As a global career coach, the most frequent question I receive on interviewing strategy is my advice on how to answer, “What is a weakness for you?”. Over the years, I’ve outlined a strategy I call “The Weakness Formula” and this four-step process can help you get through your next interview. As you’ll see below, all of these steps take place before you step into the room so get started now.
1) Take an honest inventory of your areas of weakness and keep a list. This may take some reflection, but it’s a worthwhile effort. When brainstorming, remember that your weakness can vary in nature. It could be technical (i.e. not knowing a software platform) or situational (not doing well with tight deadlines). It could also be personal characteristics (such as not being intuitive or creative) or related to a task (being uncomfortable speaking in front of groups). Usually the first time you start this list will be because you have an upcoming interview that will give you the initial motivation to get started. I hope reading this post will get you started now, so you have it before your next one.
No joke, I have a file folder with notes of my weaknesses and when I think of a new one, I add it to the list. In the past, having this reference list has saved me time when preparing for an interview. To share a couple of mine, I don’t do well in chaotic work environments and I am not able to confidently make fast math calculations in my head.
2) Select one that isn’t critical for the job at hand. When going for an interview, you likely have some information ahead about the position. Analyze it to understand how your skills align and also to help you select a weakness that isn’t crucial for getting the job done. As you can imagine, the odds of offering a job to an accountant who admits to being bad with numbers is very slim. If you are proactive and starting this exercise without a specific job in mind, think of the key responsibilities involved in the types of jobs you would like to be doing next.
3) Counter your own argument. Sharing self-awareness is an important step, but it’s not enough to admit a weakness and leave it at that. You must also share a few other details countering the shortcoming you have revealed.
One common tactic is to show how your weakness can also be a strength. Though it’s done so often that it might come across as cliché, it’s a legitimate point to make. Every great mountain casts a shadow and often a weakness will have some redeeming quality if you take a different angle on it. For example, being impatient can create lots of tension if you are overbearing and rude in your quest to get things done but it can also mean that you take deadlines seriously and are likely the meet them.
Another tact that you can take is to explain what you have done or are doing to try to address this area in your life. Knowing your weakness is one thing but doing something about it shows a willingness to take positive action to grow. This could involve taking a class or reading a book that addresses your deficit. This could work for developing new skills (i.e. understanding what it takes to be a manager or learning a software program). If your weakness is speaking in front of groups, you could consider joining a local chapter of Toastmasters International (which is a wonderful way to improve your speaking presence and leadership skills). Regardless of the action you decide to take, any action will show you are serious about addressing your perceived weakness.
4) Practice, practice, practice. I have seen the results enough to hold a firm belief that those who prepare for an interview perform better. Once you have mapped out some possible answers, say them out loud. Rehearse them with trustworthy friends or colleagues. When it makes sense, modify your answers based on their feedback. At the very least, practice in front of a mirror and give yourself an honest evaluation.
As a final note to those who have asked, “Can I say I don’t have any?” No. It’s not acceptable in an interview to say you don’t have any weakness (though I have heard this answer before). This answer would display that your weakness is a lack of humility and self-awareness because everyone has at least one area of development. Now that you know you can’t get out of it, expect this question and have the best answer possible at the ready.