"WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES?"

Like it or not this question will likely be asked at some point during your interview and answering incorrectly can derail the interview. This is something that I used to struggle with myself. I struggled with it because I was unprepared and did not think about my weaknesses before interviews. Instead, I focused on my strengths and creating professional stories related to my work experience.  In this article, I am going to share everything you need to know about this answering this interview question:

What you will learn from this article:

  • Why interviewers ask the question
  • How to respond and how not to respond
  • Overly used answers to avoid

First, I want to share an experience where I answered this question incorrectly.  The marathon of an interview was going great and I was half way through the 10 one-one interviews when I was asked...

Interviewer: “What are your weaknesses?” (Note: this question may also be asked as ‘what are your blind spots’)

Me:  “Meetings. I do not do well in work environments that require extensive meetings throughout the workday.”

Interviewer: (looks at me and takes a note) and moves to the next question.

A few interviews later, the question came up again and I gave the same answer. The interviewer looked at me and had a similar reaction than that of the previous interviewer.

Finally, I was in front of the hiring manager, I believe this was interview number nine and around 4.5 hours into the interview.  We discussed all of my previous interviews, discussed next steps, and then the dreaded weaknesses question came up…

Hiring manager: “What are your blind spots?”

Me: This time I gave a more detailed answer about my meeting weakness. (The hiring manager nodding in agreement)

Hiring manager: “Tell me another professional blind spot”

I definitely was not prepared for a second weakness so I said…

Me: “I am a perfectionist.”

The hiring manager heard my answer, but I could tell that he was not impressed with this weakness.

Hiring manager: “Do you have any other blind spots?”

At this point, I paused and thought about it for a moment, but I could not think of anything, so I responded…

Me: “None that I can think of at this time.”

Now, you may be thinking, “Why would you say meetings?” The answer is simple; I was not prepared for the question.

Before I show you how to prepare and answer this question correctly, it is important to note the following about this interview process.

The above experience happened late in the interview process during a second face-face interview that spanned a total of six hours!  Further, this entire interview process stretched over two months from the day that I first submitted my resume.  Throughout the process, I had to pass two phone screen interviews, take what seemed like a portion of the math section from the SAT, perform a test assignment, complete a DISC personality test and have two one hour face-to-face interviews.

Trust me, I was not happy about all of the interview steps, but sometimes they are required and when you complete all of those interview steps you can bet that you are one of only a few candidates that is still in consideration for the position.

I am sure you have already guessed the outcome of the interview, but I did not get the job.  For this reason, I spent the next two weeks researching how to answer this question correctly and I share everything I learned in this article. 

WHY DO HIRING MANAGERS ASK THIS QUESTION?

Hiring managers ask this question to see how you will react to it. Hiring managers use this question to understand three key things:

  • Your self-awareness
  • Your professional flexibility
  • Your resilience

For this reason it is often more important HOW you answer than WHAT you answer. That said there are definitely some answers that you SHOULD NOT provide, which I will share later in this article.

Hiring managers want to understand how you think, how you operate, and whether or not you have awareness about both your strengths and weaknesses.  To hiring managers a candidate that is aware of their weaknesses and is working to improve them is far superior to a candidate that believes that they do not have any weaknesses, because let’s face it we all have weaknesses. #crymeariver

When you admit to having fixable weaknesses and/or weaknesses that will not prevent you from completing the required duties of the position, it lets the hiring manager know that you acknowledge that you have room for personal growth and professional development.

Next, when you explain how you are currently working on improving a weakness it tells the hiring manager that not only are you self-aware, but that you take initiative to work on personal development, that you are flexible and resilient.

HOW NOT TO ANSWER THE WEAKNESS QUESTION

Do not say Meetings, LOL. Here are a few examples of ways that you should never answer this question:

State that you do not have any weaknesses. This shows that you are dishonest and unaware of your abilities.  Any respectable hiring manager is going to disqualify you from the interview process. We could discuss this further, but there is no point, we all have weaknesses.

State a weakness that is irrelevant to the position. Now is not the time to confess that you have a weakness for chocolate or 80’s hair bands. The hiring manager could care less if your desk drawer looks like Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory and that your Spotify playlist is jammed packed with love ballads by Motley Crue, Poison, and Whitesnake. He/she is only interested in weaknesses that may affect your performance at the position.

State a weakness that prevents you from performing the job. If your weakness is being on the phone all-day or working in a loud environment and you are applying for a call center customer service representative position then the hiring manager is going to do their best to keep a straight face while they silently disqualify you. This may seem like an obvious example, but it will help prevent you from mentioning a critical job function as a weakness during an interview. How can you perform your core responsibility of fielding customer calls when your weakness is answering the phone?

