The secret to answering 'What is your weakness?' to your advantage

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It is possible to talk badly about yourself in a good way.

This is one of the trickiest questions you have to answer in an interview. However, it is also one of the most typical job interview questions that are guaranteed to be asked. But if the entire goal of a job interview is to sell your best points and tell them what a great asset you’ll be, how can it be a good thing to confess your bad characteristics? 

But those interviewing you already know you aren’t perfect – no one is. But they do need to know if you’re able to handle criticism, grow as a professional and learn from your shortcomings.

You’ve probably been told to use a strength in disguise: a personal trait that has a negative connotation but which a company can benefit from in a work environment. These particular qualities can be manipulated to mean that you will do the best to succeed even if it’s to the detriment of your personal wellness.

For example, the most common weaknesses that interviewees use are:

• Perfectionist

• “I always have to do things perfectly. I work at something until it meets my high standard before submitting the final product.”

People-pleaser

“I have a fear of disappointing people. I will rather do anything to make sure they’re happy, rather than do what I want to do.”

• Self-critical

“I am compulsively critical of myself and my actions. As such I need to ensure that I always do the right thing in the right way.”

• Workaholic

“I have no qualms with working late nights. I do not rest until my duties are done. Sometimes I work overtime just to stay ahead of schedule.”

While this approach might work in an environment that treats its employees like machines, modern companies appreciate the value of their employees’ work-life balance a lot more than companies from the industrial revolution. Companies realise that a happy employee is a loyal and dedicated employee (great company culture is a thing). Not only that, but if you do not honestly possess these qualities, an interviewer will see right through you. And no one will hire a liar.

If you really are a perfectionist, a people-pleaser, a workaholic or extremely self-critical, you will need to show:

• how you came to realise it

• how it negatively affected your work

• how you remedied the situation

• what the positive results of the change were and continue to be

The same is true for any flaw that you have. Be honest about your flaw, how you were made aware of its negative impact on your quality of work, and - this is the important part - a real life example of how you have and are actively trying to address and improve it. Practice the following:

It has been brought to my attention by my former boss/lecturer that I tend to (insert negative quality). I have since started (insert proactive change) to improve this bad habit. It’s still a work in progress but because I am aware of it, I have been able to better the situation. 

 If for example you've had difficulties in the past figuring which tasks to do in which order, just fill in the blanks:

It has been brought to my attention by my former line manager that I tend to distinguish between priority and the urgency of tasks poorly. I have since started to ask him when I’m unsure, regularly update my calendar and set alerts for one hour before deadline to improve my to-do list. It’s still a work in progress but because I am aware of it, I have been able to better the situation. 

Be careful

Be sure to choose something that doesn’t impact your ability to complete your duties. Even if you’re working on your bad spelling as a secretary, they won’t take that risk. If you hate public speaking, you won’t get a job as a reporter. If you are clumsy, you cannot work in a profession that requires heavy lifting. No one wants to waste time in a Customer Service Agent that gets angry at rude people. Get the picture?

The secret hiring managers don’t want you to know:

Each interview question should be answered behaviourally, whether it is a behavioural question or not. This means that you should always have an example of an action you took in order to confirm that what you’re saying is true. Even Sanlam confirms that using the S-T-A-R method puts you ahead of the other candidates.

If you need more help with your preparation, Careers24 has the best interview tips for you.