By John Seraichyk - Executive Jobs Guy - Industry Thought Leader
This query has been an enduring weapon in the hiring manager's arsenal, but most people still have trouble with the dilemma it poses: answer too frankly, and you'll torpedo your prospects. Bestow a canned answer and you'll seem phony, or worse, evasive.
We have all at one time or another been faced with the dreaded “weakness” question. Why shouldn't we dread this inquiry? The employer is virtually asking why he/she shouldn't hire you!
The Weakness Question Distilled
A savvy interviewer may even disguise the “weakness” question? He/she might pose the (weakness) question as:
- Tell me about a project that did not work out so well?
- Name three self limiting thoughts
- Tell me about a time in your career that you really goofed up?
- What kind of people do you find it difficult to work with?
- What makes you angry?
- How have your weaknesses affected your job performance?
- Yes, she/he may even ask: What is your greatest weakness?
As demonstrated above, the weakness question may come in many different forms. There is no steadfast answer(s) to the “weakness” question. Sure, you can describe a weakness that has nothing to do with job you are applying for; you could retort..um uh….chocolate. Please don’t say you are a perfectionist or that you work too hard! ): These answers will certainly put your integrity at risk.
How to Formulate an Answer for any weakness question
All interview answers are like all good stories, they must have a happy ending! It’s always a good idea to put your weaknesses in the past and talk about what you have done to correct them and then end with a positive outcome. When done properly, you will demonstrate integrity by not doing the circumlocution bit and you will end your answer with a powerful and factual outcome based on your ability to successfully convert the weakness to a strength!
There is no possible way to prepare and rehearse an individual answer for every potential weakness question. However, with a little practice, you can learn to formulate an answer for any question and never be stumped again!
Here’s how: Whenever you are asked a question and it is immediately obvious (you will feel it in the pit of your stomach) that the interviewer wants you to say something NEGATIVE about yourself; you must practice doing three things:
1. Repeat the question; this buys you time and allows you to quickly formulate a masterful response. 2. Start your answer with any event or incident that happened in the past (always put your weakness in the past). 3. Explain the weakness… do not get long winded or become circumlocutory; rather, explain a situation that started out bad, what you did to correct it and then end your answer with a positive factual outcome.
IE: When I was hired in to the Regional Sales Director job back in 2001, my predecessor had left the position 6 months prior. When I took over the department, sales were down, turnover was at an all time high; I realized for the first time in my career that one of my greatest weaknesses was my ability to turn-around a failing sales division….
My mentoring and management skills were not what I thought they were; however, upon working many 80-100 hour weeks retraining supervisory and sales staff, reorganizing and developing departmental protocol and sales training procedures; I was able to increase sales volume by 43% in the first fiscal year. (The same answer you might use if the interviewer asked you what your greatest accomplishment was.) Never forget the ABC’s of interviewing (Always Be Closing)!
The above answer formulation technique works well for 90% of all “weakness” questions. However, be on the lookout for what I call the NEG 2.5 question. This question is the interviewer’s ploy to discover a character or personality flaw that might affect your ability to work well with others or perform well in the job. Here is an example of a NEG 2.5 question: “If someone does not know you well or like you. What are five adjectives he or she might use to describe you?”
You could answer this question by talking about a person from your past who you did not get along with, but now you’re best friends or describe weaknesses that will not affect your ability to perform well in the job.
For example I might answer the question like this:
Well, my x-girlfriend would say:
1. Lazy --when it came to yard work; she would say --- lazy ---80 hour work
weeks and yard work don’t mix…
2. Bad --- golfer…I think she liked beating me though…so did my clients…I
closed some good deals on the course…
3. Sloppy – she was a neat freak….
4. Poor --- I think she wants to Mary a billionaire
5. Not Funny --- some of my xmas party jokes may have been at her expense
Today we are actually very good friends!
(if you are a man interviewing with a woman, please use common sense here.