During an employment interview, candidates often face some form of question which asks them to reveal and talk about their weaknesses. Whether it’s phrased as shortcomings, areas to improve upon or things you’d like to change in yourself, they are directed to prompt you to address your vulnerabilities. So is it a good idea to be truthful or not?
Let’s come back to this in detail later but yes, you should be honest.
Interviewers know a basic truth for starters, which is that everyone has areas they are not strong in. You’ll note I used the plural in that previous sentence; for everyone has many areas they are weak in. What is generally hoped is that your weaknesses are either in areas that won’t affect your ability to perform the job you are interviewing for, or that your deficiencies can be quickly improved upon and bring you up to a level of competence that will allow you to perform strongly for the employer.
Years ago I found that people often were coached to reveal a weakness, if asked to do so, that had no bearing on the job at hand. So a person wanting to work in Child Care might say making change has always been a challenge, while a Labourer on an assembly line might say they didn’t really understand computers. Not likely the Child Care applicant would be asked to make change for paying parents, or the assembly line applicant would be using a computer while on the job.
However, employers are not easily fooled in 2013, and this kind of answer today will only prompt a secondary question which asks the applicant to name an area of weakness which is directly related to the job being applied to. In other words, “here’s the noose, try it on for size.” This is a question that indeed will get the unprepared to expose themselves and remove themselves from further consideration. On the other hand, it gives applicants a chance to excel and distinguish themselves from the competition.
Any discussion that talks about your shortcomings should also include damage control material; in this case not only the deficiency but what you are doing about it since you’re aware of it. If the answer is little to nothing, that’s not going to impress the interviewer. If the answer is you’re taking a course, putting in some overtime, reading, practicing etc., you’ve got a chance to save yourself.
The worst of the lot will say they have no weaknesses whatsoever. In this case, you have unwittingly just identified the two biggest weaknesses of them all and the most troubling; dishonesty or ignorance. For either you know your weaknesses and are covering them up or you don’t really know yourself. Everyone has areas they are weak in and need to improve in. Wouldn’t you agree there are areas you’re not as strong in as you’d like to be?
Think of it like this; if you are hired by the company to do the very job you are applying for, in what areas would you need training, mentoring, support, or direction in order to be highly productive? One relatively safe answer might be to address company-specific software and using it competently. After all, until you are hired by and working for a company, how could you have access to the specific software only employees of that company use?
Okay so if that’s a safe answer, what’s less likely to pass the interviewers approval? Well, if you went for a job in the Retail sector and revealed that you have poor interpersonal skills, that pretty much would be an end to your hopes of being hired to interact with their customers and represent the business. Why? Well it’s all about strong interpersonal skills, and you’ve just put a bull’s eye on your forehead that screams, “I’m not right for this job!”
So should you be honest as I mentioned earlier when asked? Yes. Play out the interview the way you’d like it to go if you outright lied. So you cover up your interpersonal skill problem and say you’ve got these skills and say your problem or weakness is that you could be more organized. So you get the job, and it’s all about people skills, communicating, talking and listening to customers, and yes, interpersonal skills. Do you really think that just because you lied your way into the job means nobody will notice your weak skills in this area on the sales floor?
What’s more likely to happen is that you quickly are exposed, and either have a very sharp learning curve, or more likely, you get written up, talked to, and ultimately fired before you even get close to the end of your probationary period. Now you’re right back where you started, looking for your next job.
So this would seem to suggest that you look for employment where your weaknesses are minimal, and the job plays to your strengths in the first place. We call such jobs, “a good fit”; working in a field or career that allows you to use skills you’ve acquired, and minimizes your weaknesses.
When you are young, try many different jobs and find out what you are good at. Later, as you age and gain more experience, sum up all your past experiences and evaluate what you can do well, and what you struggle with. Aim for jobs that play to your strengths and if it’s important to you, work on those weak areas!
Written By Kelly Mitchell, BA
“Why Interviewers Ask About Your Weaknesses” was originally published at http://myjobadvice.wordpress.com/2013/10/16/why-interviewers-ask-about-your-weaknesses/ and was syndicated with the Author’s permission.
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Very nice article and I agree with everything it says. Honesty is the best policy..
I like to answer this interview question by listing a weakness that can also be perceived as a strength, such as – I have trouble turning down projects – or – I am a perfectionist (which can be rather time-consuming). These statements are both truthful and they allow me to further elaborate on personal efforts I have made to address said issues, such as – learning not to take on more than I can handle – or – setting time limits on projects to avoid obsessing. in my experience, employers have tended to appreciate this approach and its a handy tool to answer a difficult question when already nervous about impressing a potential employer!