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How to Ace the “What’s Your Biggest Weakness?” Interview Question

Perhaps one of the most nerve-racking experiences one will face several times in his life is showing up to job interviews. Just showing up can already make you tense, yet employers still have to ask you about your weakness. Daunting, isn’t it? Admitting you have faults while trying to win a seat in the company is like self-sabotage. If you aren’t careful enough, you would most likely find yourself staring at your phone days later, waiting for a promised call that would potentially never come.

Identifying your weakness is easier said than done. Sure, you may come up with a long list of your flaws and imperfections. Yet, you will be surprised how few on your list could help you land a job. Your weakness says a lot about you. And while one weakness can be an opportunity, another can also be a threat to your desired position.

Still, it may be hard to find a weakness that is also an opportunity, but it’s not impossible. There could be some workaround in your weaknesses that will help you become a highly desirable candidate.

But before we go to that, first, you have to understand how employers think so you can come up with better interview answers. And what better way to know that than ask the question “why?”

Why Do Employers Ask About Your Weakness?

Strength-weakness questions are part of the Behavioral Interview technique used by employers or HR personnel to know how you respond to workplace-related situations. According to LinkedIn Global Recruiting Trends 2018, 73% of employers use behavioral interviews, which is the second most frequently used interview technique to hire employees. Asking about your weakness or biggest weakness is a way for employers to know what kind of person and employee you are. Your answer helps them gauge your attitude towards work.

There are three general reasons why job interviewers from then and now never fail to ask about your weakness:

1. To see if you have the Social-Emotional skills or attitude to handle the job properly.

Aside from your technical and knowledge-based skills, employers are also curious about the way you handle your emotions relevant to challenges that arise in the workplace. Your weakness tells them how you monitor your emotions and take charge of problems related to work. For example, you tell your future employer that you are unable to focus in a pressured situation. You’re applying in a fast-paced work industry. It makes your potential employer think that you won’t contribute much to the target output and will only overwhelm yourself. So you’ll get crossed out from the list of highly recommended candidates.

2. To know if you are self-aware.

Believe it or not, self-awareness is a skill. Being self-aware means recognizing your behaviors, emotions, and every intrapersonal aspect of your being. Generally, being self-aware is a good sign because it means that you know what you’re good at and what you lack. And as we know, being able to recognize the problem, or where you fall short, is the first step to becoming better in your field or craft.

3. To find out if you took steps to overcome your weakness and if these steps effectively helped you master your weakness.

Employers highly prefer candidates that take the initiative and are proactive. Knowing that you take the time and effort to fix your weaknesses and overcome challenging situations makes you a viable candidate. Although many companies provide training, especially the big ones, they can save time and effort by hiring proactive individuals. It lessens the time spent on teaching and training, so the people in charge can focus on other aspects of the business.

For example, your weakness is a lack of confidence. The job you’re applying for is the position of a graphic artist. Your portfolio shows impressive technical skills. You know you have great ideas but lack the confidence to defend them in front of people. So, you read self-help books about building your confidence. You practiced talking about your work in front of trusted people. You also joined competitions and signed up for counseling. These are the various steps you took to overcome your weakness.

Three Ways to Present Your Weakness

1.     Positively Positioning Your Weakness

Although weakness connotes a negative meaning, it’s not necessarily a stumbling block towards getting hired. You can turn your weakness into a positive weakness. Positive weaknesses are weaknesses that can be turned into an opportunity. It is a weakness that can also appear as a strength.

An example of this is saying that you are a workaholic so you tend to stay late in the office and even go to work on your time off.  It’s a weakness because you don’t get any work-life balance and can even throw the team’s work off balance. At the same time, it would appear like you are a great addition to the company because your hard work increases production output.

Why it doesn’t work

You might think this is the best way to answer the dreaded “What’s your weakness?” question. After all, your weakness is something that the company could benefit from. Here’s the truth: it’s not. Most often than not, using this method will not earn you a spot in a company where you want to build your career. Why, do you ask? It’s because these answers are over-rehearsed applicant responses. When you search the internet, most of these positive weaknesses are already used as tips, advice, and examples to help jobseekers. That’s why it’s highly likely that the interviewer already read about it or heard it from the other applicants that come before you. It makes you unoriginal and lessens your impact considerably. It also makes your answers sound like canned responses. Canned responses are answers that sound like a robot for being too perfect and too rehearsed. It removes the sincerity and honesty from your answers.

2.     Refusal to Answer or Admit Weakness

Sometimes, interviewees fail to come up with an answer to the question, “What is your weakness? when they are feeling nervous ” At other times, some applicants refuse to answer the question or deny having any weakness. Answering like this is acceptable. It instantly eases your discomfort or disconcertment. However, it doesn’t give employers enough reason and information to gauge how you will fit in their company culture.

Why it doesn’t work

Opting not to answer doesn’t show tact or strategy. Instead, it shows arrogance and unpreparedness. On the other hand, not admitting that you have a weakness shows that you are not self-aware. From an employer’s perspective, you are someone who doesn’t know the problem areas you need to work on in yourself. Therefore, you’re someone who’s more likely to not improve.

Moreover, saying that you don’t have any weakness also shows narcissism. Everyone has a weakness. That’s reality. Even the person interviewing you has a weakness. You will only sound dishonest or a little bit delusional to say that you are too perfect for the job.

