What are your weaknesses?
What are your weaknesses is a question that is asked in most interviews. It might be in this form, variations such as “What is your greatest weakness?”, or in a more disguised form such as “What are the areas that you would most like to improve?”
However it is asked, this is a horrible interview question to have to answer. You are being asked to spill the beans on your worst areas. How are you going to do this without damaging your chances of progressing in the interview?
The interviewer is looking to find out:
The interviewer wants to get an idea of the downsides of hiring you. And you want to only put across the positive points.
Because this interview question is common, you need a few ways to answer this question without putting both feet into it.
An approach to answer “What are your weaknesses?”
A common way used to answer this question is to talk about the downsides of a current strength and how you manage them. Being impatient, working too hard, caring too much, etc. We think that this is okay if the role is junior and/or the interviewer is not very experienced. See an example below.
“I am very impatient. I want to deliver results quickly and I get frustrated when other team members don’t work at the pace that I do. In the past, this frustration has resulted in upset team members. I am aware of this and when I feel impatient, I take a few deep breaths and remind myself that everyone is not as action orientated as me. I now try to support rather than chase and this works gets results without upsetting people.”
When the role you are applying for is more senior, such as a management level, this type of answer can become detrimental. One reason is more is expected of you and your answers, another is that managers need to be self-aware to manage well. Providing a “standard” answer is not demonstrating self-awareness.
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An approach that demonstrates self-awareness
So how might we answer this as a manager?
If the role being applied for is a junior manager, you could talk about an area of experience that is not strong yet, but you are working on improving it. This can’t be one of the key areas of the role!
e.g. Salespeople / marketers could talk about their financial knowledge and experience being less than they want, and the steps they are taking to get basic knowledge. Or Finance could talk about sales or marketing.
You are not expected to be good at everything. You are expected to know what you are good at and okay at. If you have an area that you are really not good at, we suggest choosing another area.
Choose an area that was a weaker area and talk about the steps you have taken to get okay at this area. Also include how you ensure the skills of a team member are strong in the area you are okay at, so as a team you cover all the skills and experience needed.
Most middle to senior managers should recognise this situation. Provided you demonstrate awareness and progression to get your weaker area to okay, your answer should become a positive differentiator to other candidates using “standard” answers.
Plus using this approach, you are answering the question directly, honestly, and genuinely.
We suggest having 2-3 different “weaknesses” to discuss. We have seen interviewers accept the first answer and then ask for a second.
What are your weaknesses? – example answers
I remember when I first got into sales that I didn’t like or know much about the financial implications of what I was selling outside my targets and commission. As I climbed the ranks within sales, I have made a conscious effort to understand a P&L and Balance Sheet, going out of my way to spend time with members of the finance team. It was a weak area that I am now okay at.
I am all over my sales numbers and my team’s numbers and view numbers as a critical part of managing the sales process. I still ensure that I have a good and friendly finance person to lean on for the difficult financial analysis though I am comfortable with the information contained in most P&L reports. This has really helped my sales team management too.
I have risen through the ranks to middle management through being very good at my job and good managing my team. We delivered some outstanding projects which made a real impact on the division and the business. That said, I had little experience at networking and marketing myself within the business to the more senior managers and board members. I also had little practice networking externally to the business.
I put myself on a networking course and used a coach to improve my approach. I have spent the last two year practicing all the skills I have developed. I am now reasonable at networking and marketing what I have been doing to the wider teams within the business. I have been promoted again during that time, as a result of the work I had done on this area. I am still working on improving this area.
Practice answering the interview question
It remains important to practice your answer to “What are your weaknesses?” out loud, just like an actor would learning their lines. It may be better to learn the key points to include rather than learning word for word, so it come across as more natural.
Make sure that you use your words and story. By all means copy the structure of our answer.
Practice makes perfect as they say.
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