Editor’s Note:  Nancy Swain is Managing Director of the Firm’s Outplacement and Career Coaching Practice.  She is the creator of the ValueProposition©, the new approach for candidates to tell their story in a compelling manner. Although John
and Nancy sometimes disagree on the question of how to handle the question of your weakness in an interview with a recruiter — they do come at this issue from NSwain76-12-0001opposite sides — the point of this blog is to provide contrasting opinions so that candidates can make the decision that is right for them. Nancy’s message today focuses on how candidates should respond to the hiring manager, not necessarily a search firm consultant.  By the way, Nancy’s record of successful outplacement is impressive, very impressive.

Well, this is the dreaded interview question. The point in the interview where the energy in the room can abruptly change to awkward and/or negative if you don’t know how to answer this.

In my counseling/career coaching practice, I have always taken a non-typical view on how to respond. Generally, people are coached to say a weakness and then add that they are aware and are working on improving it. Such as:

  • I tend to work a lot and need to balance my time, or
  • I could improve on delegating to others and am aware of this, or
  • Because I am so dedicated I tend to expect too much from others.

own your weaknessesWhatever comes to your mind that you have used as the answer to this question, here is my take on the answer.

First, let’s make the assumption that people who interview are not usually trained in “how to interview”. This question simply is on the list of things to ask. Since we all have weaknesses, our natural tendency is to simply tell whatever comes to mind because being honest is also important. However, the interviewer can be thinking many things in response to what you say that you may not be aware of. Such as:

  • Works too much, will probably burn out, or
  • Expects too much of others so not a good manager

Any mention of a behavioral weakness conjures up the possibility of leaving a negative impression with the listener. In addition, this question usually comes up toward the end of the interview and therefore can present itself as the final thought of your time together, erasing all the positive responses you may have given along the way.

So, my take on this is to pick a weakness that has nothing to do with the actual function of the position and one that cannot be interpreted by the interviewer. You simply want to answer the question so the energy remains positive and you move on. My coaching answer is to say something that is clearly defined and NOT to repeat: “One of my weaknesses is…

There is no need to confirm a weaknesses by repeating those words. Instead, say, “One of the areas where I could round out my skill set would be to learn more Spanish”. This is of course, if that is not a job requirement.

Another option would be to say: “One of the areas that I could enhance my skill set would be to learn more about Excel”,( or any other technology that is not a required skill set in the job.) The idea is to simply answer the question promptly with an area you could enhance your skill set that cannot be interpreted as a behavioral approach to how you perform.

So, now you need to be thinking about what area you could enhance your existing skill set and find something unrelated to the specific requirements of the specific job. Language skills, enhanced computer skills, public speaking, community involvement, things like this.

Practice saying: “One of the areas where I could improve my skill set would be to… Since I live in Texas, I always say I could learn more Spanish.

Clean cut weakness, no interpretation.

So the next time you are asked, “Tell me about your weakness, or describe a weakness”, you will respond on a non-behavioral level with a smile on your face.

One of the areas that I could enhance my skill set would be……………

Fill in the blank!