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How to Deal with the Most Difficult Interview Question “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?”

April 1, 2014

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I’ve just seen Bernard Marr’s slideshare answer to this dilemma.

With full respect to Bernard’s expertise, I disagree with some of his suggestions.

We all have weaknesses, both professional and personal. The conscientious interviewer is aware of his or her own too.

The question is difficult because it causes us to become fearful of a negative outcome.

Yet it is a perfectly legitimate question. Wouldn’t you want to know of an applicant’s weaknesses?

But the question is not just to root out weaknesses – it is also to test for integrity and professionalism.

The suggestions provided by Bernard Marr can be summarised as follows:

  • Avoidance – but a good interviewer will persist for an answer. The result is you demonstrated fear and avoidance. Then the question becomes “What are you hiding?”
  • Talk about minor and irrelevant weaknesses – again a good interviewer will press for a more relevant response leaving the interviewee in the same position as 1 above.
  • Avoid general statements – this is a wise caution that I support, and a useful example is given.
  • Talk about past development success – again I feel this is the practice of avoidance, though handled with care can be useful. Make sure you show and evidence the development from a position of weakness to a position of strength. But it is no longer a weakness – so again we have possible evidence of avoidance.

I assert that the best response is the truth – supplemented by what you are doing about it, the success you have achieved in your progress and a clear description of what else you need to do and what action you have initiated to deal with it.

You will then resonate with the interviewers, because after all they too have weaknesses.

You didn’t beat about the bush.

You are in honour and integrity.

You were honourably vulnerable and that showed courage and awareness – attributes that are rare these days.

So I advocate these steps:

  • Be aware of your core professional weakness/es;
  • Already have actioned an improvement plan;
  • Be aware and provide evidence of the improvements made to date;
  • Articulate the benefits of your improvement to date;
  • Articulate the next steps you are taking to further improve;
  • Describe the goal and it’s time line.

For example, as the leader of a team of highly professional independent consultants, my greatest weakness is my lack of ability and lack of enjoyment of crucial administrative duties that are normal requirements of my role.

My team members are much better at managing the administrative requirements of their roles and leave me looking very ordinary in that area.

That administrative process is an essential part of running any business, and the truth is I just don’t do it well.

What I’ve done to ensure the administration works really well is to employ a brilliant administrator who loves her work and can help me manage my time to do those parts that really matter – oversight, approval and where needed adjustment. I remain responsible.

At the same time I’m changing my attitude towards administration and am beginning to enjoy what I have to do in that regard.

However it is not the core strength needed for my role, which are the development, allocation and delivery of our service. That’s my strength and I play to that.

You must be fully prepared to answer this difficult question, even if it isn’t ultimately asked.

If it is asked and you answered it honestly, evidencing your remedy and were not selected because of your answer, then perhaps you are better off not working with people who have that attitude, and that culture.

What do you think?

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