As a contractor, I end up going on a lot of interviews. Every 3 or 4 months, I am lining up the next gig, and I have to interview again. One question that continually comes up is the weakness interview question. Without fail, at every set of interviews, I am asked “what is your greatest weakness?” I have always wondered, what is the right way to answer that question?
I have a good friend that works in HR. He writes a blog with lots of great interview questions and resume templates. He has great insight on getting through the interview process and being successful in any work environment. His intent is to give insight to the interview process from HR’s perspective, with the realization that most of us haven’t gone to interview school, and since you don’t get feedback on why you didn’t get the job, you don’t know what to change next time. I asked him his thoughts on the best way to answer the weakness interview question.
Here’s his response:
The crappy answer I hear on a regular basis to the weakness interview question is:
“My weakness is that I don’t really know Excel as well as I should.”, or “I am not very good at (you fill in the blank here)”. I don’t have much self-discipline, I procrastinate, I have a weakness for chocolate and eat too much of it. I am not good at public speaking / “you fill in the blank here”. (PS, you might as well just excuse yourself from the interview as well).
Every question is an opportunity for you to tell me something GREAT about yourself. Give me a reason WHY I should hire you, not why you should be dropped!
This is a trick question. I don’t want to hear about your weakness. If this was our first date, (and it is) would you set out all your dirty laundry out for me to see? No! You would keep it hidden, and would get around it somehow. I just met you 5 minutes ago. I am not ready for this. I won’t ever be ready for this! This candidate probably just took themselves out of the running within the first 5 minutes and doesn’t even know about it. From a business perspective: If one of our customers asked you about our product, are you going to be this honest? Are you going to tell the client all of the short comings of the product or are you going to emphasize the good and “spin” the weakness. “Let me get you a set of steak knives” http://bit.ly/1RqjAb. I am looking for someone who sees the cup Half Full!
Almost better, but will NOT get you hired:
“hhmm. That is good question. I would have to think about that. Let me see. Well, I am really good at the basics in EXCEL, but I don’t know how to do pivot tables and I am not very good at Joins.” As a recruiter, I am not going to follow up on this answer. I am just going to take the following notes: Not good at Excel, not doing anything about it.
This is not what I was looking for (and all recruiters are looking for something with every question or they wouldn’t ask it). I liked that you had to think about it. You haven’t been thrown out of interview in my mind, but you blew an opportunity to prove to me why you are worth keeping.
The answer to the weakness interview question that I am looking for, and will keep this interview going is positive, and shows you are doing something about any weakness you have. “hmmm, a weakness. I would like to say I don’t have any real weaknesses. I am working on a couple of things that I feel I could use some improvement on and I am actually proud of myself for getting better. A little while ago, I realized my Excel skills weren’t up to par. I took it upon myself to take a class at the community college. I took an evening class and started with the beginning course. I realized I knew a bit more than I thought so continued to take the classes and finished their entire series of 3 classes. I am not as good as i want to be, but I am working on it. I feel I am pretty good at Excel at this point. But more importantly, I know how to look up and research what I don’t know.”
I am not as strong as I would like to be with Public Speaking but I am working on it. At my current job I volunteer to lead as many meetings as I can to get more practice. I also belong to Toastmasters and we meeting weekly to practice our public speaking. I have been attending the Toastmasters now for about 9 months and feel much more comfortable in front of people. Last month, I spoke on a panel within our industry. I was nervous, but I did it, and even brought back some sales leads from the trip which I was really proud of.
The reason I like his answer is that the candidate shows a number of things:
The Candidate is secure enough to tell me about the weakness, but doesn’t leave it at that. He doesn’t give up on himself. The candidate is showing Maturity. He isn’t accepting the weakness, he is taking stock of the situation and doing something about it. Taking classes, practice, and initiative. All employers want to hire continual learners, people who are never too old to learn, never too old to adapt. The business needs new skills and needs people who know how to learn.
This answer will not lose the momentum of the interview, it will strengthen your case.