What are your weaknesses? Perhaps this is the most dreaded question of them all and the one that confuses and confounds many. What do you say? ‘None’ and then they know that you are not particularly economic with the truth, or go belly up with total integrity, saying, ‘Well as a matter of principle I take all my sickies.’ Aso not recommended is: ‘people used to say that I was arrogant but now I know I’m perfect. Sometimes people attempt to get off the hook with humour through a one-word confession such as chocolate’ or ‘Kryptonite’. All very amusing but this will only win you a rye smile before this killer question gets asked of you again and you have already sent a warning signal to your interviewer that you are going to try and evade the answer.
We have already established that negative information draws a wake of supplementary questions which will take you below the line of acceptability. First, go back to the golden rule of not answering the interviewer’s questions but responding to them. That gets you off the direct-answer hook because you are now going to respond to the question by using a process that goes like this:
• Take a strength which is obvious about your disposition
• Tell a story about your distant past
• Show how your strength was a weakness
• Discuss how you overcame it and what you learnt from it
• Assert that the weakness no longer exists
• Stay quiet
Your answer should be something along the lines of:
Well, I have always been an enthusiastic sort of person. In my first management job, which was ten or so years ago, I found that some of the quieter, reflective members of my team did not take well to me enthusing around them all the time. They wanted to be told what to do, by when and given the resources. I learned very quickly to manage people differently. I am still just as enthusiastic but my management style is tailored to the needs of the people I am working with.
Other examples could be:
• I have always been very detail oriented but have trained myself to take quick decisions when necessary.
• I like to be in control but have learnt that people need to be empowered to give their best.
• I am very competitive but recognise that at work you perform best when part of a team.
Putting the strength first softens the weakness and provides the interviewer with something he or she wants. No one personality is perfect in every situation, for every strength in your dispositional profile there is a complimentary weakness. Genghis Khan, for example, had great powers of leadership but his merger and takeover policies were a little severe.
Now you have to be careful because the better interviewers will have invested in this book as well as you. So they might ask the weakness question in a different format.
• What aspect of your career would you change?
• If you were to do that project again how would you do it differently?
• What did you learn from doing xxx?
• How else would you have gone about xxx?
At the end of your statement STAY QUIET. Although they have asked you about your weaknesses (plural) you are not going to volunteer more than just one. Why admit to aspects about yourself that are going to prevent you from getting a job? If you are pressed then say something like: ‘My partner always says I take my job too seriously‘, or “There never seems to be enough hours in the day to do the work to the standard I want to do it.‘
Only one person has ever come back to me and said that their interviewer smiled and said, “You’ve been trained by Max Eggert!‘ and when my client confessed he had been tutored by me, the interviewer said, ‘Yes, Max worked with me about three years ago.‘
If the interviewer still comes back you can say something along the lines of:
I have really worked hard at thinking through what my skills and strengths are and thought about what was required in this job before I applied. No one is perfect, but my track record and experience especially in xxx shows that I can make a significant contribution to this job. I hope that I am not arrogant when I say that I really do think that my past achievements mean that I can make a positive contribution to this position.
You see again that you have not answered the interviewer’s question but responded to it. However, if you choose this route, remember not to give such a response that could be construed as aggressive.