What are my weaknesses?
May 12, 2005 9:17 AM   Subscribe

I'm attending a job interview next week. What do I say when they ask me the inevitable question 'what are your weaknesses'?

I've been working there for six months, and it's a well known fact that they always ask this question. I'm tempted to say 'I can't drink like I used to' but it probably won't help my cause! Any serious suggestions please?
posted by kenchie to Work & Money (36 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Tell em the truth: I always say "I'm always late in the mornings, but I make up the time and it doesn't affect the amount of work I do, or my punctuality regards deadlines. I just sleep in a lot".

Then, when they hire me, they can't say there weren't warned when I show up late. Use it to your advantage
posted by bonaldi at 9:21 AM on May 12, 2005

Tell them your biggest weakness is coming up with personal weaknesses.
posted by nitsuj at 9:26 AM on May 12, 2005 [1 favorite]


(Be honest, but spin it. You're not disorganized; you're a multi-tasker.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:27 AM on May 12, 2005

Pick a quality that's not really bad in itself, but something that you take too far. Or a quality that's bad in some situations, but good in others.

My response to this question is, "I'm a perfectionist. I sometimes spend too much time on a project making sure everything is exactly right, and have difficulty judging when to stop because, even though it's not perfect, it's good enough." Which is true in my case.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:28 AM on May 12, 2005

It all depends. What are your weaknesses? If you can't think of any, maybe it's an inability to assess your own performance.
posted by Doohickie at 9:28 AM on May 12, 2005

I say that I tend to be a perfectionist, which has always gone over well.
posted by gokart4xmas at 9:29 AM on May 12, 2005

The advice I've seen or heard around the traps is to tell the truth (leaving aside the bodies in the freezer etc) but present these features as 'strengths'. By that I mean, tell them that you are not particularly good at answering the telephone in a proper manner or whatever, but that you recognized it and you've been concentrating your attention on developing a better speaking voice and uniform answering line, which you think has greatly improved but that you admit you still need to remember to give attention to so that you maintain the quality. In this way, if you do it with a few so-called weaknesses, you demonstrate that you can both self appraise and also institute a remedy.
As for suggestions as to what your weaknesses might actually be, I am not knowing.
posted by peacay at 9:30 AM on May 12, 2005

Oops, too busy spell checking my answer twice to see DA's post.
posted by gokart4xmas at 9:30 AM on May 12, 2005

The perfectionist line is a bit cliche at this point, although I did use it at my last interview about 8 years ago, and I did get the job. I'm about to start making the rounds again, and my plan is to be honest, rattle off a few vulnerabilities, and discuss the remedies I've been using to improve on those fronts.
posted by Manjusri at 9:36 AM on May 12, 2005

I definitely wouldn't go with something as forthright as bonaldi is suggesting. My tried & true response is: "My coworkers might characterize me as impatient. I'm excited by new projects, so I like to work very hard so I can see new results quickly. If I have team members who are less enthusiastic or motivated, I try to focus on ways to take an additional responsibility or to find ways to get team members similarly excited about the project."

It's a little smarmy, sure, but job interviews tend to be smarmy situations. No one tells the whole truth in interviews; you have to spin your story. Whatever you say, make sure it's grounded in reality... and expect follow-up questions like, "What have you done to correct this weakness?" They ask the weakness question not to try to trap you into saying something awful, but to ascertain your willingness to better yourself. Mention something general and fixable, and then talk about what you've learned from working on fixing this weakness.

Good luck!
posted by hamster at 9:37 AM on May 12, 2005

Tell 'em you've got a weakness for stuffed animals. :-)
posted by five fresh fish at 9:39 AM on May 12, 2005

Oh...an add-on:
Don't just say you've recognized and are concentrating on a perceived flaw -- you need to tell them exactly what steps you've taken or will take.
For instance, with the phone thing -- you've written down next to the phone the things you ought to say and you've also practiced them with your significant other etc.
Or if it's something technical -- that you've been reading up on it on the train ride home or the like ----- need to show how you are overcoming them.
posted by peacay at 9:40 AM on May 12, 2005

Similar AskMe Question. (Gotta use Yahoo; Google just doesn't find stuff on AskMefi)
posted by klarck at 9:43 AM on May 12, 2005

I think the last time we had this discussion, someone suggested starting with a laugh line like: "Chemistry." Then maybe slipping in something that they might actually care about, but will have already been won over with charm.
posted by drezdn at 9:45 AM on May 12, 2005

When I was doing the milkround, I was curious so I quizzed the HR of various investment banks (generally incompetent, but eh) and management consultancies on this question. General response: say anything but that you're a perfectionist ^_^ IT/media HR at the companies I previously worked for said say something that isn't really a weakness but turn it around and have a short speech prepared.

