How to Describe Weaknesses in a Job Interview

A HIRING MANAGER ENTERS a job interview with three main questions: Can the candidate do the work? Will the candidate do the work? And will the candidate fit into the organizational culture?

These “can do, will do and fit” criteria translate to “ability, attitude, and affability.” No matter the format and sequence of a job interview, every question is an opportunity to communicate fit on one of these axes. Each response you give should address one or more of these key themes.

That’s true of this common job interview question: “What is your greatest weakness?” Handled correctly, it presents a good opportunity to put doubts to rest and reinforce strengths. Those who come well-prepared for this inquiry will have responses that reinforce their suitability for the position. Unfortunately, the greatest weakness question is tricky. Just as doctors pledge to do no harm when taking the Hippocratic Oath, job seekers should promise not to harm their chances by bungling this classic question.

To that end, candidates should never claim to have no weaknesses, because dodging the question will be interpreted as shallow, evasive and unrealistic. They should also avoid spinning an unequivocal strength as a weakness. Saying “I work too hard” or “I care too much about my job” is like an athlete claiming that “scoring too much” is a weakness. It won’t fool anyone, and it may annoy interviewers who see you as flippant and unreflective.

When considering a thoughtful and helpful response, remember these five C’s. For the purposes of a job interview, an acceptable weakness is one that it is credible, coachable, correctable, confessable and not critical.

Credible

The weakness must be believable. A weakness that does not seem to fit the personal brand of the candidate is not effective. A military veteran and endurance athlete who claims occasional bouts of low energy as a weakness will not be considered realistic. Similarly, an accounting CPA won’t get far by declaring a lack of interest in numbers or detail as a weakness.

Coachable

It is best for you to have already overcome the weakness. The skilled interviewee will employ stories to show growth and improvement in communicating weaknesses. For example, “I used to be too quick to write and submit my news copy. Then, my first editor encouraged me to sit on a draft overnight for at least a few hours and then revisit the text with fresh eyes. I found my writing improved markedly as a result of this tip.”

Correctable

A correctable weakness is one that has not been fixed yet but could be addressed in the future with some degree of conscientiousness. For example, “I sometimes tend to overestimate the receptiveness of my team to new ideas. I have to remind myself to slow down and get support for intermediate steps before I pitch a large change or idea.”

Confessable

Confessable weaknesses are those that you could share with a relative stranger without discomfort. The concept of “too much information” applies here. A job interview is no time to confess that “I am a total mess without my anxiety medication” or “if I don’t have a significant other, I feel very lonely emotionally and I don’t function well at work.” An interviewer is not a best friend or family member and you should not take the weakness question too literally or personally.

Not Critical

Be sure that the weakness you advance is not central to the job description. For example, “I have trouble concentrating on multiple data points” is nothing that should come out of the mouth of an aspiring air traffic controller or accountant. Likewise, “I don’t like people” or “I have a big problem with rejection” would disqualify any salesperson.

Accepting Silence

Some interviewers will follow up the weakness question with a second or third iteration of the same interrogative, so it behooves the job seeker to thoroughly prepare three weaknesses as job interview examples.

Finally, the job candidate should learn to stop talking after offering a response. It is a common error for the candidate to toss in a throwaway bonus response that can be damaging. Usually, these extra lines are ill-considered Freudian slips. “Oh, and I am sometimes not that honest” or “I guess I also don’t get along with most people” are some of the harmful responses that sneak out of the unguarded mouth. Instead, follow the rule of accepting silence after responding.

Few people enjoy contemplating their shortcomings, but everyone has some characteristic, skill gap or tendency that is less than ideal. The savvy job seeker will expect the “What are your weaknesses?” question and prepare responses that are thoughtful, insightful and appropriate to the personal brand he or she is conveying through the hiring process.

By Peter A. Gudmundsson

Original article: www.money.usnews.com