3.     Honestly but Tactfully Explaining Your Weakness

Of the three ways of explaining your weakness to the interviewer, this third option is the best. If you’ll only follow a rule book, then it’s best to follow this third option. After all, as the cliché saying goes, “Honesty is the best policy.”

Why do you have to be honest about your weakness?

1.      It gives your employer realistic expectations about you.

2.      It makes it easier for you to talk because your weakness is based on something that you actually experience. It also allows you to reflect on past weaknesses.

3.      It makes it easier for the employers to identify if you’ll fit in their team or not, based on how you handle your emotions in particular situations.

4.      It helps gain the trust of your employer. Why? Because they know whether you just memorized an answer from an internet article or you’re straight out lying. If they don’t find out during the interview, they will know you lied while you’re doing the actual job. It will show through your outputs and challenging scenarios. Better to come clean in the beginning than make a big, irreparable mess while already working.

5.      You give yourself the opportunity to acknowledge your weakness and grow from it

Things to consider when answering the “What’s your biggest weakness?” question with honesty 

While honesty will pay off in the long run, choosing your words while explaining your weakness is still necessary. You need tact to sustain the employer’s good impression of you. You need it to avoid going down the rabbit hole because of poor word choice. You have to remember that you are pitching for yourself here. You are the product, and it’s up to how you communicate yourself that the interviewer will buy your pitch.

Like a salesperson, you have to advertise yourself with facts. If the employer knows about your limitations, persuade them that they are surmountable. Like a product, you are upgradeable. With that, here are several things you need to consider while answering honestly in an interview:

1.      Prepare one to two weaknesses to discuss with the employer- nothing more.

Of course, in reality, we have a long list of shortcomings. However, it’s not only the job seekers who watch out for red flags. As much as you don’t want to be tricked with unreasonable offers, companies also wouldn’t want to hire someone who lacks the social and emotional competencies needed for the job. Giving out a long list of weaknesses is a red flag for employers. It might mean to them that the time meant to do your job would be spent in overcoming your flaws. It interferes with your productivity and makes you look unreliable.

2.  Pick a weakness that is not a key requirement for the job.

This is self-explanatory. Your weakness must not be essential or directly related to the work you will do in the company.

For example, if you are applying for the position of a web developer who will do C++ coding, knowing how to code in C++ and other languages must not be your weakness. Instead, you can pick web designing as your weakness. You need this as your competency yet the company has web designers who specialize in this area. Moreover, you can explain that you are winning over your weakness through attending web and graphic design webinars, signing up for art and design classes, and experimenting with design tools.

3.      Discuss not only your weaknesses but also the steps you take in overcoming them.

Working on your weaknesses proves responsibility. It also shows that you can take on a challenge. A good employer wants an employee who takes the time and effort to fix problematic situations. Moreover, an employee who strives for improvement also means constant improvement in work performance and output. If you want the position, show the employer that you are overcoming your weakness through proactive steps.

The Best Way to Answer the “What’s Your Biggest Weakness?” Question

1.      Identify a trait or skill that you are improving that is not directly related to the job.

2.      Cite a workplace situation where the specific trait or skill has been a challenge for you.

3.      Enumerate the actions or steps you’ve taken to turn your weakness into strength.

4.      Cite a specific situation where you’ve displayed improvement from your weakness

5.      Mention important people, like people from your workplace, who noticed and acknowledged your improvement

For example, you are applying for a Graphic Designer job. The most essential skills to have are creativity and technical know-how in graphic design tools. So, one of the weaknesses you can use is in line with organizing. That is if you are struggling with it. Graphic designers deal with a lot of visual files so they also need to know how to organize their own files. You can present your weakness along with these lines:

“I tend to just dump files on random folders on my desktop. It’s just easier and faster that way. One morning, my co-worker needed a raw visual from me but I was on leave. They had to do a pitch in the afternoon. Because I wasn’t in the office, I allowed my co-worker to log in to my computer and look for the visual himself. I don’t have specific names for folders so he has to go through all of them on my computer to find the file. It took him all morning just to find the one file he needed. Thankfully, the pitch was successful. That’s when I realized that I need to improve my organization skills. I asked our project manager to recommend tools I can use for organizing. I watched videos on how to efficiently organize files and I sorted my desktop files to separate folders. I learned to do labels too. I also learned to arrange my cloud backups. Since making myself a system, looking for the files I need has become easier and faster. My co-workers commended me for finally having a clean desktop display. Even our Project Manager would sometimes ask me to help out with online and offline labels.”

How Does Interviewers Phrase “What is Your Weakness” Questions

HR Recruiters or employers may not directly use the word weakness in asking you about your weakness. That’s why it is vital to notice when the question is asking for it.

Here are several interview questions about your weakness phrased differently:

·        How do you react to challenging situations?

·        What challenges do you anticipate working in our company?

·        What areas of your work do you think need improvement?

·        What are the things that hinder you from doing your job well?

Every interview needs preparation. But no matter how great your technical skills are, if you cannot communicate your weaknesses well, you might end up reaching for the door and not the vacant seat. To ace the weakness interview question, you have to be genuine, honest, and tactful, to leave an impact on the interviewer.