Top Interview Questions and Answers
What are your weaknesses?
Alternative and related questions:
What are you not good at doing?
What do you find difficult to do and why?
In what areas do you feel you need to improve?
The meaning behind the question:
With questions of this kind the interviewer wants to achieve the following:
- Identify any weakness which might actually be detrimental to your ability to undertake the role
- See how you react when faced with a somewhat tricky question
- Assess how self-aware you are and how you define weakness
Some might consider this to qualify as a tough interview question and think it should be in a later chapter (Chapter 4: The top 25 tough questions: taking the heat). But believe me - there are much tougher questions than this! I would only classify this question as ‘tricky’ rather than tough. While it is superficially a somewhat negative question it is in fact full of opportunities for you to turn it round to your advantage and make your answer a positive point.
Don’t be perturbed by the question or let it throw you off balance. Your answer should be right on the tip of your tongue - because we will work on it right now. And can I just get straight that you should only ever discuss a ‘professional’ weakness, unless the interviewer specifically requests otherwise (unlikely).
Your first thought might be that you are tempted to say quite simply, “I don’t really have any particular weaknesses.” But this is definitely not the answer the interviewer is looking for - and is definitely not the answer you should be giving them.
The interviewer wants to know that you are able to look at yourself objectively and to criticise yourself where appropriate. If you honestly don’t think you have any weaknesses then you risk coming across as arrogant if you say so - and nobody wants a perfect candidate anyway.
Clearly you don’t just want to come up with a straightforward list of what you consider your weaknesses to be. You basically have two choices:
- Talk about a weakness that’s not necessarily a weakness at all.
- Talk about a weakness that you turned (or can turn) into a strength.
The problem with the first option is that you risk running into serious cliché territory. I’m talking about the kind of people who answer:
I would have to say that my main weakness is that I’m a perfectionist.
I have a reputation for working too hard; I often push myself far too hard in my work.
You risk sounding like you plucked your answer straight out of a 1990s manual on interview technique!
Personally, I prefer the second option: Talking about a weakness that you turned (or are turning) into a strength.
You are answering the interviewer’s question by highlighting a definite weakness but you then go on to reflect positively on this by outlining the active steps you too or are taking to overcome it. You are demonstrating a willingness to learn, adapt and improve and you are demonstrating that you have the initiative required to make changes where changes are due.
Choosing a weakness that has its root in lack of experience and therefore has been (or is being) overcome by further training is ideal - because it is a weakness that is relatively easily resolved.
When I first started my current job my first few months were an uphill battle dealing with a backlog of work I inherited from my predecessor. I recognised that I have a weakness when it comes to time management. I have since been on a time management course, read a couple of books on the subject and I believe I’ve made a lot of progress. But it’s something I’m still very vigilant of. I make a concerted effort to apply the principles I’ve learned every day and to put in place procedures which enable me to most effectively prioritise and process my workload.
This is a good and comprehensive answer meeting all of the objectives we’ve outlined above.
Word of warning:
Do be prepared for the interviewer to ask the follow-up question, “OK. That’s one weakness. You must surely have more than one weakness?” We’ll cover this question in Chapter 4: The top 25 tough questions: taking the heat.
The Interview Question & Answer Book
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Author: James Innes