As interview questions go this one has to be up there with the most feared. In a situation where it is imperative that you sell yourself and be the best ‘you’ you can be, you are asked to lay bare your faults and explain exactly why you shouldn’t get this job – not a welcoming prospect to be sure. There are however valid reasons why this question is asked and effective strategies for tackling it.
Why do people ask this question?
It can be tempting to think of this question as an invitation to self-sabotage asked by severe and intimidating hiring managers with an air of psychopathy about them. Now it may well be the case that occasionally the odd psychopath does indeed relish the opportunity to watch you squirm, but in the vast majority of cases this question will be asked for one of two reasons.
- It was on a list of prepared questions and is asked simply because it’s the kind of question that people are supposed to ask at interview
- The interviewer is assessing your ability to accurately evaluate your own skills and competencies and identify where and how you need to develop professionally
Whilst the latter forms the basis for how I would suggest answering the question, the former is probably more common than we might like to think – particularly in environments where the recruitment process is not subject to annual review but is more of an ad-hoc activity.
There are two ways to answer this question badly both nicely summed up in this handy educational video . The first is to dodge the question by answering with something that isn’t really a weakness such as the clichéd “I work too hard”. Whilst I wouldn’t say this would never work generally it’s seen as a bit of a cop-out and didn’t require you to actually engage with the question. Contrast this with an answer such as, “I take on too much” which arguably makes a similar point while also identifying why this might not always be a desirable characteristic and gives more room for exploration in the rest of your answer.
The other big no-no is identifying something which would be a crippling weakness in the job you are going for. A fear of blood in a health care role or finding presentations a terrifying ordeal when going for a teaching job are both the kind of thing that are going to raise red flags with your interviewers.
It is worth having some idea of how you might answer this question if it comes up before an interview!
The trick to answering this question is to think of a legitimate (but not too serious) weakness and articulate how you have overcome it in the course of an example or what strategies you use to mitigate the weakness. Using an example is almost always good advice for answering a whole plethora of interview questions but particularly so for this one. It gives you some context to frame the rest of the answer and hopefully has some really nice outcomes at the end that you can use to end on a high. Try to pick examples that showcase your personal development and proactive steps you have taken to get better. Some examples might be:
Getting nervous before presentations (where presentations don’t make up a significant proportion of the job).
- That’s a pretty normal feeling to have but this might be an impetus you use to plan and prepare for your presentations
- You can then talk about how this preparation ensures you can deliver presentations with confidence and then cite examples of excellent feedback from either study or work to back up your point
- If the presentations were to particularly large groups (60+) don’t forget to say how big the audience was
Lacking experience in a particular technique or software package (where this is a desirable rather than essential criteria for the role)
- This maybe be something you are worried about based on the job specification. Showcase research you have done into the technique or software
- Give an example of how you have quickly mastered similar skills previously in a short space of time and how you did this. Again ending with a nice outcome if you can ie had to learnt SPSS from scratch and got a 1st on your assignment using it
- You do need to exercise some discretion when talking about things like this since this might be a fundamental requirement of the job – but then addressing the elephant in the room is sometimes the only way to overcome a lack of experience in a particular area.
These examples are only a basic guide and you should use ones that are authentic to you for the best results. As with any question about self-reflection stock answers don’t tend to work that well. You can make use of careers support to talk about what examples might work for you.
Finally, it’s worth preparing a second weakness answer just in case after your first, flawless answer the interviewer says “That’s great! Can you give us another one?”