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17. Practice interview answers: How to answer "What is your weakness?"

When you practise interview answers there are many different questions that you need to prepare answers to. One that people find really difficult is "What is your greatest weakness?" or "What weaknesses do you have?"

It is a common interview question and you need to consider it when preparing for a job interview.

Practice interview answers tip 1: Don't deny

The first thing people need to understand when preparing for a job interview is why they are being asked, "What weakness do you have?".

People are asked it to assess the amount of self-awareness, self-understanding and self-reflection that they have.

They are also asked this interview question to determine how honest they are.

I used to be on interviewing panels at a university. If a potential student said that they had no weaknesses (and yes, I have heard this as an answer), then that person reduced their chance of getting into the course. Why? Because we wanted people to have self-awareness, self understanding and honesty.

Practice interview answers tip 2: Don't brag

This interview question "What is your weakness?" is not an opportunity to brag. Unless, of course, you don’t want the job!

The problem with bragging is that people compare themselves with others so that they make themselves appear superior, they exaggerate their skills and desirability, and they run the risk of appearing arrogant.

Bragging involves putting other people down.

Many interview panels and jobs require people who are team players. Bragging is not part of this.

We all have weaknesses. People’s ability to own these in a constructive way is what’s required in a job interview. Bragging will usually put off the interviewers.

Practice interview answers tip 3: Make it constructive

When people practise interview answers they need to practise talking about a genuine weakness that they have.  

Preparing for a job interview is not about learning to lie. Preparing for a job interview is about learning how to constructively describe the experiences, skills, strengths and weaknesses that a person has and the value of these to an organisation.

As a job interview coach I recommend to my clients that they:

  1. Find a weakness that they are willing to talk about openly without pulling themselves down.
  2. Practise a constructive way to explain how they manage this weakness or overcome it.

The interview answer can be used to demonstrate your levels of insight, ingenuity, determination, perseverance and problem solving, for example, as well as your ability to learn, handle difficulties, and much more.

Practice interview answers tip 4: Name the elephant in the room

Avoid giving some kind of standard, same old, same old, answer that everybody else gives.

I know some people practise interview questions by working up a great explanation as to how they are a perfectionist. Such an answer has possibly been done to death! It may only be a good answer if the person interviewing you wants a perfectionist!

Instead, when you are preparing for a job interview come up with something that is specifically relevant to you and your work and that the interview panel may be concerned about. Then make sure that you can explain how you keep this weakness under control or are working to improve it.

For example, if you are an academic you may predict that the panel will be concerned over your low levels of research funding. You might acknowledge this as a weakness, i.e. name the elephant in the room. Then you may explain the steps that you've recently taken to increase future research funding by developing new industry partnerships, applying for new grants, developing international collaboration with a group of leading universities, and so on.

As another example, you might be applying for a position as a senior business advisor in a leading NSW accounting firm. However, you only emigrated six months previously to Australia from Wales.

Your obvious weakness may be that having only recently arrived in Australia you do not have a thorough grounding in the taxation complexities of New South Wales business. The panel will be aware of this so name the elephant in the room! You might acknowledge this weakness but counter it by explaining the benefits of bringing new ideas into the acounting firm from outside Australia. You might also say how fast you are to learn, give evidence of where you have learnt quickly in other similar positions, and how in your network you do have key taxation advisors and experts in New South Wales.

There is no point in trying to hide your Welsh accent or your lack of experience in Australia; rather consider acknowledging it and saying how you can compensate for it.

This is only a general idea but I hope you get the principle. The exact details can only be determined by yourself or in conjunction with a job interviews coach who understands your specific circumstances.

As another example, you might be applying to become a principal in a three stream school, but only have experience with two stream schools. The panel will have noticed this on your application so admitting to this as a weakness is not going to come as a surprise to them!

You might acknowledge this lack of three stream experience as your weakness. Then you may explain how you will handle a three stream school, the specific mentors you have who are experienced in three stream schools, the three stream schools you've visited, and your ability to learn quickly given your high levels of innovation, flexibility and willingness to collaborate with your assistant principals who have had more three stream experience.

Again this is only a general idea to help you answer the interview question, "What is your greatest weakness?". The exact details will be different for each individual.

When you are preparing for a job interview make sure you practise a compelling answer to explain your weakness(es) and how good you are at managing them.