourages job seekers to avoid a true analysis of themselves by focusing on finding a way to “turn a negative into a positive” rather than focusing on analyzing themselves. Moreover, there is no guidance on how to execute this advice. How do you do this effectively? What tends to happen is candidates develop cliché responses that are not honest, not believable, and that employers have heard a thousand times. This advice doesn’t tend to result in a response that impresses employers, but rather, makes them roll their eyes.
I have developed two methods that can help job seekers formulate a response to the weakness question that will help their answers improve. Now, of course, these methods are simply to help you get started with a better response – it is still advised that you get feedback from an interview coach on how well you are using these techniques.
When employers ask questions about your weaknesses, they can ask in so many different ways and it is impossible to anticipate how they will ask. This makes it difficult to prepare unless you have an inventory of prepared responses. My techniques can help you formulate multiple responses to have in your personal inventory so you feel more confident that you are answering honestly and diplomatically and still selling yourself.
Technique 1: Identify a weakness that does not contradict a core competency needed for the job. Then, explain at least 2 specific ways you overcome/manage the weakness and provide evidence of effectiveness.
Example Question: What is a flaw that might hinder your ability to do the job?
Use of Technique: I realize I may not have as much experience as other candidates interviewing, however, whatever I may not have in experience, I can learn quickly. Additionally, if I don’t know something, I immerse myself in it reading books or articles and conducting research. I am not afraid to ask questions and I work twice as hard if I need to. In my last job, I didn’t have any experience in accounting but when we lost our accountant, I stepped up and took over those responsibilities and learned the role within a matter of weeks through heavy research and quick learning.
The idea is to use this technique as a formula to get you started. Certainly, lacking experience does not contradict a core competency of the position or you wouldn’t be interviewing. However, it is a legitimate flaw relative to competitors who may have more experience than you because it may be perceived that you don’t have as much knowledge. This is a generic example to simply demonstrate the technique. The point is, you can be honest about whatever weakness you may possess while still selling yourself by simply being strategic about how you respond by selecting something that is likely to raise the least concern from the employer. The majority of the response should focus on how the weakness is managed and providing evidence that your method of management is effective strengthens the response. This was done in the example response by providing an example of how lack of experience had been overcome in a past, recent, situation.
Technique 2: Identify a positive trait, explain how it can be misperceived as negative, and describe at least 2 specific ways you intervene to prevent the misperception from occurring.
Example Question: Describe a personality trait you possess that you have to work around to get along with other people?
Use of Technique: I’m a very optimistic person and tend to always try to find the silver lining even when times are challenging. I understand that others may perceive this trait as perhaps not being pragmatic so I find that with those who may not share a similar optimism, I simply show my optimistic attitude in different ways such as by providing support, or bringing in bagels to work to keep the team upbeat rather than trying to convince others that they should have the same outlook. I find that this approach respects peoples’ attitudes while still encouraging productivity and positive team relations which I believe is a shared responsibility. I found that because I use this approach, in my last team, I tended to be sought after when people wanted to talk to cope with challenges and this was mentioned when I was named employee of the month.
This technique uses the communication strategy of focusing on how something positive can be misperceived as negative and reveals that the candidate has a strong understanding of themselves and how they can be perceived by others. Because of that strong sense of self, the job seekers is also aware of how they manage perceptions through their behaviors with those who do not share the same attitudes, opinions, or beliefs. We all encounter this challenge daily and we all intervene in subtle ways when interacting with different people. This technique allows you to answer a weakness question honestly, but with diplomacy. Moreover, it allows you to still sell yourself.
Consider these techniques “training wheels” to help you prepare a response before you ever walk into your interview. The more ways you can use these techniques, the larger your inventory of thoughtful responses will be, thus, increasing your confidence, and your ability to answer any weakness question thrown your way.