Friday, December 15, 2006

Dealing with the weakness question: What not to do

The ‘What are your weaknesses?’ question is not an ideal one for
interviewers to be asking. Some of the problems inherent in this
question include:
• Many interviewees do not recognise they have a weakness in the
first place.
• Others perceive they have a weakness but in fact do not have
one at all.
• Some interviewees mistakenly see this question as an opportu-
nity to demonstrate how honest they are and say much more
than they should.
• Many interviewees are extremely reluctant to be forthcoming
about their weaknesses in an interview.
Despite these problems, many interviewers persist in asking about
your weaknesses. Your job is to learn the best way to handle such
questions. At the very least, you should be minimising the potential
damage and at best you should be turning the question around and
demonstrating to the interviewer that you’re the sort of person who
can not only overcome weaknesses, but by doing so achieve your goals.
One of the worst things you can do in response to answering
this question is to say you don’t have any weaknesses. This would
signal to the interviewer that you had lost some of your grip on
reality and/or that you had a monstrous ego, neither of which would
do you any favours. Here are some other things to avoid:
• Do not offer more than one weakness and do not set off on a
monumental discourse about your failings and their possible
origins. Stick to one weakness unless pressed for a second.
• Avoid talking about personality/character type weaknesses such
as impatience, quickness to anger or intolerance of mistakes.
Generally speaking, these types of weakness frighten employers
more than skills deficiencies. Where the latter can normally be
rectified with a bit of training, personality/character type weak-
nesses may be less easy to remedy and more difficult to deal with.
• Avoid clichés such as: ‘I work too hard. I don’t know when to stop.
I don’t know how to say no to work requests.’ The problem with
these answers is twofold: first, a lot of other people use them, which
means you’re failing to stand out from the pack; and second, all
of the above answers may signal to the astute interviewer that you
have a serious problem with managing your workload.
• Do not mention things that are really going to hurt you. Mis-
takes you have made in the dim past should remain in the past.
Don’t go digging them up—especially if you’ve learnt the error
of your ways and have moved on.
Hopefully, you will not be applying for jobs for which you are
unsuited in the first place. If, for example, you have a great fear of
heights and part of the job involves working in high locations, then
you shouldn’t be wasting anybody’s time by applying. However, if
the same job also requires skills that you have in abundance, feel
free to ring first and tell them about your situation. The employer
may value those other skills and be willing to at least talk to you.
Warning: If you have committed a legal offence that may be
relevant to the job you’re applying for, you should investigate what
your legal obligations are in terms of disclosure before attending the
interview. Avoid going on hearsay. Disclosure laws are sometimes
changed and may differ from state to state.

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