Interview Question: What Are Your Weaknesses

In every interview there are moments at which you will be asked a question that seems to simply have no good answer.

There is nothing in particular that the potential employer is expecting to hear, and the question itself just feels dangerous. There are a few forms this question might take but the spirit of it remains the same.; “What are your weaknesses?” “In what area do you feel you are least comfortable?” “Are there any situations that you are uncomfortable with?” “What are some areas where you feel you need improvement.” These questions are some of the most loaded that you will ever encounter, and you should make it a point to learn how to overcome it. What The Interviewer Is Looking For.

Obviously the question is meant to reveal something… but what? Your potential employer will ask it with a casual tone and then stare straight at you as they watch the gears in your head start to turn, and a bead of sweat slowly forms on your brow. There is almost no analogy in any other arena in life where your will be asked to list off your weaknesses and detail them, with the exception of your psychologist’s couch perhaps. What is important to understand here is that while the words and the wording of your response are important, your reaction to the question being asked can be more telling than anything.

I asked this question of every person I have ever interviewed for a reason, and I have observed a myriad of reactions. Some people take a long pause for a while and think. This tells me that they have never bothered to contemplate their weaknesses, which may be a symptom of over-confidence or vanity.

Another common reaction, oddly enough, was a slight chuckle or smile. It is a perplexing reaction that I can promise you is quite off-putting to an interviewer. It is a serious question that, regardless of how you feel about it, you are expected to answer promptly and effectively like every other.

What your interviewer is looking for is honesty. Always, I repeat, always be honest when answering an interview question. As you are answering, your potential employer is asking themselves a few questions of their own: Does this applicant have the good sense to recognize their own weaknesses? Is the applicant’s answer an attempt to avoid the question? Does this applicant have a desire to improve themselves, or is this person simply answering for the sake of answering. Your reaction to this very tough question will tell all whether you like it or not… and whether you know it or not. Know Thyself…

To be able to speak on one’s own weakness takes courage, but more importantly it requires a self-knowledge that can be tough to cultivate for some. This kind of recognition of one’s failings can be very valuable to some employers, more so than many realize. Many very wise men throughout history have said and understood that knowing what you do not know is far more useful than knowing what you are already confident in. Men like Albert Einstein, Stephen Hawking, or any other famous scholar you could think of did not become what they are because they knew it all, they became what the are because they were aware that they knew nothing, and therefor had a hunger to learn and grow. Savvy employers don’t want a know-it-all on their team, trust me on that. There is a bold line between confidence and hubris, and you don’t want to find yourself on the wrong side of that line when things get tough. Know yourself; be true to what you are, what you know, and most importantly what you do not know.

Acceptable Answers
There’s no response to the question about your flaws and failings that will make or break the interview for you. There are however rules to be followed that will give you some idea of where to start. First and foremost, be prepared. Hesitation on this question will say things to your potential employer that you don’t want said, so think of it beforehand. Second, keep your answer down to one main subject.

You do not want dig into your own psyche in front of a business owner. Again, it may seem obvious but it’s easier than you think to talk yourself down a rabbit-hole before you can catch it, and it’s a sad moment when you realize that you just said too much. Third, be as real as you can be. Use this as an opportunity to really help yourself learn and grow. Smart business people usually have a good sense of whether or not a person is being sincere, and this sincerity can speak volumes about your personality in general, and your worth as a potential employee and manager. Here’s the best answer to what are your weaknesses:

Interviewer: “Tell about some areas where you feel you could use some improvement.”

Applicant: “Well to be honest that’s something that I make it a point to think about.” This preface indicates that you are genuinely concerned with personal growth, but say no more than that. Any more than a single sentence and you will start to look as though you are stalling to think, albeit skillfully.

Applicant: “ I have always had a challenge with public speaking. Talking one on one with a client is actually on of my stronger skills, but speaking in meetings or in public with a number of people all focused on me, is something that I’m still working on. So I make it a point to take any opportunity I get to speak publicly, and whittle down that discomfort.”

Now let’s analyze this response: You have, in a concise and professional manner, shown that you are genuinely concerned with improving yourself. You have shown knowledge of proper corporate buzz-word usage in using the term “challenge” as apposed to “problem” or “issue.” You have displayed that you are confident in your strengths as well as being aware, but not afraid, of your weaknesses. And last but not least, you have shown that you are proactively working on a solution for your challenge, instead of just accepting it as an unalterable fact. That is what an employer wants to know; are you someone that sits on issues and does nothing… or are you someone that takes charge of their own fate regardless of the challenges you face? Prove that you are the latter, and you’ll be one step closer to the career you really want.

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