Gah! Every one cringes when they hear this question in an interview. Luckily you've got Aimee here to help you understand why it's being asked and how to put together an impactful answer.
Hi guys, it’s Aimee Bateman here from Careercake.com and in this insight video, I’m going to talk to you about how to best answer one of the trickiest interview questions, which is ‘tell me about your biggest weakness?’.
Now, I want to just say that they might not word it like this. It might not be the way that they phrase it. It might be, ‘what do you think you are going to find most challenging in this role?’. One of the ways that I like to word this is ‘what one thing do you wish you could improve on?’. So just be aware they could throw this at you in lots of different ways, but ultimately that’s what you need to say.
Firstly, before we are going to work out how to answer this, we are going to actually think about what it is they want. Why are they asking you this question? Well, of course they want to know what your biggest weakness is and what you think you’d like to improve on and what you find challenging, but there is another reason why they are asking you this question, and this is very, very important. They are asking you this question because they want to know whether or not you are going to look them in the eye and be honest with them. Or are you going to look them in the eye and just regurgitate a load of rubbish and just lie to them. That’s what they want to know.
So, real listening is always understanding why something has been asked, not just what has been asked. Make sure that you do these two things. One, your weakness is not a personality trait firstly. So it is not, I am boring, a personality trait is not a weakness. It is not something you can ‘improve on’. Keep that away from these answers.
Number two, your weakness is not a strength. Please don’t throw at them that your biggest weakness is that you are a workaholic, or you are a perfectionist. The person who is asking you this question has read the same, boring, text book things over the last twenty, thirty years on how to answer this question. Don’t throw that rubbish at them because they will see right though it and quite frankly they will think, ‘you might as well leave now mate, because you are just giving me a load of this’. No-one is that awesome that their weakness makes them more awesome.
That level of being completely truthful and open and honest and liking yourself enough and being confident enough in your abilities to say, ‘yes there is one thing that I want to be better at’. That will go a long way.
I want you to really think about this before you go in. Ensure that the weakness you throw at them or the ‘area of improvement’, isn’t something that is vital for the role. So make sure you look through the desired skills and what’s essential for this role and don’t give them anything like that. Maybe give them something you genuinely do struggle with and you are actually improving on, but nothing that is too detrimental to the role.
So, pick your weakness and follow these steps. Firstly, I want you to position this weakness in the past. I want you to make it really, really small. You can do that with the language that you use. ‘In the past, I’ve noticed I’ve struggled slightly with’. Everything we know about ourselves comes from a past experience, so you are ok to say ‘in the past’. But you are equally saying that you struggle slightly with, so you are minimising this in the mind of the interviewer. This is not a big deal. In the past, I’ve struggled slightly with, perhaps it’s public speaking. So you wouldn’t just say, public speaking, you would put it into a context. So, speaking in front of large groups of people. Maybe that’s your weakness.
Then I want you to counteract that with a positive. ‘Actually, when I’m speaking to smaller groups of people, I’m really confident and I communicate well’. So you are giving them the weakness and then counteracting it with the positive. And then you are going to say, ‘I understand that to be successful at ‘X’ I need to improve on this area’. So, as the interviewer I’m thinking that I don’t need to convince this person this might be a problem. They know the importance of this…phew. It’s all about eliminating that worry and building up this trust.
Then you tell me what you are doing about it, so maybe you’ve gone on a course or maybe you are reading a book or you’ve done the careercake presentation course. Maybe you are working with a colleague, Steve, who is epic at public speaking, so you’ve asked Steve if he can mentor you. Maybe he will give you some tips and maybe you will shadow him for a while. You tell me what you’ve been doing about it.
Then you need to finish on a happy story. ‘In fact, so much so that I have actually implemented those things and recently I had to go to London and do a presentation in front of about twenty or thirty colleagues and I took on board all of the things Steve had said or all of those things I learnt on the course’. And then you tell me that it ended well. In fact, ‘It went brilliantly, I was able to communicate exactly what I wanted to say and the feedback from management was that everyone in the room felt really engaged and walked away understanding the value of my presentation’. So what you are doing there as well, you are not just giving me a happy story, you’re having validation from an external person again. ‘I’m working on it. It’s still an area of improvement, but yeah I’m getting there’. That is so much better than turning around and just saying that you’ve got this weakness that is also a strength.
So, you are going to say, ‘In the past I’ve struggled slightly with…’ minimising it, whatever ‘it’ is. You counteract it with a positive. You understand that to be successful with ‘this’ you need to improve. Then what you have done to improve and then you give me your happy story with the validation. And just a little tip, think of another one. People are getting really good at answering this question, and there are so many careers resources out there now, that people are going into interviews and that type of thing and they are very rehearsed. Interviewers know this and they are getting more and more sophisticated. There is a very good chance that at the end of that epic answer, you totally nailed it, they turn around and say ‘That’s wonderful, give me another one’. So, always make sure you’ve got two, just in case, you might not need to use it, but just in case.
Hopefully that helps, now have a look at our other courses, our other insight videos. We’ve got experts on there that are talking about the things that they are brilliant at. They are here because they want to help you show the world how good you are.
Talk to us, give us some feedback. Maybe you’ve been asked this question and maybe you were awful at it. Maybe you absolutely aced it, but just let us know. Talk to us. We want to chat to you. Until next time, take care and good luck.
Dave Hancock – 11 October 2018
Some useful suggestions to avoid cliched answers.