One of the most difficult questions in job interviews is: tell me about your weakness.
Most people find it a very uncomfortable question to answer, because it may affect their image in front of their potential employers. After all, no employer wants to hire a worker who is careless, lazy, unqualified, and so on.
Unfortunately, it is one of the most popular questions in job interviews, especially in large firms. So, it is unlikely that you can avoid them. What shall you do when you are asked to “tell me about your weakness?”
Usually, you can see two kinds of responses from candidates.
The first kind of candidates resort to trickery, and try to twist a strong point into a “weakness.”
For example, a candidate interviewing for an accountant job may tell the interviewer, “One of my weaknesses is that I am too focused on my job, so that I often neglect the relationship with my family.”
But of course, what he is trying to say is, “I am very hard working.”
They may think they are very clever. However, imagine the following scenario. You are going to buy a car, and when you ask the agent what disadvantage does the car have, the agent tells you:
How would you feel?
The second kind of candidates is not much better. When asked about their weakness, they try to mention a small one that does not affect the job greatly.
For example, if the job in question is accounting, then they will say they are not very sociable. Or, if the position is a nurse, then they will say they are not good with numbers.
Again, imagine your own reaction if, when you ask a car agent about the disadvantage of a car, he tells you, “The disadvantage is that it runs on petrol, and the petrol price is rising. If you have to begin driving, then you’ll have to pay more every month.”
Both kinds of “weaknesses” described above are not really your weakness at all. When the interviewer asks you about your weakness, he is trying to know more about your capability regarding the job.
He wants to know, if you are really going to work now, what sort of difficulties will prevent you from doing the job well? And in what aspects you do not do as well as other candidates? If you cannot make it clear, then you will not be able to impress your interviewer as an honest person.
Unfortunately, it is obvious that you cannot just tell him your weak points without putting them carefully. If you are applying for an accountant position, you shall never tell the interviewer:
“My weakness is that I sometimes make mistakes in my calculations. You know, if you have to work so many hours a day, it is hard not to have a mistake.”
If you do say that, the interviewer will think, “The most important thing of an accountant is his accuracy. Why shall I hire you if you make mistakes?”
So this question appears to be a dilemma: if you answer directly, you will look bad; but if you try to be clever, you will appear not very honest. How shall you answer this question?
The key to answering this question is: there is no one who does not have a weakness, and perhaps even your interviewer has made the same mistake before. Therefore, when you have to answer this question, there are two very important points to remember.
Firstly, you shall not appear defensive when you answer the question. Getting nervous and uncomfortable when you talk about your weakness is not exactly the best thing to impress your listener.
Instead, you shall smile and say it in a matter-of-fact manner, as comfortably as if you are talking about your strength. Consider the following two candidates:
Candidate A says, “I don’t have any weakness.”
Candidate B tells you, “I have a little weakness.”
Which do you find more convincing? While the first candidate may appear very confident, the second candidate strikes you as more honest about himself, because there is never anyone who is as perfect as God.
If you admit that, the interviewer will think, “He understands his weakness, and he has no problem realising it. This is the sort of person I want to work with.”
Using the example of an accountant job again, here is how you can present your weakness in a great way:
“My greatest weakness is that sometimes I appear slightly ‘autistic.’ When I first graduate some years ago, I believed that accounting is a very fair job: if you work hard and make no mistakes, then you will do a good job. Therefore, when I first got into accounting, I always concentrate on working, and ignore my colleagues.
“However, later I found that the world is not just about numbers and hard work. Even though it is a very mechanical job, sometimes I do need help from other people, whether it is directly relate to work or not. Having isolated myself, I sometimes find that I have to devote extra effort to solve the problem, when I could have easily overcome it with other people, and instead concentrate on my work.
“Of course, now I have already understood the importance of that, but it is hard to change one’s nature, and sometimes I still find myself not wanting to socialise with colleagues, despite of the fact that I don’t mean to appear autistic.”
When you hear the above, you often have the impression that the candidate is very honest. Moreover, you don’t feel that he is incompetent, but instead you have some sympathy for him.
The reason is that he shows you his positive intention behind his weakness. There is no one who deliberately becomes a bad chap, but sometimes people are just unaware of the fact that, while they are pursuing something good, they do some unexpected bad things.
And it brings us to another important point to remember when you present your weakness: you also have to present it together with your strength. In the above story, while the candidate talks about his weakness, he also talks about the other side of the coin: the desire to be perfect.
However, he does not mention it in an obvious and defensive way. Rather, he just talks about it briefly in the background so that, while people may find him a bit unsocial, they nevertheless feel that he is a hard-working person after all.
In conclusion, when you have to talk about your weakness, the key things to do are:
1. Be candid instead of defensive.
2. Always mention the other side of the coin.
However, the above information is far from enough to give a perfect answer. As a matter of fact, there are many more things you can do with your weakness in an interview, like to:
Turning your weakness into a feature;
Minimise the damage of your weakness;
Destroy doubts related to your weakness.
The exact methods of all these would be found in my book, the Art of Influencing Anyone:
Niall Cassidy earned a degree in Psychology from a top university in the United Kingdom. After graduation, he spends most of his time and effort in mastering the art of persuasion and acquiring the techniques to influence others efficiently. He is now working in a multinational bank, and is one of the top performers in his team.
His best-selling book is the Art of Influencing Anyone: https://www.createspace.com/4279689