Monday, 16 May 2011

Interview advice – The 'What are your weaknesses?' question

One interview question that comes up time and again relates to the candidates weaknesses. I recall that a television sitcom made a parody of this situation in which the candidate answered ‘Eczema’. I found this funny but it did make me think about the best way to answer the ‘Weaknesses question’.

I have interviewed candidates who have told me that they have no weaknesses; I concluded that they had a lack of self awareness and an arrogance which will lead to future problems. Some publications advise that you should choose a characteristic which can be seen as both negative and positive such as being ‘a perfectionist’ or ‘a workaholic’. This is better than not identifying any weaknesses but is still clichéd.

We all have strengths and weaknesses and we do not need to hide these in order to be successful. Whether you are looking for your next career move now or not I would advise you to spend some time conducting self analysis.

In order to carry out self analysis I advise to breakdown the technical and soft skills that are required to carry out your profession and grade yourself for each attribute. This exercise will allow you to identify your strengths and help you to market them in the future. It will also highlight your areas of weakness and will allow you to create a personal development plan.

In our professional lives we are constantly analysing our suppliers, competitors, service offering etc. We work at firms who conduct appraisals to assist our professional development but these appraisals come with an agenda to serve the companies needs more than our own. I am suggesting that you use your comprehensive analytical skills to analyse yourself and create a development plan. This development plan is a document that should continually be updated as your career journey develops and your skill requirements change.

If you believe in the value of continuous improvement and self evaluation then take some time to present your ‘self analysis document’ as if you were going to pass it for your current CEO to read. The more pride you take in this document, the more you will buy in to its contents. A high quality document can be taken as a prop to use in interviews when the ‘weaknesses question’ comes up. You can display that you are aware of your weaknesses and show how you are constantly working on improving them. The likelihood is that the client will want to flick through the document, at this point they will also see your strengths, in text form without you having to brag.

The most important thing is to put time aside to maintain this document, re-evaluate your skills and development needs. It will help you improve in the areas that you need most and enhance your confidence and credibility in the interview room.


  1. I would honestly be worried if upon asking the question "what are your weaknesses?" question, the candidate handed me a lenghty document on the subject.

    Has this worked in practice (for you)?

  2. In my experience candidates that take supportive documentation to interviews have been successful and have come across as professional and well prepared.

    The information is more objective if it gives a balanced view. Candidates can of course offer the interviewer the opportunity to see the information and if not of interest it can be declined.

    An interview should be an opportunity for both parties to learn as much about one another as possible. I am curious as to why you would be worried. The document can be a one pager and does not have to be 'lengthly'.

    With regards to my own personal experience, when I last interviewed I took a number of supportive documents with me and had no negative feedback.

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  4. I guess my worried comment mostly comes from the fact I would never ask this question. I don't really believe it has any value as most people would give the stock answers. I would much prefer to spend the time on a quality question.

    However, I have though about this over the last couple of days and I guess if someone is able to truthfully answer the question and has a one pager to support this, it would bode well for the candidate.

    Personally when asked I tend toward the stock answer and will certainly take this advice for the future. While I can control the questions I ask, I cannot control those asked of me.