This question comes up time and time again in job interviews and unfortunately, there is no avoiding it.
Most candidates will be asked ‘what’s your biggest weakness?’ during most job interviews they attend. Employers and recruiters like to ask this question for a number of reasons. Firstly, when recruiting for a vacancy an employer needs to know what potential weaknesses a candidate might have in completing the job – they’ll need to know this in case the candidate is hired and they need to arrange training. Employers also normally ask this question to gauge a candidate’s response and honesty. So many candidates answer this question with a standard response – they look something like this:
“I’m a perfectionist”
“I am quite self critical when it comes to completing work tasks.”
“I am really motivated and sometimes if I’m working in a team I just want to carry on and get the job done, even if the team want to have a break. So sometimes I might stay late in the office. I’m a bit of a workaholic.”
All of these responses (and there are more!) are typical answers to this question because they turn a negative into a positive. And whilst that isn’t a bad thing, these answers are tried and tested and employers have heard them dozens of times before. If you say this during a job interview the employer may think that you’re just scripting your responses, they may think that you are not being that genuine and (most of all) the employer will probably be bored. So how do you answer this question genuinely and engage the employer’s attention, without drawing attention to a big weakness that could lose you the job opportunity?
Read the Job Description
The first thing you should do is read the job description and identify all of the tasks and responsibilities of the role. This is crucial as it will enable you to understand the competencies required for the job and it will help you to identify the skills the employer is looking for.
Reading the job description can help you to prepare your job interview answers, and not just the answer to the ‘what’s your biggest weakness’ question either. Knowing the job description well will help you to identify with the company’s goals and prepare for other questions that might come your way; your overall job interview performance will be more confident for it!
For extra preparation, visit the company website and research their company history, goals and employee network. If you familiarise yourself with this it will boost your knowledge and confidence even more ahead of the job interview.
Identify Your Weaknesses
Now you know the competencies needed for this job role you can start to consider what strengths you have that make you the right candidate for the role and the possible weaknesses you have that could affect your performance.
For example, if you are applying for a Sales role and one of the responsibilities is visiting customers on the road and selling face-to-face and you have only previously sold via the phone, this is a possible weakness. It’s a weakness that fits the precise job role you are going for too – and this is important when it comes to engaging with the employer. An employer isn’t going to be interested in knowing that you are a perfectionist or that you sometimes stay too late in the office, they want to know real weaknesses that could affect your performance within the job they are hiring for. They want to know this because it can enable them to assess the impact this could have on their business and, if you’re the right candidate for the role, it will give them a rough idea of the training they might need to offer in the role.
Looking through the responsibilities and duties of the job role will help you to form a list of both weaknesses and strengths that are personalised to the job. During a job interview this is definitely one way to stand out from the crowd – personalising your answers to the employer will not only demonstrate that you have done your research but it will also help the employer to visualise the impact you could have on their company if you were to work for them.
Assess Your Work Experience
After you have worked out what responsibilities and key skills are needed for this job role and the possible weaknesses you might have, you can work towards turning these weaknesses into a positive. To do this, assess your own work experience and highlight similar roles you have worked in and similar responsibilities you have carried out. Once you have this jotted down you can start linking your work experience with your weaknesses.
For example, if you are applying for the Sales job that requires you to be on the road face-to-face selling, look back on your own work experience to identify similar roles. Although you might not have this exact experience (and this could be considered a weakness) you might have lots of sales experience in different environments and lots of experience in dealing with a variety of customers. You can talk about this experience in a job interview if you are asked the weakness question as it demonstrates that although you have a slight weakness when it comes to this exact role, you have a much bigger strength and all-round experience that the employer will find just as valuable.
Finally, if you are asked this question during a job interview, you should mention that you are willing to learn and improve on your skills. After all – this could be a main reason why you are applying for the role. In the Sales job example above, you might not have on-the-road experience but this could be a key reason why you’re interested in working for the organisation and excited about the role – because it offers you the opportunity to learn new things. Make the employer aware that you aren’t afraid of a challenge and that you are excited about the prospect of learning new skills with them to further cement your interest in the role.