At interviews, do you hate being asked ‘what are your weaknesses’? Some guidance on how to deal with the question.

When I teach interview skills for employability, someone will inevitably say “I hate it when they ask me about my weaknesses …” and a perceptible shudder goes round the room.

There are things that you can pretty much guarantee that you will be asked – you can find many lists of likely questions online – and this is one of them. Yet very few can then describe how they deal with that question.

They almost prefer to dread and passively await it … yet have no strategy to prepare in advance for when it inevitably comes up. So those who don’t deal and plan in advance are disadvantaged when the question does arise.

Of course you need to be able to talk about your strengths. And just as important is the ability to discuss your weaknesses.

Employers aren’t seeking a superhuman with no weaknesses. When they ask you this question, they aren’t attempting to make you feel bad, catch you out or expose you at your most vulnerable.

They’re looking for three things:

  • A clear-eyed awareness that nobody’s perfect
  • A sense of your own continuing self-development, the ability to re-train, adapt, learn, self-motivate and deal with issues before they become overwhelming
  • And the confidence and composure to discuss your areas for improvement

Take a moment to consider it thoughtfully, before answering, rather than leaping in with an air of “aha, I know this one!”

There are several possible answers – and the first two won’t do:

“I don’t have any weaknesses” – means you’re immediately coming across as arrogant, closed-minded and unrealistic.

“Honestly, I’m a total perfectionist – I just can’t stop until I get the job done. It’s a terrible weakness” – any boasting in disguise is transparently obvious to any interviewer, and will do you no favours.

The best approach is to identify an allowable weakness, that anyone could identify with – and most importantly, add what you do to combat it.

So you might say “I know I tend to leave the less attractive tasks till last and that has sometimes lead to avoidable problems. So to deal with that, I use my time management skills to create a daily timetable and tackle the less attractive tasks in the first hour. That way I know they’ll get done, and any potential issues are identified and dealt with early.”

So welcome this question as just another chance to shine, to demonstrate a few more employable skills.