Answering: What are your weaknesses?

People sometimes worry about this interview question where you’re asked what your weaknesses are. If you read the interview advice books, half of them will tell you to make something up that’s untrue but can be turned into a strength, like “I’m a perfectionist, which makes it hard for me to finish things, but I’m also a workaholic so I’ll be here 90 hours a week to make sure I do”. I think that’s a load of rubbish. (The other half of the interview advice books are even less useful.)

I think this is a BS question, but I don’t want to give a complete BS answer, so I try to answer the question straight up.

This is a question where people usually come up with faux weaknesses that they can turn into strengths for you, like I could say that I’m an obsessive, perfectionist, workaholic with a habit of arriving at work too early.

Well, actually I’m not a perfectionist or workaholic. Not sure about obsessive.

One weakness I do have is that I tend to be bluntly honest and sometimes that offends people. On the other hand, oftentimes people really appreciate the honest approach and lack of bull.

That’s my answer – your mileage may vary. Let me know if you think it’s dumb or brilliant, or somewhere in between, via the comments box below.

4 Responses

  1. JZ
    JZ at |

    I don’t necessarily agree with your advice. In my experience, when I come to a performance review, my reviewer has already asked my peers and direct reports about what they feel are my “opportunities” (corporate speak for weaknesses). Now, as a reviewer, I look for candidates who do the same.

    Right now, it’s an emerging practice for reviews to ask a candiate’s boss or direct reports about his/her weaknesses. So, what happens if you show up to your performance interview and say one thing, but your review says, “Well, from my observation (or your boss/direct reports tell me), one of your opportunties is….”

    For me, the best way to approach the weakness question is to find from your boss, direct reports, and peers and ask them what your STRENGTHS are and what they think your WEAKNESSES are as well. Get honest feedback. Hopefully, they you should reciprocate because you all we be reviewed sometime in your career. With a list of 2-3 strengths and 2-3 weaknesses, you then need to identify how your STRENGTHS compensate for your WEAKNESSES.

    Now I’m in the position where I review dozens of managers quarterly (not just annual review in my company). I know when someone is giving me the BS they think I want to hear, but their raise, promotion, etc. is hindered by their answers. When I find somone who is able to say, “My weakness is …, but I am using my strengths in …. to compensate for them,” I am able to ask follow up questions and understand what this person’s strengths are and how they are using them to compensate for their weaknesses. In my opinion, that is the whole point of the questions — identify your weaknesses and state how your strengths are compensating for them.

    I know this is my preference, and your reviewers may not have the same opinion; however, if you want really good published advice, I highly recommend “Soaring on Your Strengths” by Robin Ryan and “NOW: Discover your Strengths” by Marcus Buckingham.

  2. amd
    amd at |

    Hi JZ.

    I guess there are a couple of viewpoints :)

    First off, my comment was meant only in relationship to interviews, not ongoing performance reviews (which I also think are useless, but for other reasons).

    I think the “what are your weaknesses” question in an interview situation is one of those bullsh!tty questions that doesn’t really add value to the interview – people look for ways to dodge it, or get screwed if they answer truthfully. So my attitude is to dodge it but try to be open and honest about the way I’m dodging it.

    I guess it depends on the tone of the interview and who’s doing the questioning. If it’s a “personnel jockey” then it’s a weasel question. If it’s the hiring manager doing the asking it’s worthwhile either considering whether it’s a genuine question deserving of the best answer you can give, or if the hiring manager is not the kind of person you want to work for.

    Btw the reason I think performance reviews are bull is that they are generally used to justify not giving someone a pay raise, rather than be used to review the individuals performance honestly. They certainly have the potential to be useful, but sadly they’re rarely used that way.

    Thanks for the comment!

  3. mazin
    mazin at |

    talking about something is unqie when you talk about the weaknsses
    Can you give some of the weaknesses?

  4. MaGuy
    MaGuy at |

    1) How would you describe your sklils as a team player?2) How will you deal with difficult doctors?3) How will you deal with difficult patients and/or their families?4) How will you handle unexpected circumstances, such as being short staffed and having to perform a treatment you have not done before?

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