Answering the Question- What is your Greatest Weakness?

One of the questions that tends to throw candidates off at interviews is when they are asked about their biggest weakness. You can look the part, sound the part, and be absolutely flying, but when it comes to this particular question there is a tendency for nerves and panic to set in. I have also spoken to many people who are preparing and rehearsing for an interview, and this is always the one they get stuck on.

There is nothing wrong with a weakness, everybody has them. What you need to do in a job interview however, is find ways to answer this and still showcase yourself as an outstanding candidate.

One of the ways of course is to turn a weakness into a strength. There are many characteristics which to some people may seem like a weakness, but you can actually sell as a strength to the interviewer. For example, if you were to tell me you’re a stickler for detail or a bit of a perfectionist, I personally would love that, because those are the type of people I want in my business. Note that you don’t want to seem like a blagger, or that you are deliberately trying to mislead the interviewer, however your aim has to be to focus on the positive as much as possible. Provide examples that illustrate this characteristic in yourself. It's not enough to say you're a perfectionist - you must show how.

Another method is to talk about what you have improved. Perhaps six months ago there was a certain area where you weren't as good as you wanted to be, so you went on a training course. This shows you have been proactive, something every employer values. They want people that aren't complacent and are looking to improve their personal skill set, so ensure you fit the bill.

Be very careful with the skills you mention though. What you don’t want is for those weaknesses to be essential for the job you are applying for. Even if it’s something you have now improved, by telling the interviewer you were weak in that department not too long ago, you are damaging your chances. Focus on skills that won’t be as central to the role and company.

A good example is if you are applying for a role in a particularly fast paced environment. If you want to speak about a weakness, make sure you first emphasize how much you relish working under pressure, with the caveat that at times you struggle with jobs that don’t stretch and challenge you. Again, what you are actually doing here is drawing attention to how good you would be working in that particular business.

Bear in mind that many interviewers want to test your ability to cope under pressure, so if you start stuttering when they ask about your weakness, you are not helping yourself at all.

Something else you absolutely want to avoid is not answering the question. Saying things like ‘I can’t think of any weaknesses’ indicates that you may not be self-reflective and aware of your behavior. If you know what you need to work on you will continue to grow and become the best - if you're not aware of your weaknesses, this may indicate that you're not ready to develop professionally.

Remember that every candidate should prepare thoroughly for an interview, so if you don’t have an answer to this particular question, it tells me you didn’t even practice it beforehand. I will then be wondering how much you really want this job.

Whenever I am making an investment or hiring someone, I want to know all the reasons why I shouldn’t do it. A lot of people only focus on what could go right, and what is so good about that particular business or person. But once I know this, I like to know about all the potential negatives, so I can decide whether it is worth the risk.

When I started Hamilton Bradshaw, I knew what the upsides and benefits could be. But I then went around the market asking every specialist the question ‘what could go wrong?’ This helped me make my mind up about whether I should proceed, and the same applies to interviewers. The mere fact that they have called you in is a sign they like you. Now they are just working out how good you really are.