I personally said my lack of fashion sense. Can dress smart, but not sharp, alas..
posted by Mossy at 9:48 AM on May 12, 2005

Try to turn something bad into something good, so instead of just saying 'I spend half the working day commenting on stupid stories on the internet', point out that you are enthusiastic about looking for intersting talking points to share with your co-workers.
Alternatively suggest that you sometimes get carried away when kissing arse and actually lick some balls too.
posted by biffa at 9:51 AM on May 12, 2005

Most professional recruiters don't actually care what it is you answer to this, as long as it's not "I'm a perfectionist". They're just testing to see if you're prepared for the interview, as you most certainly know this question is coming.

The answer doesn't matter, the fact that you have a prepared answer does.
posted by Jairus at 9:52 AM on May 12, 2005

I agree with the people that said to say how you are taking steps to overcome your weakness. In my last interview, I was able to answer this question with all honesty: I am incredibly forgetful. The upside of this is that I carry a planner with me all the time, and take notes in all meetings, especially informal chats. It's made me a lot more organized.
posted by gaspode at 10:04 AM on May 12, 2005

At my last interview I said I was very messy and that no one other than me understood my filing system. My desk would always look like random papers had been scattered everywhere, and only I would know exactly where everything was. Thankfully the job doesn't involve filing for anyone but myself, and they hired me.

The whole "I'm a perfectionist" thing would get blown out of the water the second they saw the disaster that is my desk.
posted by Kellydamnit at 10:13 AM on May 12, 2005

The problem with this question is it tells you bugger all about the interviewee but it keeps being asked because, well, everyone gets asked it in interviews.

I used to trot out the perfectionist line, but it wasn't until I'd interviewed people I realised what a shit answer it is.

If you say you're a perfectionist then you sound like an arsehole. If you're lucky then every other person interviewed will also have claimed to be a perfectionist in which case you'll be in good company (or should that be perfect company). If, however, you come out with something honest yet understandable then you're more likely to get the interviewers on your side.

Try to aim for something fairly universal and don't be too specific. Expect the follow up question to be something like "And what have you done to get over this weakness?" so you should be able to provide an example of something you've done to improve matters. For example, I hate paperwork and I tend to be quite bad at sorting out non-urgent forms (bureaucracy to the rest of us). This is OK because every boss I've had hates paperwork too (and who'd want to work for a boss who loves paperwork). As an example of how I've got around this I can provide examples of things I've done to reduce the need of paperwork in the departments I've worked in. I'm sure you can come up with a answer that better suits you.
posted by dodgygeezer at 10:15 AM on May 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

Um Kenchie....you say you're going for a job interview ---- then you say you've been working there 6 months. Um? Same company or do you mean you've been working in another similar job for 6 months or.. ??
posted by peacay at 10:18 AM on May 12, 2005

I kind of read it like it was a review rather than a new job. Oops Although similar stuff applies as everyone is saying.
posted by peacay at 10:20 AM on May 12, 2005

Sheesh, sorry I brought up the whole "perfectionist" thing. I meant it as one possible example of the general principle I was recommending, which was not that you should simply claim you were a perfectionist whether you were or not.

If you're lucky then every other person interviewed will also have claimed to be a perfectionist in which case you'll be in good company

It seems to me a good interviewer would follow up with "could you give me an example?" to weed out the actual perfectionists from those who were saying they were because they thought it was the "right" answer. Or, if you're worried the interviewer isn't a good one, offer an example of your own straight out.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:30 AM on May 12, 2005

You need to make it sound like something which - viewed in the right light - could also imply a strength, or like something which is a "weakness" only in that it is overdoing a strength.

