THAT job interview question: “What are your greatest weaknesses?” – Ladders

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You might understandably pause when asked at a job interview about your greatest weaknesses. You might also understandably dread the question coming up. And you wouldn’t be alone. You want to respond without casting doubt about your ability to do the job, while also being honest. The key is to answer carefully and in a way that presents you in a positive light. It actually isn’t as difficult to achieve this as you might think.

Prospective employers ask interview questions to gain insights into your work accomplishments to help decide if you’re a good fit for the company and the job. Some questions are designed to provide insights into specific competencies, such as self-awareness, and the ability to self-reflect and receive constructive criticism. These questions are often very specific behavioral interview questions – increasingly used these days to learn more about you than your qualifications and even achievements can tell them.

The classic question: “What are your greatest weaknesses?” is older and in some ways a much clumsier attempt to gain similar insights. However, it’s still used because it does put the interviewee on the spot and provides a lot of information – both in what they say and how they go about saying it. It is often seen as a kind of “trap” question, and many dread it because of this perception. Either way, preparing to deal with it effortlessly remains as important now as it ever was.
When describing your “greatest weaknesses” during a job interview, there are different response options to consider. Keep in mind that the question presents the opportunity to:

Even though the question addresses your weaknesses, your response should still highlight positive results that, when possible, relate to the job for which you’re interviewing.

When addressing your greatest weaknesses, one option is identifying a skill or competency you’ve addressed and have already improved. This approach shows the interviewer that you’re committed to self-improvement.

When you take this approach, choose a non-essential skill that isn’t a requirement for the job. Even if you’re a rockstar at this point in relation to the weakness, you don’t want to give the interviewer any room for doubt about your capabilities. For example, if you applied for a managerial position and struggled with delegating tasks as a supervisor in the past, avoid sharing it as a weakness during the interview, even if you now do it efficiently.

Pro Tip: Regardless of the competency or skill you choose to highlight as a weakness, it’s an excellent option to showcase a skill you have improved and now possess, or are currently working to improve. If you have improved upon the skill, highlight the results and successes based on your improvements.

Example: Applying for a Communications Manager job response:

“One area I improved on in the past two years is increasing my knowledge about social media management. I’ve taken a couple of courses to improve my understanding of the role and the best practices of social media in general. As a communications specialist and manager, I haven’t had to apply social media management directly in my role. However, I do work closely with social media managers and oversee their work. Therefore, I thought it would be beneficial to have a deeper appreciation of their day-to-day requirements and the thought processes that go into the position. As a manager, I am now better able to understand where my social media managers are coming from when they suggest new products, services, and tactics, as well as the challenges they face in meeting goals and milestones.”

Why It Works: The example highlights a weakness that is not directly related to the required skills of a communications manager position. By acquiring the skills, the candidate has shown self-awareness, the desire for self-improvement, the ability to manage a department reporting into the job better, and the capacity to care for the team they manage, all of which are positives for the role.

A safe approach to highlighting your most significant weaknesses is to select a shortcoming that isn’t essential for the job and, when appropriate, follow up by highlighting how you’re currently working on it or plan to address it in the near future.

For example, if you’re applying for a job as a postal worker and struggle with presenting in front of a group of people, it would generally be safe to highlight that fact. Given that your job would likely not involve the need to give presentations, it shouldn’t negatively impact your ability to get the job, since it’s not a job requirement.

You also want to select a skill that wouldn’t hurt your chances of climbing the company ladder, if that’s your goal. For the postal worker example, let’s say you might want to be a supervisor or manager one day, which includes presenting in front of others. If that’s the case, you might choose to highlight a weakness other than speaking in front of a group.

Pro Tip: Select a shortcoming that is not essential for success in the position or for future roles or promotions you might desire within the organization.

Example: Applying for a Counselor job response:

“I frequently get nervous when I think about presenting in front of a crowd or group of people. Fortunately, as a counselor, I don’t need to possess that skill. I excel with communication when working one-on-one, or in a small family setting, in the client-counselor relationship, which is essential for my role. Still, I attend regular Toastmaster meetings to improve my presentation and speaking skills. This is in case I want to share my knowledge one day to support mental health in communities throughout the state.”

Why It Works: The example highlights a weakness that is not required for the job while also emphasizing the ability to excel at the required type of communication. Further, the ability to focus on self-improvement and a desire to support others are both positives to highlight for this type of position.

A third option is to turn a potential negative into a positive. If you tend to be overly analytical to the point that you assess project shortcomings extensively, you’re likely to prevent such shortcomings or challenges in the future. Or maybe you tend to be overly zealous about editing your writing several times, so you’re sure to submit top-notch work.

Regardless of what you choose to share, it’s vital that you clearly highlight your awareness of the trait and your ability to prevent it from negatively impacting your work.

Example: Applying for a Copywriter job response:

“I tend to be overly zealous when it comes to editing my work, which means I sometimes put a bit more time into a project than I initially intended to, and I need to adjust my schedule accordingly. The positive is that I rarely receive work back for revisions, creating efficiencies in the overall project flow. Plus, I always submit my work on time. I’ve also learned that I can limit my personal revisions to two rounds, with similar results to those I’d expect from three to four rounds. So, allowing myself to trust my ability with two rounds of revisions means there’s less need to rearrange my personal schedule to ensure my work gets done on time.”

Why It Works: The example highlights a weakness that is also a positive and does not negatively impact one’s ability to do the job. Being overly zealous with editing for a copywriter job means fewer rounds of revisions and increased overall efficiency. The example also states how the individual has worked to improve upon the weakness, showing self-awareness and the ability to assess and problem-solve.

Use these tips to successfully and effortlessly respond when asked “What are your greatest weaknesses?” during a job interview, and you’ll be well on your way to landing the job!

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