That Question. How to Answer "What are your weaknesses?"

We've all been there.

In a job interview someone asks, "Tell me about your strengths". It's easy for most of us to answer something on this one.

Now, "tell me about your weaknesses". Hmmm, tricky. Just how honest do you get? I bet most people are less than honest.

If you say, "I don't have any", that's clearly a weakness in itself. You're clearly not self-aware.

As an interviewer, the purpose of these questions is to assess self-awareness. Self-awareness leads to a willingness to change and adapt, to be sensitive to others and therefore helps when leading or working with a team.

I've interviewed hundreds of people over the years.

I've learned to ask the question differently. After I've asked about strengths I follow up with, "Those are useful personality traits. In what situations do you find those personality traits to be a disadvantage?"

This allows the candidate to talk openly about context. Personality traits usually have a positive side and a negative side. We talk about heads but we forget that there's a tail on the other side of the coin. Whether it's the heads or tails that we need to look at depends on the way the coin is flipped.

Let's look at a simple example.

I took a strengths survey a few years ago. One of my strengths emerged as being a "Maximiser".

The description of this strength included the following; "Taking something from below average to slightly above average takes a great deal of effort and in your opinion is not very rewarding. Transforming something strong into something superb takes just as much effort but is much more thrilling"

In the right job, in the right situation, that indeed is a strength. Equally, in certain situations, it's a weakness. I can spend far too long on something that could have been done in half the time for the same effectiveness.

In many ways our strength ARE our weaknesses. It's the context that matters.

You are great at being decisive and taking control? Great in a crisis, bad if results are best achieved through collaboration.

This is a Yin-Yang view of personality.

So, if you are asked in interview, "what are your weaknesses", simply have ready examples of situations of where your strengths are not helpful to the tasks at hand.

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