Educate June 2017 On The Cover

What Is Your Greatest Weakness?


Written By: Craig w. Petrus, Executive Director of Career Services, University of Florida, Hough Graduate School of Business

There comes that moment in any interview that you know “the question” is coming, but when? And when it does, how do you answer it? 

Here, I am referring to the one interview question that a majority of people dislike the most. That is…” Tell me about a weakness you have?”

Whether you have prepared for this question or not, it always makes for an interesting moment in the interview. You think to yourself whether or not your answer is going to be genuine, make sense, or even have a negative impact on your candidacy for the job.

With a little preparation and the right approach, this question can be quite easy to answer and will allow you to overcome any fear you may have. Here are a few things to keep in mind during your preparation.

Self-Awareness

As I look back at my own career, one of the most important things that has lead me to the success that I have achieved is my own self-awareness. I have been able to identify what I am good at, as well as identify those things that I am not good at, but have taken action to improve upon.

Self-awareness, I believe, is one of the most important things one can possess that will either lead to a career full of success and achievement, or a career of average jobs, no upward trajectory, and quite honestly, a lack of respect at times from colleagues. In the case of the interview setting, be honest with yourself and recognize something that you feel you need to improve upon in your career. This is the best and most effective way to approach answering this question.

No one person can be good at everything, we all have our flaws. So identify them and use them to your advantage in this case, but most importantly also think about how to improve upon them. Become self-aware! 

Don’t Be Cliché

As a former recruiter myself, we see right through cliché answers. We often think to ourselves, “What is this candidate hiding that they really don’t want us to know?” Whether you have heard them or not, or even presented them yourself in the interview, examples of cliché answers can be such things as “I am a perfectionist,” “I work too hard” or “I care too much.”

These are all examples of answers you will want to avoid. What these types of answers really say to the interviewer is that this person again, is not self-aware of their strengths and weaknesses, did not prepare for this question, or has a really large ego and thinks too highly of themselves to think they can do no wrong or have any flaws.

In relation to ego, you also don’t want to avoid the question all together. Another cliché answer…” I don’t have any weaknesses.” Of course you do! We all do! This answer is probably the worst response you could provide to this question. This communicates to the hiring manager that you have an overinflated ego, you lack self-awareness and you lack the ability to be coached by others. 

Effective Approach To the Question

Now that you have become self-aware and have erased all of the cliché answers out of your head, you can start to formulate an effective approach on how to nail this interview question. Here are a few ways in which to provide great answers to this question:

• Authenticity: Be authentic in your response. This starts with the tone of your voice, your body language and your ability to feel comfortable in that moment. It also has everything to do with what answer you give. Provide an authentic answer that is believable, genuine and easy to understand. You do not want to provide an answer that is confusing or too far-fetched that you lose the interviewer’s focus.

• Never core to the job: You never want to present an answer that is a core aspect or responsibility of the job. Make sure to read the job description several times over just to make sure this does not happen. Whether you realize it or not at the moment, your response could ultimately lead you to disqualify yourself from the job. 

Some disguise the question: In many instances, the person interviewing you will not be as straight forward and ask you the weakness question directly. They often times disguise the question by phrasing it in such ways as “What things do you think you need to improve upon in your career?” or “What type of development goals have you set for yourself?” One of the most common disguises of this question comes in the following form, “If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?” The key is to recognize these types of questions and approach it the same way you would normally. 

Have a Solution

Any time you answer this question, your closing statement should describe the ways in which you are effectively overcoming your weakness. The interviewer wants to hear and learn what you are doing to fix the weakness you have. Too many times people communicate their weakness without providing a solution. This is a common mistake that many candidates make. Does this mean that if you are challenged at work in some way that you will take it for what it’s worth and not try to solve the problem? No, you ultimately find a solution to your challenge. You need to take the same approach with your weakness and find a solution.

For example, if you feel you are not a great public speaker, join Toastmasters. This is a great way to improve upon your public speaking skills in a non-pressure environment. If you feel you are weak at financial modeling skills, take a class or online tutorial that will provide you with a continued knowledge base in this area. Overall, become solutions orientated and always think about the many actions you can take to overcome your weakness.

There is no avoiding this interview question. You will always be faced with it during your interviews. So why not overcome the weakness in your ability to answer a question like this through an effective approach and practice. Your weakness will no longer be answering the weakness question. 

“No one person can be good at everything, we all have our flaws. So identify them and use them to your advantage in this case, but most importantly also think about how to improve upon them. Become self-aware!”

Craig W. Petrus joined the Warrington College of Business in June of 2009. As Executive Director, Craig is responsible for the day-to-day operations of the Business Career Services Office and ensuring the delivery of quality career development programming and services to students within the College of Business at the University of Florida.

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