What are your weaknesses? How to talk about yourself in an interview

The face-to-face interview is a real opportunity to showcase who you are—more than a printed resume or cover letter ever could. Make it count.

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What are my weaknesses? Umm, can I phone a friend for this one?

Ah, the question nobody wants to answer—and rightfully so. Who really wants to talk about their weaknesses, especially when you are trying to impress a hiring manager?

Well, let’s see—I always let my vegetables rot in my fridge. I’m not the best parallel parker in the world. I constantly leave texts from my friends read but unanswered. I forgot to pay my cell phone bill on time last month. I never pair my socks.


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Oh, are we talking about work weaknesses? “Well, I’m just a perfectionist,” unless you see the inside of my closet at home…

In this article, we are exploring why hiring managers and recruiters love this question, what they absolutely don’t want to hear you say (hint: they don’t want to hear about how detail-oriented you are), and how you can really dazzle them with a prepared answer.

WHY DO HIRING MANAGERS ASK THIS QUESTION?

I hate this question. I hate thinking about weaknesses. I hate exposing them. At the same time, I see the worth in this question.

Recently, I was talking to a recruiter at a successful, high-growth startup. When I asked her for her best interview advice, she referred to this specific question—and the canned answer she was hearing on a daily basis. She said, “If I hear another candidate say she is soooo detail-oriented or such a perfectionist, I am going to lose it.”

At that moment, I made a note to write this article. Why is it such a turn-off to say I’m detail-oriented—especially when I am a Virgo and it’s ingrained in my personality?

Here’s the reason: there is a much more interesting way to talk about you and (yes, even) your weaknesses. If you’re saying you’re bogged down in details as a sort of humblebrag, you’re likely not being honest with the interviewer—or, more importantly, with yourself.

The face-to-face interview is a real opportunity to showcase who you are—more than a printed resume or cover letter ever could. I can’t stress this enough—make it count.

HOW TO DETERMINE YOUR WEAKNESSES

I am a big question-asker (hey, maybe that’s my weakness). My brain is always running a line of questions about every opportunity and at every problem. That’s the kind of exercise I want you to run when determining your weaknesses.

Since you can pretty much bank on an interviewer asking for your weaknesses, take the time to come up with a thoughtful answer—one that is authentic and honest.

Here are a few (tough) questions to ask yourself to determine your weaknesses:

Soft Skill Weaknesses

  • Do my duties often fall between the cracks?
  • Do I have a damaging internal dialogue with myself?
  • Does my boss have to check in on my work constantly?
  • What is my communication style?
  • Can I make effective decisions on my own?
  • Am I confident in my abilities?

Hard Skill Weaknesses

  • What is my level (1-10) of proficiency in [required skill]? Pro tip: go through any job posting and rate yourself on each skill. This could be a place to identify a weakness and make a plan to resolve it.
  • Is my work proofread or checked-over by someone else?
  • What kind of feedback do I normally receive on my work?

Interpersonal Weaknesses

  • Am I quick to offer thoughtful solutions in a pinch?
  • Does my shyness ever get in the way of a great idea being shared?
  • Do I pause and listen to other people’s input?
  • Do I respond too quickly? Not quickly enough?
  • Am I persistent enough? Too persistent?
  • Do I take too much work on myself?
  • Do I delegate work when it makes sense?
  • Do I offer feedback to my team?
  • Is my feedback too negative?

TELL A STORY ABOUT YOUR WEAKNESSES

Guess what? It’s story time!

Now that you have determined your weakness, think back to a time where you really came up against it—specifically in the workplace. Just like your resume shouldn’t be a list of unquantifiable duties and tasks, your weaknesses shouldn’t be presented as a static shadow in the corner that follows you everywhere.

Everybody—and I mean everybody—loves a good story. I think that, in the job-hunting process, wherever you can infuse a story, do it. Stories are more compelling than a list of skills, achievements, and experiences.

Think of a time where your weakness really shone through—and tell the story. If you are very self-critical, maybe it was not speaking up about an idea you had during a critical project. Instead of speaking up during a planning meeting, maybe you sat back with that little imposter on your back saying “No, that’s a dumb idea. Be quiet.”

Not to therapize, but how did it make you feel to see the completed project without your input? Could the outcome have been more successful if you had thrust the negativity aside? What did you learn at that moment?

Maybe your weaknesses aren’t really weaknesses at all. Maybe they are inexperienced in disguise. For example, if you are going out for your first management position, your inexperience in management might be your weakness. Be upfront about it. Here is where you can flex the art of the humblebrag. Instead of admitting that you’ve never held a management position, think back to a job where you did step in as a manager—and you hit it out of the park.

HOW TO MAKE A PLAN TO WORK ON YOUR WEAKNESSES

You know how they say that the first step in fixing something is recognizing it exists? In answering this question, you can both present the problem and create a solution.

Not all weaknesses are in the soft skills sector, either. If you are interviewing for a job that requires a set of hard skills–like coding or fluency in a specific software suite—be upfront about that. The story you build around this can be more triumphant. Tell the hiring manager, for example, about how you learned to use Adobe Illustrator to complete a specific project. Tell her how you began building your skills from the ground up and how you’re still progressing your knowledge.

We’re not telling you to apply to a job for which you are completely unqualified. However, if you are working on a specific skill set that is required, tell that story. By admitting this “hard skill fault” you are highlighting what a resilient employee you actually are. You are telling a story of how you are self-motivated, open to learning opportunity, and forthcoming about your skills-based weaknesses.

IN SUMMARY

Here’s how to identify and explain your weaknesses in an easy-to-use three-step process (because we are all about the step-by-step processes here) to impress any hiring manager.

  1. Conduct an honest, question-filled reflection on your weaknesses.
  2. Frame your weakness within a real story.
  3. Create a plan for attacking that weakness in your next position

This article first appeared on Career Contessa.