“So, what is a weakness of yours?”
This interview question has the ability to instantly freeze you in your seat, preventing you from conjuring any coherent words.
I mean, why would you want to talk about your weaknesses and failures? Who says you have any weaknesses?
Okay, you definitely do have a weakness… or seven.
However, a lot of interviewers ask this, so you need to be prepared to answer it.
But, how do you answer this terrible, horrendous question?
Let’s explore these steps in more detail.
No, no, no, no… never say that you’re a perfectionist.
You might consider yourself a master of your trade, but at some point in your career, whether it was in college, or post-graduation in the working world, you made a mistake.
You had a weakness. You still have a few weaknesses.
The trick is to spin that past weakness into a current strength.
Think of a problem someone originally had with your style of management/work and then how you improved on it. So, it was a weakness, but then you addressed it and fixed it.
Also, don’t choose something that will immediately eliminate you from consideration for the job.
To use the “irrelevant weakness” method, you need to confess an irrelevant weakness, then show how you worked on and fixed that weakness.
You’re taking a risk when you use this method because some employers might think you’re attempting to dodge the question—and in a sense you are.
You’re playing it safe, but you’re not damaging your chances at getting the job, because the weakness you discuss has nothing to do with your current ability to perform said job.
You don’t want the employer to think that you’re not taking the question seriously and ask for a more relevant weakness, but you also don’t want to give a weakness that could prevent you from performing the job.
For this example, let’s pretend that you were formerly a chef, but you’re now applying to be a journalist at a local newspaper.
Here’s how to use the “irrelevant weakness” method:
“In the past, working as a chef in multiple restaurants, I tended to use a variety of spices to enrich my meals. I often made very spicy dishes, using Aleppo pepper, chilli powder, and a wide variety of peppers. This created very spicy dishes, which some people loved. But, it turned away a lot of customers at Pantanas Kitchen when I was the head chef. They didn’t want every dish to be spicy. I wasn’t thinking about my entire customer base.”
I quickly realized my mistake and realized the food I was serving was much too spicy for a lot of the customers after receiving a few complaints. I started only making one spicy dish a week, cutting back on the chilli powder and other spices I was using. This satisfied both customers; the spicy food lovers, and those that didn’t like the hotness of my dishes. The restaurant began to attract more people, because my dishes were appealing to a wider audience.”
Why It’s A Good Answer
You just confessed a weakness and a problem you encountered in the past.
Now, you need to discuss how you fixed that weakness.
This irrelevant weakness doesn’t hurt your consideration for the job, or show that you can’t perform as a journalist. It simply shows that you can recognize and overcome problems in the workplace.
The employer could ask for a more relevant weakness if they feel that you’re dodging the question. Be prepared to use the next method of “turning a relevant weakness into a positive”, after using the “irrelevant” method, however.
This is always a good method to go with if the employer asks for a more relevant weakness. Discuss a weakness in your past that is somehow relevant to the position you’re applying for.
After that, discuss how you worked to transform that weakness into a positive attribute or characteristic.
Let’s say that you’re applying for a business analyst position. You know that analyzing data spreadsheets with Microsoft Excel is crucial to the job.
Begin by discussing your past failings with Microsoft Excel.
For example, you could say:
I specifically struggled to learn how to use Microsoft Excel. I failed a computer science course once, because I couldn’t complete the Excel projects. I didn’t understand it.
I realized this was a weakness of mine and immediately sought to remedy it. I chose to hire a tutor when I took the computer science course a second time. He was actually my roommate, and helped me after class each day. I also buckled down and took the time to study Excel, as well as the rest of Microsoft Office, every morning and every night by myself.
I passed the course with flying colors the second time. I’m now extremely experienced with Microsoft Excel, as well as with Business Process Models, and Microsoft Visio.”
Why It’s A Good Answer
You were just brutally honest about a weakness you had in the past. It doesn’t make you look like a good candidate for the job, I know.
But, the next step shows how you turned that weakness into a strength.
You kept your weakness relevant to the position you’re applying for, and you showed how you used that failure as fuel to buckle down and turn it into a positive characteristic.
The story you told also allowed you to mention other positive attributes you have as a potential candidate, including your knowledge of Business Process Models and Microsoft Visio.
This is a chance to showcase that you have a unique strength.
Using this method allows you to discuss what certain companies and employees might consider a personal weakness, but that you actually consider a personal strength. This demonstrates your self-awareness and unique perspective.
Let’s say that you’ve just graduated from college and you’re applying for your first job.
Using the “my weakness is actually a strength” method for this situation would be focusing on the fact that, yes, you’re new to this and you have no experience, but you also aren’t bringing in any preconceived notions about how to do the job, and you’re open to learning how to perform the new job exactly like the company wants.
For example, for an administrative assistant position you might say:
“Some companies might consider my lack of professional experience in this field a weakness. I’ve just graduated from college, and I don’t know exactly what to expect.
Just because I’m new to this field doesn’t mean that I’m not capable.
In fact, it’s the opposite. I don’t bring any preconceived notions into the workplace on how you expect the administrative assistant to perform.
I will be entirely open to learning new things about this position every day, and I will do my best to perform this job exactly how the company sees fit. I will be hungry to improve my skills, and I will bring a fresh, ready to learn perspective to this job on a daily basis.”
Why It’s A Good Answer
So far, this very much looks like a weakness. But, it’s time to change that.
You just took a potential weakness, discussed it openly, and then discussed how you thought the potential weakness could be viewed as a strength instead.
Onto the last step.
Yes, expose a weakness, but not one that sinks your whole ship.
Put some thought into the weakness method you choose, and the answer that you give to the employer.
Don’t choose something that will eliminate you from consideration for the job right away.
For example, if you’ve grown tired of that new journalism position, and you just want to go back to being a chef, don’t decide to say something like this in your interview:
“I gave three thousand school children food poisoning twice in three months. I made sure to never undercook chicken again.”
No matter how you remedied that weakness, it looks absolutely terrible. It stands a very solid chance of eliminating you from job contention immediately.
Use some discretion and don’t sink your whole ship with one statement.
You walk into the interview and ace the first three questions.
The interviewer then asks, “So, what is a weakness of yours?”
Before, you would be freezing in your chair, determined to make a bolt for the exit. But, now, you’re prepared.
Before you know it, you’ve answered all of the questions brilliantly and the interviewer (who is extremely impressed with how you handled the question of doom) is ready to hire you on the spot.