Why do you do the job you do? My guess is that you like what you do. Well, hopefully that is the case. If you don’t like your work, I suggest you stop reading now and devote your time to planning a career change. For the rest of you – keep reading.
It’s a fair bet that if you love your job, you are good at it. Why are you good at it? When did you decide you would be an accountant/engineer/IT professional…? You probably started on this journey to your profession very early on in life. Are you good with people, language, numbers, fixing things, solving problems, coming up with creative ideas…? Your parents could, no doubt, see what came easily to you and what you found more challenging. You have made decisions about which path to take throughout your life, possibly with some guidance from your parents. Now you have arrived at this point in time at a place where you feel inspired and challenged by your work, and comfortable with the required attributes of your job. Again, if you are not in this place, I suggest you do a re-evaluation of where you are going professionally. If you are a software developer but have problems with logic, if you are a teacher who is afraid of public speaking, if you are an accountant who has trouble with calculations or if you’re an IT professional who is not prepared to be constantly upskilling, you need to stop reading now and make some important life/career decisions.
For the rest of you, congratulations! You are living in your strengths. So, the next time an interviewer asks you, ‘What is your weakness? you can feel confident that your major weaknesses will lie outside your professional role. Now let’s have a look at how we can approach this common (an annoying) interview question.
I’m not going to devote time to discussing the range of usual responses to this question, but will provide an alternative approach for the brave and confident. At best, the traditional responses will move you onto the next question with no damage inflicted. At worst, your response will kill (on the spot) any chance you have of getting the job. Why not use this question as an opportunity to advance your case and impress?
Some things we need to get straight before we suggest a response…
- You need to be confident. The employer wants someone who can do the job, not someone who sees themselves as lacking.
- The following items are NOT weaknesses; they are opportunities. Do NOT ‘own’ these perceived weaknesses.
- No local experience
- Not familiar with a particular software package
- Age (too old, too young)
- The following items are If you have these weaknesses, fix them. If you go into a job interview with any of these weaknesses, you do not deserve to be given the job. Why would an employer want to hire someone who can’t do a critical part of the job? You need to convince the interviewer that you can do the job.
- Poor communication skills
- Poor understanding of the job
- Inability to show initiative
- Inability to demonstrate what you have done in previous roles that suggests you can do the advertised role
- Inability to manage your time effectively
- Poor ICT skills
- Lack of knowledge of local standards and codes
- You need to be prepared to discuss what the employer might perceive as a weakness. So what is your weakness in their eyes? Make a list and prepare responses.
So, what is your weakness?
[Be positive and confident]
Well, as far as my job is concerned, I don’t think I really have a major weakness.
[The use of ‘major’ is critical. Without it, you will sound arrogant, and that is not something you wish to portray.]
I’m lucky in that I love my job and I think I’m good at it because it allows me to employ my strengths. I enjoy solving problems and working with people from a range of professions – contractors, managers, office staff… I thrive on responsibility and the challenge of doing things I’ve never done before– learning is a great motivator.
[Now, this is where courage is required. You need to open up the conversation so we can explore what the employer perceives as a weakness. If they have doubts about any ‘deficit’ and it is not discussed during the interview, you have lost the chance to put your case forward. We don’t want the ‘issue’ brushed under the carpet. Let’s expose it for the fake that it is.]
But, if you have any issues with any part of my resume or past experience, I’m more than happy to discuss them. Was there something in particular that concerned you?
Well, I see you don’t have any experience in Australia.
That’s right. But I don’t really see that as a weakness. My international experience has been in a company very similar to yours. The road construction projects I’ve worked on have employed professionals from all over the world. I’ve worked with a range of standards and I have a good understanding of Australian standards. For example…
[You MUST be able to compare standards at this point, and demonstrate your understanding of the Australian requirements, and perhaps how that compares to what you have done. Be specific and use examples. If you can’t, then I’m sorry – it is a weakness and it will be detrimental to your chances.]
Well, you haven’t used the software application we use.
That’s right. But I don’t really see that as a weakness. When I began my last job I hadn’t used their package either, but my exposure to a wide range of applications means that my intuition is strong and I can pick up what’s required pretty quickly. I believe the program you use is… which, from my understanding, is similar in some respects to … For example
[Again, speak in technical terms using examples. Do your research on the platform/software used by the company. You are talking to a peer who will be able to ascertain your depth of understanding within seconds. You can’t fool him/her like you can a generalist or HR person. If you don’t know your stuff, all will be revealed – yes, it will be seen as a weakness.]
Javed applied for a Project Manager/Civil Engineer role at a regional council. He was granted an interview despite the fact that he had a Chemical, not Civil, Engineering background, possibly due to the lack of more suitable candidates prepared to travel to more remote areas. When the, ‘What is your weakness?’ question came up, he was brave and confronted it head-on.
He said: ‘Well, I’m guessing you might be thinking that it is … I don’t have a Civil background. But, I’d like to explain why I think it’s not an issue. The last two projects I’ve worked on were similar civil projects: one – a channel upgrade to an orchard region, and the other – a brownfield project similar to the work you’re doing in the western region of your shire. They were largely Project Management roles, and where civil engineering skills were required I was able to draw on the expertise of my team members. I suppose the only way we can decide if this is going to be an issue is if we can discuss your projects in some detail and if I can know about the other team members’ skills, that would be useful. My understanding from the position description and what I been able to research is that the role is primarily Project Management. Would that be right?
[A long conversation ensued. The employers agreed that the project management skills were the critical component of the job, and other civil engineers would be working in the team. Javed was offered the job. If this conversation had not taken place, the employer may have been doubtful about Javed’s fit. It allowed Javed to expand on his case and demonstrate a deep understanding of project management requirements, and perhaps help the employer clarify the actual demands of the role and where Javed would fit into the team. If it had been decided that civil engineering skills were essential, then he would not have been awarded the job – the job would not have been a good fit and Javed would probably not have been granted an interview in the first place. Either way, Javed could not lose by raising the ‘perceived weakness’. Also, Javed’s research into the organisation and interview preparation was extensive which gave an excellent impression.]
Ultimately, the interview should be a conversation about your fit – Is this the right job for you? Are you the right person for the job/organisation? You need to take some responsibility directing the course of the interview; it should not simply be a matter of providing ‘winning answers’ to their questions. If it is revealed at some stage during the interview that you are not the right fit, then that is a satisfactory outcome for both parties. Just don’t let the reason be a perceived weakness that was not properly aired. And do something about your real weaknesses.