State a weakness that is not easy to overcome. No weakness is insurmountable, but do not present a weakness that will require considerable time to improve. For example, if you need to learn the ins and outs of a new version of a software package, this may negatively influence the hiring manager’s decision.

State a weakness that will hurt your chances of getting the job. I hate to keep going back to it, but the “meetings” answer is a perfect example.  The job I was applying for was an engagement manager position, which would require multiple daily meetings. Do not offer any skill or task that the hiring manager needs you to execute to perform your job.

HOW TO ANSWER THIS QUESTION

Now that you know WHY hiring managers ask this question and HOW NOT TO answer it, let me show you HOW TO answer this question. Remember, the hiring manager is looking for three things in your answer: self-awareness, flexibility, and resilience.

Now, there are many different methods and options for HOW TO answer this question, but I am only going to share the one that will work 100% of the time.  If you are looking for other approaches, search the following on Google, “How to answer what are your weaknesses question.”

Now that we have that out of the way, the only way to answer this question is to be honest about your weaknesses. As you learned above, the key is to be honest, but not too honest. If you are thinking that this all sounds like a game, in some ways it is. I wish I could tell you otherwise, but I cannot.  What I will do is show you how to honestly answer this question successfully.

The perfect honest answer occurs in three parts via the Identification, Action, Progress a.k.a the IAP method.

Identification - You discuss the what, how, and when you became aware of your weakness

Action – You note the actions you have taken or are taking to improve your weakness

Progress – You share the progress you have made to date and what you plan to do next

That is it! Well, almost. There are a few questions to consider when selecting weaknesses to use as answers during an interview.

Is the weakness fixable? In other words, is this something that you can develop into a strength by your own effort and motivation?

IAP Example: (Identification) I recently realized that I am not great at advanced formulas in Microsoft Excel. (Action) This is something that I am working to improve by taking an online class focused on improving Microsoft Excel efficiency.  (Progress) So far, it is going well and I have three weeks left in the course, but I am now a master at creating pivot tables.

Is the weakness acceptable for the job at hand? Your weakness should be a task/skill that may occur at your role, but not something that is critical for your role.

IAP Example: (Identification) My career has evolved to include more leadership responsibilities and I have recently noticed that my current organization and time management habits are becoming less effective. (Action) I have been using the Internet to find tips and strategies to help me stay better organized as an emerging leader. (Progress) One thing that has really helped me is a weekly top five critical items list that I must complete during the current workweek.  This has helped me feel less overwhelmed and be present and helpful in meetings with direct reports.

Is the weakness relevant to the job position? For example, if the company you are applying for deals with operating heavy machinery, but you are applying for an accounting position, which will never require you to operate the machinery, mentioning that you cannot operate a bulldozer is irrelevant.

IAP Example: (Identification) I am used to only working on one client account, but in my current role I am managing multiple accounts simultaneously, which has slowed my productivity. (Action) To improve my productivity, I have been working with my manager to standardize internal processes that will save time for coworkers and me. (Progress) To date, I have been able to implement three new processes regarding accounts receivable that have saved me four hours per week across my client portfolio.

WHY THE IAP METHOD IS GREAT AT ANSWERING THE “WHAT ARE YOUR WEAKNESSES QUESTION".

The IAP method shows the manager that you are self-aware of your weakness (identification), you are working on improving it (professional flexibility), and you are taking initiative to increase your value (resilience).

I promise you that the IAP method is the BEST method for answering the ‘what are your weaknesses question.’  That said, I recommend that you determine three professional weaknesses (blind spots)  andthen develop authentic answers using the IAP method that are relevant to the open position. I repeat that are relevant and tailored to the open position. Do not simply Google answers and memorize the script because this will not position you as the ideal candidate.

OVERLY USED ANSWERS TO AVOID

Sometimes even answers that seem to be great can be bad because they have been used far too many times by candidates. Further, using these types of answers makes you seem less interested in the position and unprepared. Here are three answers to avoid:

I am not good at public speaking – Most people are not great at public speaking and most times public speaking is not a core function of your job. In summary, skip this weakness.

I am a workaholic / perfectionist – Blah, blah, blah. The hiring manager has heard this strength disguised as a weakness more times than they can count. So, if you use it, do not count on them buying it.

I am sometimes too detail-oriented – This is another commonly used strength disguised as a weakness that has been used more times than a village bicycle, so avoid using it.

There you have it! Everything you need to know to answer an interview question that is asked during nearly every interview. Bookmark this link so you can refer to it in the future when preparing for your next interview share it with others that may benefit from reading this article by using the share button below.

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