Career clinic: What's your greatest weakness?

Panel at job interview
By Sophie Randles, Head of Practice, Rutherford Cross

19 July 2017

Sophie Randles sheds some light on how to respond to one of the most dreaded interview questions.

What’s your greatest weakness?

At Rutherford Cross we have noticed that the dreaded “weakness” question is being asked at interview more frequently, especially when a key factor in many hiring managers’ decision-making processes is assessment of whether a professional would or could fit into the firm’s culture.

This question might seem irrelevant but it serves a very important function. The hiring manager is looking to assess your reaction when faced with a “tricky” situation or, in this case, question. You need to turn seemingly insignificant questions into opportunities to position yourself as the right and only person for the job.

Being asked to reveal your shortcomings is in fact a golden opportunity to show that you’re the right person for the job.

The trick is to be prepared. At the risk of sounding clichéd: “Fail to prepare, prepare to fail.”

How to answer?

1. Reflect

Start by answering the question before you even get to the interview. Be critical and reflective of yourself – you need to figure out what your weaknesses are. Everyone has a weakness so be realistic.

The perfect candidate can take their weakness and turn it into a strength.

It’s important not to respond generically or, worse, profess not to have any weaknesses. I once had a candidate say: “Weaknesses, I have none; you would be lucky to have me.” It is safe to say the said professional learned his lesson the hard way.

The perfect candidate can take their weakness and turn it into a strength. Review your appraisals and think through specific instances in which you feel you could have handled the situation better. For example, do you have a hard time taking criticism without getting defensive or do you get frustrated when you are not in full control of a project?

2. Prepare 

Look at the job you are applying for and tailor your response to what you think the hiring manager is looking for. For example, if the job requires strong people management skills to lead a large and tricky team, the “weakness” response should be around your ability and previous experience in overcoming your frustration with conflict or how you learned to trust your team to deliver without micro-management.

Respond by highlighting the area for improvement, explaining how you did so and discussing the positive results of changes you made.

3. Expect the follow-up

Once you’ve answered the “weakness” question, the follow-up question will then come – “If you were hired, how would you ensure this weakness won’t be an issue for us?” If you have answered the “weakness” question correctly, you will already have alleviated some of the hiring manager’s concerns.

In answering the “follow-up” question, you want to fully convince the hiring manager you have overcome the problem.

Remember, be prepared. A hiring manager will be more impressed with a candidate who has self-awareness and who is actively taking the initiative to improve themselves.

Happy interviewing!

The full version of this article can be found in the July 2017 edition of CA magazine


This blog is one of a series of articles from our commercial partners.
The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of ICAS.

Topics

  • Career development
  • Leadership and management

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