Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Interviewing: What's Your Biggest Weakness?

"What's your biggest weakness?" asks the interviewer.
     "Well, um, I guess it would be . . . ." stumbles the interviewee.
And, the rest, as they say, is history.  A history of missed opportunities due to lack of a credible and reasonable response to one of the most frequently asked interview questions:  What's your biggest weakness?

"What's your biggest weakness?"
A lot of interviewers ask this not particularly good interview question.  They ask it as much to see how you handle this question as to actually hear your response.

A not particularly good interview question
A not particularly good question, responses to it have ranged from irrelevant to the embarrassing to bordering on the illegal.  Some candidates, feeling helpless and without a strategy, provide a foot-in-mouth answer that knocks them out of the competition entirely.  Some even respond with a weakness that turns out to be a primary job function and . . . . .  it goes without saying how that turns out!

So, what's a job seeker to do? 
The question feels like a "Catch 22:"  Answer honestly and you may be out of the competition.  Answer with a “I don’t have any weaknesses!” and that answer comes across as a “smart alec-y” or “full-of-yourself” type of answer, AND also indicates a lack of self-awareness - neither of which are qualities interviewers are seeking in new employees. 

A lot has been written about the best way to handle this question.  Strategies job seekers have used include:

-  A non-response:  Some candidates simply say they have "none."  

  • The problem with this response is that since no one is perfect, the answer is not seen as credible.  It can even be as cocky or smart alec-y.  Either way it doesn't enhance your standing in the interviewer's eyes.
-  An opportunity-killing response:  Citing a weakness that is considered key to performance of the job.
  •  The problem with this response is obvious - you are telling the interviewer you can not perform the job. 
 - A cliche response:  Responses that cite "strengths" or admirable qualities disguised as a weakness -
  1.  "I tend to work too hard."
  2.  "I drive my employees too hard."
  3.  "I'm a workaholic."   
  • The problem with this type of response is that interviewers are on to you!  These answers have become trite and cliche.  They've been written about, taught in interview training, practiced pre-interviews, and over-delivered. They don't ring true and savvy interviewers often follow-up by asking the interviewee to cite a second weakness!
In fairness, while some of these strategies listed above may work, and have worked, in some circumstances or in rare situations, generally they don't work and result in a job seeker being eliminated from the competition.

A better way
Below is a strategy to follow that delivers a plausible response in most situations.  Here’s a better tack to take:
  • Step 1 Choose a weakness  --  or in better terms an area in which you could improve – that is not a key requirement of the job.  For instance, if you are applying for a “Communications Director” position, you wouldn’t say “I’m a poor communicator.”  In that case you would certainly be out of the running, and quite frankly, deserve to be.  A job seeker shouldn’t be applying for a job where they can’t handle the main function!
  • Step 2.  Select a weakness (i.e. areas that are not among your greatest strengths) that is not such a key function that it would prevent you from doing the job.  For example, a communications director might choose budgeting.
  • Step 3.  Now, and THIS IS KEY:  State that while you are an excellent communications representative in terms of the key functions (name them), budgeting WAS (i.e., past tense) not your strongest area.  However, recognizing this, you have taken actions (name them) to improve in that area.  And, while you will never be a "finance person," YOU ARE COMPETENT in developing your communications' budgets.
A triple win
Using the strategy just described above, you score a TRIPLE WIN!
1.  You provide an honest response.
2.  You show self-awareness.
3.  You not only show but “demonstrate” a strength:  When you identify a problem, you (1) recognize it and (2) take action.

In summary, effective interviewing is not easy, but it's not rocket science either! While there are 1000s of interview questions being asked, many are common and frequently asked questions.  Do some homework.  Learn what these frequently asked questions are, plan credible responses in advance, and sail through your interview!
For additional information on marketing yourself and your capabilities, please refer to the many articles found under the Articles tabs of the AJC–Career Strategy website.  View Nancy's Nine Cardinal Rules of Interviewing for more advice.
nancy@ajcglobal.com              www.ajcglobal.com             AJC - for Your Career Path
  Linked In:  www.linkedin.com/pub/nancy-c-gober/6/14b/965        
Twitter:  @AfterJobClub

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