When it comes to tough interview questions, this is without a doubt the most common one I get asked about.
Let me tell you about a time I was asked this question in Canada and goofed it up.
I was interviewing at a tech company, and this is what I answered:
“I’m generally the type of person who goes by the book. I follow a strict process to get things done. I find this to be a weakness at times when the unexpected happens, but also a strength in situations where the process keeps everyone informed.”
It was an honest, genuine answer – but the wrong one.
Because the hiring manager responded “Hmmm…that could be a problem here, because there are times where we need you to think outside the box.”
In no ways did I mean I was incapable of thinking outside the box, but it was too late. The perception was planted.
When answering this question, there are two things to remember of what not to do:
- Don’t give a cliché answer (“I’m a perfectionist” “I’m too hardworking” etc.)
- Don’t give a weakness that’s a core skill required for the job.
For example, if you’re applying for a job as a data analyst, saying “I’m not good with numbers” is a bad idea. Or if you’re applying for a job as a project manager, saying “I’m not that good a documentation” is also going to make the manager cringe.
To answer this question correctly, it’s important to first understand why it’s being asked.
An (ethical) hiring manager is asking this question, not to find reasons to disqualify your candidacy, but to assess your self-awareness. And just as important, to learn what you are doing to address your weakness.
If you state you don’t have any weaknesses, they will perceive that as either dishonesty or lack of awareness – everyone has a weakness, no matter who you are.
For example, personally, my weakness is delegation. Because I like to stay on top of things and be aware of things from a technical stand point, I find it hard to delegate new activities to my team. However, I’ve gotten better at it over the last year, because I’ve trained myself to internally ask the question “Who from my team can handle this better than me?”
So to find the right weakness, ask yourself the question “What have I struggled with in the past, that I’ve gotten better at, but still improving on?”
It’s not an easy question to answer, and will require some reflection. But once you take the time to land on one or two weaknesses, you’re set.
It’s important to select a weakness that is genuine, that you’re working on, and is understandable to most as a common weakness. But at the same time, does not compromise the job.
Here are some other examples, with their precautions
- I focus too much on the details (not a good choice if the job asks for someone detail oriented)
- I have trouble saying “No” (not a good choice if you’re in a leadership role)
- I get impatient when projects run beyond the deadline (not a good choice if the job asks for staying calm under pressure)
A safe weakness to mention would be experience in a hard skill that the job requires. Your resumé already states that you have no/limited experience with a specific piece of software for example. The hiring manager already knows this, so calling it out and stating that you’re working on gaining that experience is an easy answer.
Remember the format – state the weakness and what you’re doing to manage it. Prepare for a quick answer (30 seconds) and move the interview along to less stressful questions.