In last week’s First 5 post, we discussed tips for how to approach and think about the interview question, “What would you say is your biggest weakness?” This week, we’ll discuss some “don’ts” and conclude with final words of advice.
While there is certainly no one right answer, there are certain responses interviewees should take care to avoid. Here are some points of caution:
1. Don’t avoid answering the question. “I don’t really have any weaknesses” or “I can’t think of any weaknesses” demonstrates a lack of self-awareness and can come off as arrogant. It might also raise questions for the interviewer about what you are hiding (we all have weaknesses, after all). In the same vein, keep your answer relevant and professional. Citing a weakness for chocolate or saying that you “watch too much Netflix” dodges the question and doesn’t help your interviewer ascertain anything about how you will function as an employee.
2. Be aware of the job requirements and fully research the role. Avoid citing a weakness that is one of the position’s required skills, main responsibilities or desired qualities. If you’re vying for a sales position, you probably don’t want to say that you’re very reserved or get nervous when meeting new people. If the organization has an open, highly collaborative office space, it probably isn’t the best idea to say that you get easily distracted and have a hard time focusing on work in bustling environments. You don’t want to provide an answer that will cause the hiring manager to question your qualifications or your ability to perform the job.
3. Don’t describe a weakness that reflects negatively on your personality or attitude. In general, try to keep your weakness to a particular skill or talent that you can tangibly address or improve. Telling your interviewer that you are chronically late, short-tempered, not a team player or unmotivated reflects poorly on you as a person and won’t be seen as readily “fixable.”
4. Don’t blame other people. Take responsibility and own your personal shortcomings. Don’t say something along the lines of “I get impatient and frustrated when other people aren’t efficient with their work or don’t pull their weight.” Such answers push negative traits onto other people instead of identifying something about yourself.
5. Avoid overused, generic and clichéd answers. You don’t want to answer with a “weakness” that is transparently obvious as a positive trait (e.g. being a perfectionist). If you can be specific and provide details, your response will demonstrate that you’ve thought carefully about your answer.
For example, instead of saying, “I’m too much of a perfectionist,” consider the following: “I am extremely detail-oriented, to the point where it is sometimes challenging for me to work efficiently. At work, I often found myself spending more time than necessary on tasks because I would get so caught up in making sure everything was perfect. I started creating a to-do list with strict deadlines and time limits for each project. I would do as much as I could, force myself to move on to the next task, and only return to previous tasks later on. Over the past few months, this strategy has helped me become more confident in my decisions, improved my ability to work on multiple projects at once and made me more productive overall.”
Instead of saying “I’m a workaholic,” try this: “I tend to take on too much at once. I get really enthusiastic about new projects and try to get involved with everything, but I’m figuring out my limits and learning how to say no. I started setting up weekly check-in meetings with my supervisor to go over our team’s workload. Learning how to delegate and divide tasks with my coworkers has helped me learn how to use my time and energy more effectively, ensuring that I’m always producing high-quality work and don’t get spread too thin.”
Although practicing and preparing beforehand is important, remember that your answer also shouldn’t feel overly scripted. Your interviewer won’t be expecting a perfect answer, and being able to candidly admit flaws and past failures is what makes us human.
Overall, try to end on a positive note. Focus on solutions, a lesson you learned or an improvement you made. More so than the specific weakness you name, what’s most important is that you can show a sincere, ongoing effort to improve.
For more reading about millennials in public service, check out this weekly GovLoop series, First 5: Advice from millennial to millennial.