Career & Education

Should I really tell a recruiter my weaknesses?

Career Advisor

Carolyn Marie Smith

Sunday, August 20, 2017



Dear Career Advisor:

Two questions that often feature in job interviews are:

1. What are your weaknesses?

2. Tell us about yourself.

Is the first a trick question? I'm thinking that it could be a trap, because I don't think they really want to know that I have time management problems, for example, or that I work best alone rather than in groups. Could you please tell me what is the best way for an interviewee to respond to these in a job interview?

Joel S.

Dear Joel:

Thank you for your question. You are correct in saying that these are among the more popular questions asked by interviewers, and for which interviewees usually have challenges providing appropriate responses. Recognising their importance, we will explore potential responses for each in two separate articles. Let us begin with the first, “What are your weaknesses?”

Interviewers may ask this question in different ways though the purpose remains the same. Here are a few variations.

i. What developmental goals are you working on and were those goals self-determined?

ii. If you could change one thing about yourself, what would that be?

iii. What would your current or past supervisor say are areas that you might need to work on?

In whatever form this question comes, be prepared. The interviewer is trying to determine, among other things, your honesty, your self-awareness, your potential response to supervision, and strategies utilised for self-improvement.

How Best to Respond

Self-disclosure does not have to put you in a negative light. It all depends on how you present your response. Always use a two-pronged approach:

1. Honestly identify a potentially job-related weakness.

2. Show what steps you have taken or are taking to overcome. Include, if possible, observations of improvement that your supervisor, colleague, or friend may have noted.

How to Identify Your Weakness or Weaknesses

Do a critical self-assessment and in tandem with identifying your strengths, make a note of your weaknesses. Reflect on your experiences:

i. Did a friend or co-worker point out a flaw in your personality or work ethic? Eg, impatience, intolerance, rashness, too many errors, failure to meet deadlines, etc.

ii. What strategies have you used or are you using to overcome or improve?

iii. What lessons have you learnt?

iv. What potential impact could any of those weaknesses have on the position you desire to fill?

How NOT to Respond

Don't be tempted to ignore the question or provide a superficial response. Avoid the following pitfalls:

i. Denial — “The last time I checked I could not identify any weakness as I have always worked hard on improvement”. This sends a signal that you are conceited and may be difficult to supervise.

ii. Identifying a strength as a weakness — “I work too hard” or “I'm a perfectionist”.

iii. Giving a trivial or humorous response — “I love cartoons.” Save the humour for staff socials.

iv. Mentioning an inhibition that has no bearing on the job — “I am terrified of heights and will not look outside the windows of an aircraft” has no place in an interview for a desk job.

v. Declaring a negative character trait or potentially incriminating detail — “I just made use of the traffic ticket amnesty, converting over 200 speeding tickets acquired by persistently trying to be punctual.”

On a final note, if you are a job seeker who fears being rejected for lack of experience, you could consider mentioning your lack of experience in performing a specific aspect of the job you are seeking, and show how you are preparing yourself to effectively handle it.

Join us again next week for suggestions on how to respond to the second part of your question: “Tell me about yourself”.

All the best.

Career Advisor

Carolyn Marie Smith is associate vice-president of student services at Northern Caribbean University in Mandeville, Manchester. Submit your questions to her at careeradvisor@ncu.edu.jm

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