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Answering: “What’s Your Weakness?”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

by Brad Karsh, President, JobBound

“What are your weaknesses?”

For some of you, this is the most painful interview question of all time. I have seen the flush faces. I have seen the beads of sweat. I have witnessed the stammering and stuttering as you butcher your way through an answer.

Most people answer the weakness question by taking a strength and trying to disguise it as a weakness. Believe it or not, about 75% of the people I interviewed (and I interviewed well over 1,000) answered the question with one of these two responses:

  • I work too hard
  • I’m a perfectionist

This is arguably the lamest answer in the history of interviewing. It’s as if they expect me to say, “Wow, this guy works too hard. I would actually love to hire someone who works too hard. If that is his weakness, he must be a superstar!”

When recruiting directors ask this question, they want to know how you see yourself and how you can work through a tough question. In some ways, it is very similar to your job.

Think about it. If you are introspective and have the ability to generate some perceptions about yourself, it only stands to reason that you can do it for your clients, your customers, and your company. The best interviews I had were those where the candidates talked about an actual weakness, how they are working on it, and why they feel it is important to correct. Here is an example of how you should think about answering the weakness question:

One of the things I’m working on right now is becoming a better manager. I’ve been a manager for a while, and I’m constantly striving to improve. When I first started leading teams, I thought it would be fairly easy. I was the manager, they reported to me, and all those working on my team would do exactly as I said. It didn’t take too long to figure out that’s not how it works. What I’ve realized is that different people need to be managed differently – not based on how I want to manage them, but on how they would like to be managed. A day doesn’t go by where I don’t think about my team and if I’m managing them as well as I can. For every project on our team, I try to think about what support, guidance, and direction I can provide, and then act accordingly. Sometimes I need to be hands on, and sometimes I need to lay off a bit. I know I’m not perfect at it yet, but I’m hoping with even more practice I can become a better manager.

What I’m sure you noticed is that it’s not just what you say, but how you say it. Had this response been, “I suck at managing people” I’m not sure it would have sounded quite as strong. This type of response can work for just about any weakness you have. Of course there are exceptions. If I were an art director, I don’t think I’d say for my weakness, “I’m not very creative.”

The key is to think about this question in advance, and be ready for something a bit more insightful than, “My main weakness is that I’m just perfect, and it can be a burden for me to work with mere mortals.”

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