Paul Gallagher is director – professional services for the finance & accountancy, HR and legal divisions at Kelly Services Hong Kong.
Everyone has weaknesses so know how to talk about yours before job interviews
I’m always asked about my “biggest weakness” in interviews and never seem to answer successfully. It seems obvious to me that an honest answer will always leave a bad impression, and so I often avoid the question altogether and joke that I am a very bad tennis player. This doesn’t always amuse the interviewer. How can I best answer this question? I don’t want to be remembered as just another person who says “I’m sometimes too much of a perfectionist.”
This famous interview question has been troubling candidates for decades. I understand how nerve-wracking it can be when you are trying your best to sell yourself in an interview, and the interviewers seem to focus on your flaws. Most of us will face similar questions throughout our career, so it is important to know how to tackle them.
Why do interviewers ask this dreaded question? Generally, they are trying to get past your pleasant interview persona and gain a sense of your genuine character. Even if you don’t answer truthfully, your answer will reveal aspects of your personality.
If you evade the question, or tell an obvious lie, the interviewer will suspect that you’ve got weaknesses that you would rather not mention, or that perhaps you lack self-awareness.
In addition, your lie or exaggeration may be accompanied by uncomfortable body language, further conveying a dishonest demeanour.
There are many strategies for responding to such tricky interview questions. Broadly speaking, I would advise you to reveal a genuine weakness that is minor and acceptable – in terms of the job in question – and then explain how you are addressing the issue.
For example, it’s not wise to say you dislike working with people if you’re going for a sales position. You would also leave a negative impression if you were applying for an accounting job and mentioned that you hated working with numbers.
Instead, the sales candidate could say that he or she needed to improve on selling to certain customers, or certain products, thereby referring to a more harmless weakness.
The accounting applicant could reveal an equally downplayed weakness and explain that, given practice and preparation, he or she was confident in an ability to master and appropriate the necessary skills.
If possible, let the interviewer know that you are attending relevant training to address the said weakness. There is no need to go into further detail, as long as the point is well made.
Everyone has weaknesses and the interviewer knows this. The hiring team merely want to see how you handle the question and demonstrate self-worth when addressing your weak points. Generally, interviewers know that great candidates are honest, and are always looking for ways to learn and grow.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Everyone has weakness so know how to talk about yours .