A hated question by candidates, and a loved question by hiring managers. There is probably more information out there on how to answer this question, than any other information on interviews. Sadly, what most blogs and vlogs don’t talk about is why this question is important to hiring managers. I am not going to give my opinion on whether or not this question has merit, the fact is that people ask the question, and you should be ready to answer.
First, let’s get something straight about when the question is used. Generally speaking it’s not an HR thing to ask about weaknesses, even if HR is asking the question. It’s asked because the Hiring Manager really wants an answer to that question, generally earlier rather than later. That means the question is usually asked on the phone screen when you are subject to the scrutiny of a Recruiter or HR Manager. Since a Recruiter and HR Manager have done considerably more interviews, they tend to be savvier to the answers they hear, especially the common answers.
Second, I’ve never seen a situation where someone is ruled out due to an honest answer. BUT, I have seen people ruled out because they tried to manipulate the answer to their best interest. I’ve ruled people out for telling me they are a perfectionist. My follow up question is then “tell me how your perfectionism causes issues at work?” That’s when people get stumped. Perfectionism is never a reliable answer. Neither is “I don’t know how to say ‘no’ to a project” or the new classic “I work too hard.” Those answers don’t tell me anything other than you’re following some bad advice. If that is your answer, I am now concerned you don’t have good judgment, and
most all jobs require good judgment.
So why do managers want that answer? It’s simple really. They just want to know you are self-actualized. You see the methodology in management isn’t to strengthen people’s weaknesses. The methodology is to find strengths, capitalize on those strengths and find ways to mitigate or avoid dealing with weaknesses. This way they get the most productivity out of your skill sets, and you can be happier at work.
Is there a time in your career that you should address your weaknesses? Absolutely, your career is a constant state of flux, and new weaknesses will appear. Old weaknesses may go away through new processes and systems, or through hard work and training. But remember to give a truthful answer to whomever is interviewing you. They want to know how to make you the most successful if you are offered the position.
Now I know that there are some managers out there that aren’t as interested in self-actualization. And really, do you want to report to those people? I know I don’t. So, don’t be afraid to give an honest response. You might surprise yourself and get a job offer because of your candor.
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