I have come to learn there is a virtuous cycle to transparency and a very vicious cycle of obfuscation.
Jeff Weiner (CEO Linkedin)
The question “what is your greatest weakness” continues to be one that stresses and stumps candidates. Sort of putting them between the devil and the deep blue sea. On the one hand you do not want to appear insincere, on the other you are not in a position to highlight something that could be red flag for the interviewer.
You might wonder why ask such a question – and make candidates uncomfortable?
The reason is simple. It is to find out how aware you are about your weaknesses and strengths. Further, it gives an indication about how open you might be to receive some constructive feedback. This question in a way helps in developing clarity about your fit for the role.
There are multiple ways to handle this question and the online sources have a number of them listed out. But most of the listed advice is cute to say the least. One often quoted suggestion is to turn a strength into a weakness – I am a perfectionist. The problem is that the interviewer is likely to have read the same blogs, and he is going to know where you are coming from. This kind of response makes you appear evasive, and raises a red flag on your honesty.
Instead consider scenario shared below. Note how this candidate tackles the question in an open, transparent manner.
Interviewer: Ravi, can you tell us about your greatest weakness?
Ravi(candidate) : Sir, I assume you mean with respect to the job I am interviewing for.
Interviewer: Yes, You are right.
Ravi: I feel I need to work on my organizing ability and productivity. Let me explain. I have a good record at my work so far. I have consistently achieved or surpassed the numbers and have been commended for the same. I have excellent ability to approach and persuade prospects and clients. I am good at asking questions and am good at follow-up. But where I fall short is in not being completely organised. I can be better at managing my time and in organizing myself in a manner that I my productivity improves and I am able to achieve much more.
Interviewer: Mr. Ravi, does that mean you are saying that you are not productive enough.
Ravi: No that is not what I am saying. What I am saying is that with my existing skills I am good on the job considering my overall performance – but I can do a lot more. But to move ahead in my career –I need to work on my ability to organize myself, so that I can handle greater responsibilities with ease.
Interviewer: If you are good on the job and that is shown by your performance results that means it is your strength. We would like to see an example of your failing.
Ravi: I see where you are getting at. But thing is that I do not like to fail so I try to anticipate such situations and prepare myself accordingly. Based on self evaluation I realize that – if I do not work on my skills of organizing I will have challenges while taking up greater responsibilities and work loads. Hence I am preparing myself accordingly – by reading books on the topic and enrolling for courses.
I hope I have answered to your satisfaction , I would appreciate if you could share your thoughts on areas that I could improve upon.
This is one way to handle the question. Have a frank discussion about your weaknesses.Inability to stay organized is a weakness – yet it is a weakness a number of candidates struggle with especially in the early years. The other thing is that the candidate is open about how he is tackling the situation and his keenness to improve himself.
This answer displays
- the candidates thought clarity,
- Self awareness
- Willingness to work on himself.
All attributes of a positive, career focused candidate.
The writer is a Talent Acquisition Expert based in Bangalore.