Can you tell me about your weakness? In an interview.

I completed a number of interviews a few days ago and as part of the interview process I asked everyone’s favourite,

“Can you tell me about a weakness?”

These are some of the answers I heard in those interviews.

  1. I don’t have any weaknesses.
  2. Some people tell me I’m a control freak.
  3. I can’t say that I really have any professional weaknesses.
  4. Nobody is game to tell me.
  5. Do you have any weaknesses?
  6. I’ll let you know when I find them.
  7. Some people tell me that I’m difficult to work with.
  8. I tend to take on too much on and can’t say no.
  9. I’ve been told I don’t take things seriously.
  10. Getting up in the morning and probably getting to work on time.
  11. I find it difficult to follow verbal instructions.
  12. I’m impatient with dumb people.

If you’re the employer what is one word that comes to mind when you hear these responses?

RISK. It screams risk.

One piece of advice that most hiring/HR managers would give you for free, is to “Be Prepared”. Hope is not a strategy worth pursuing.

Don’t walk into an interview without some preparation, seriously, rehearse some of the questions you are likely to encounter. DO some homework on the role, the industry and potentially key people.

Remember, you’re not going for the robot delivery or a disingenuous demeanour or just not being prepared at all. Keep this in the back of your mind, the hiring/HR manager is trying to decide whether or not you are a risk to the organisation and its people.

Don’t give the hiring/HR manager a reason to dismiss the application. It really is a fight for survival, well, that’s the way I look at it. You are competing with other candidates and competition these days is fierce. For some, the difference between getting a job or not getting a job,  is the difference between putting food on the table or not putting food on the table. The workforce is like the jungle, and it’s survival of the fittest out there.

Maybe another way to think about this is if you going for a job worth say $50,000pa what investment would you make to get the job. That is, how time would you invest to ensure you are as prepared as you can be to get the job. Is it 30 minutes, 60 minutes, 2 hours or 5 hours? It’s up to you.

So, the weakness question is really trying to extract from you whether or not you are self-aware and more over can self-regulate in teams and organisations.

Let’s look at self-awareness. It is defined as:
 The accurate appraisal and understanding of your abilities and preferences and their implications for your behaviour and their impact on others.

You must understand how your behaviour affects your environment, whether it be positive, negative or indifferent.

Let me give you an example. Some weeks ago in a coaching training session for supervisors, all learners were requested to present a simple psychological model using specific language and framing strategies. The whole group of 16 except for 1 completed the task. That one person used a manipulation and sniper strategy to deflect their failure to prepare, and they also attempted to manipulate other members of the group in an effort to turn them against the exercise and the material.

Whilst it was entertaining seeing “below the line behaviours” in action, these behaviours ultimately meant to me, the others in the group, and to the organisation that in fact this person’s behaviour was a risk. In other words, this person would rather “be right” than “getting it right” (You know the type, argumentative, and insistent with no real point other than wanting to be right.)

Which brings me to self-regulation:

Selfregulation is the ability to monitor and control our own behaviour, emotions, or thoughts, altering them in accordance with the demands of the situation.”

When selecting one or more weakness examples, be strategic in your selection. Here are a couple of rules.

  1. Don’t pick a weakness that is specific to the job.
  2. Don’t pick a weakness that is not easily fixable.
  3. Don’t pick something that may be considered as trivial or not valuable.

Example 1

Tell me about a weakness?

One of my weaknesses is time management. For some reason, I wasn’t getting all my work done in the allocated time and having to stay back to complete it. When I realised that is was unsustainable. I sought some feedback and I out of my own pocket undertook a time management course. This has enabled me not only to become a more effective planner, but it enabled me to have productive conversations so I could get my work done on time, every time. Let me give you an example. I would use the Eisenhower Matrix to determine with my supervisors the important vs the urgent tasks.

What’s important about a weakness question is that you are able to identify the challenge in past tense, and then how you solved it and what that has translated to in the present.

Example 2

Tell me about a weakness?

I have received feedback in my annual performance appraisal process that I need to take more time providing full information and not assuming team members know what to do.

I engaged a business/leadership coach that provided me with not only the awareness but also the language required to engage at a higher level and therefore empower my team members to get the best possible results. It didn’t take very long and it was the best career investment I have ever made. Let me give you an example, I was in a project team that had a very tight timeline. As part of the planning process, I put together a communication plan with specific needs at every point. The result was I communicated more effectively and therefore we were a more efficient as a team.

Example 3

Tell about a weakness?

In a project, I tend to be a little too direct and straight forward. Whilst this is my natural tendency I realised it may not be the best way to get the best out of the team or external customers. Upon realising very quickly that I could do this better, I sourced and enrolled in a conflict management course. This had a 2-fold effect on my performance,

  1. I became better at providing feedback in difficult situations and
  2. I was able to pre-emptively recognise low-level conflict situations before they become real issues.

So what’s the lesson here? BE PREPARED. Have at least 3 weakness and examples of how you solved them and the value you brought to the organisation. Remember, what hiring/HR managers are really attempting to do is identify and reduce risk. Your job in the interview is to demonstrate that you are in fact self-aware and you are able to self-regulate in uncertain situations. Do these things, and you’ll survive the jungle.

2 thoughts on “Can you tell me about your weakness? In an interview.

  1. This is a great article. I’ve recently become more involved in the hiring process at my company and I skip the weakness question because so many people are prepared for that exact phrasing. I will ask “What is one question you don’t want us to ask?” Once they answer I have them answer the question itself. I’ve seen that it forces them to address their weaknesses and tell us how they will overcome it. Another version that I liked for a while was asking “What is the last weakness you worked on and how did you approach it?” The interviewee no longer gets to simply have a weakness, but tell me how often they are working to improve themselves.
    Overall awesome article that everyone should read before going into their next interview.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your comment. That is an awesome question. So true, candidates are more and more polished that it’s sometimes difficult to see the real person.
      Your questions cuts through the veneer. I was going write a piece just on those odd questions that are meant to jar the interviewee. Something they really can’t prepare for. Just like your question. Thank you again.


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