The job interview is always a scary thing for anyone, especially the fresh graduates who have never done an interview before.
We expect the Google-type interview questions (e.g. “How many ping-pong balls will fit inside a Boeing 747?”), but we end up forgetting about the basic questions that get asked in many interviews, like “Tell me about yourself.“ And just because they’re basic doesn’t mean they’re easy.
One of the questions that people don’t always answer well is the question “What is your greatest weakness?”
It’s not difficult to see why: it’s a question that asks you to reveal something that can (probably will) ruin how you’re selling yourself in the interview.
When recruiters ask this question, they do expect candidates to be rattled. They want to see which candidates have potential attitude or work ethic problems. However, what they want to see the most is how potential hires will react to compromising situations. In other words, this is another question that tests how well you do under pressure. (READ: Your 10 common job interview questions, answered)
Talking about a weakness is tricky. The safe route might be to go with something completely inoffensive – like the cliche “I’m a perfectionist, I have to get it right all the time!”
Recruiters know when you answer the question by picking a strength and downplaying it into a weakness, or picking a textbook “weakness.” Call a spade a spade, and describe a true opportunity area.
So how do you answer “What is your greatest weakness?” without making yourself look bad?
Here are some tips:
1. Talk about an actual weakness.
You might be tempted to be witty and tell the interviewer that your greatest weakness is that you’re a perfectionist, or that you’re too meticulous. Besides the fact that you’re not actually answering the question, you’re also making it look like you don’t think you have any weaknesses.
The best first step to answering this question is by mentioning an actual weakness. Do you have a problem with time management? Do you get nervous talking to people? Give something that is of value to the question.
But of course, you should still be careful about what kind of weakness you give.
2. Don’t give a weakness that directly relates to your job.
The question is “What is your greatness weakness?” not “How will you convince me that I should never, ever hire you?” While you’re expected to give an actual weakness, you’re also expected to answer in a way that represents the best of you. It’s a job interview after all.
So don’t give a weakness that has a direct connection to your potential job. Are you interviewing for a journalist position? Don’t tell them you’re bad with deadlines. Instead, maybe you can say you panic easily.
What if you’re interviewing for a CSR job? Don’t tell them you’re not a good negotiator. Tell them something like you lack confidence when using straight English or Filipino.
Sometimes, it’s as simple as saying that you lack a specific skill for the particular job you’re applying for despite being qualified in all other aspects.
Notice that the weaknesses mentioned here are faults, but they don’t affect the main output of your work. They are also weaknesses that can be worked on over time. However, it’s very important that these weaknesses don’t stay as weaknesses when you get hired. In fact, it’s important that you…
3. Discuss how you are working on and around those weaknesses.
Now that you’ve told interviewers about your weakness, tell them how this will not hinder you from doing your job. You may panic easily, but once the panic dies down you create an execution plan that prevents you from panicking again. You may not be a good negotiator, but you make up for it by being great with customer relations.
Instead of focusing on how your weakness should be something they should watch out for, direct the conversation towards making them realize this isn’t something they shouldn’t worry about.
And why shouldn’t they worry about it? Because you’re taking the initiative to make up for it, or to directly work on it so that it will no longer be a weakness.
Problem, recognition, and action plan. Anyone who’s able to internalize this kind of thinking is someone who knows how to accept mistakes and work through them.
4. Stay professional when answering this question.
Finally, take this question seriously. Don’t answer this question with a joke (“My greatest weakness are K-pop stars!” or “Ice cream is my greatest weakness!” are not appropriate answers, ever).
And don’t turn the interview into a counselling session (“I need to work on my confidence. It all began when my parents would scold me for getting anything below an A in class…”).
In the end, your main goal is to sell yourself to the interviewer as best as you can without lying.
“Be honest, not generic, to stand out,” says Kash Shaikh, founder of the Be Somebody movement, a call to action to go out and chase your passion.
Sincerity plays a key role here. Really think about what you need to improve on, identify how you’re getting over it, and if that paved the way for some other skill to be developed.
Questions like these test your quick thinking and creativity, and even if you don’t encounter this in any of your job interviews, constantly reflecting on this question will help you in your career in the long run.
A note on the “humble brag”
A final word on the dreaded “humble brag,” often a reaction triggered by questions like these. Answers that are designed to present a strength as a weakness in order to make you look good (for example: “I’m too much of a perfectionist” or “I’m tired of winning all the time”) are painfully obvious to recruiters and don’t really do much to add substance to an answer. Recruiters are likely to have heard it all before.
The key here is authenticity – dig deep to find an answer that’s true to you but present it in a self-aware and calm way. They’ll be looking at your non-verbal cues as much as your actual answer, so make sure you project that you’ll got it all together. Good luck! – with reports from Wyatt Ong/Rappler.com
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