I usually say that I tend to be impatient with obstructions and bureacracy (implication: I'm a no-nonsense, can-do sort of guy), and that this can lead me to be seen as somewhat intolerant (implication: of fools and foolishness). That sort of bullshit, you know.
posted by Decani at 10:35 AM on May 12, 2005

I said: My weaknesses are mostly outside of my work domain. I don't exercise as much as I used to. I don't phone my grandparents as often as I'd like. I buy my lunch instead of making it. Inside of the work domain, it's minor things such as if I don't write things down I sometimes forget them or sometimes I stare at a problem too long instead of getting someone's fresh point of view. I recognize these weaknesses and I deal with them.

It worked. But then again I was being honest.
posted by furtive at 10:41 AM on May 12, 2005 [2 favorites]

P.S. This positive point of view stuff is bull crap. Ideally they are asking you this because they plan on hiring you and want to know what to look out for, so that they can help you do your job better. That's why they are managers.
posted by furtive at 10:43 AM on May 12, 2005

I was asked this yesterday. I told them that at my current job, I'm not being challenged much, and I'm bored. They bought it.
posted by adampsyche at 11:40 AM on May 12, 2005

I hate this question so much. I try to answer it as truthfully as possible, yet still try to spin it as a potential "good thing" - I often say something like "I'm not good at taking blind orders - I need to know why I'm doing everything I'm asked to do for my job" - I tend to play it up like I like to get really interested in whatever I'm doing - become an expert at it - I'll also tell a story about a bad experience I had with a past boss who acted like a dictator and never let me know why I was doing the things I was doing - Most bosses, in my experience, don't seem to like to consider themselves to be slave-drivers who just bark out orders - so this answer kind of appeals to them in that light - also, I guess I hope it makes it seem like I'm kind of saying 'I'm a perfectionist' but in a more subtle way...
posted by soplerfo at 11:50 AM on May 12, 2005

I hate this question so much.

Me too. And to be honest, isn't it a little personal? I mean why should I tell some total stranger what my "weaknesses" are. Obviously, everyone has things that they'd like to work on, or don't like about themselves. But arn't those things kind of private? I mean, "tell us what you like the least about yourself, just so that I can check off a checkmark on my 'interviewing for dummies' guide"

Good interviewers don't even ask these kinds of questions.

Anyway, my biggest weakness is that I'm lazy. Always have been and I put in the bare minimum amout of work. It's always worked for me because I'm really smart, and I've never had to do anything to "overcome" it.
posted by delmoi at 12:49 PM on May 12, 2005

P.S. This positive point of view stuff is bull crap. Ideally they are asking you this because they plan on hiring you and want to know what to look out for, so that they can help you do your job better. That's why they are managers.

Well, why not ask after you've been hired, so that they can get an honest answer.
posted by delmoi at 12:49 PM on May 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks for all the answers everyone. For the record Pecay, I've been temping there for six months and am applying for a permanent position.
posted by kenchie at 2:32 PM on May 12, 2005

A lot of interview questions are code for "please tell me something bad about yourself so I'll have a reason not to hire you." Your objective in the interview is to decline this invitation, while still being responsive to the question.

So, as others have noted above, you want to describe a "weakness" that from the employer's perspective is actually a strength (e.g., "I care just so darn much about doing a good job that I work late every night and neglect my family"), or an actual but minor weakness that reveals a greater strength (e.g., "I sometimes get impatient with long staff meetings and mutter to myself about what a waste of time they are. But then I remind myself that they really are important, and they help to build teams and maintain morale and keep lines of communication open, and that even if it sometimes doesn't seem like it, they really do matter.").
posted by bac at 2:38 PM on May 12, 2005

Simply say "icecream", which answers the question and shows you have a sense of humour. This can be a great icebreaker and you can then made some off-hand comment, which they will never remember, but they will remember you saying you have a weakness for icecream. Sometimes being remembered at all is just as important as being remembered well, especially if there are a lot of applicants.
posted by dg at 3:03 PM on May 12, 2005

I'm a perfectionist If I'm ever the boss, that one is going to be a dealbreaker.

And I wouldn't say "Icecream!" unless you immediately followed it with "No, in all seriousness....[insert legitimate answer here]."

Why not try answering the question by telling a story about something you did that challenged you - e.g., confronting someone about a bad idea, admitting that you were in over your head on a project, or something else that put you outside your comfort zone - and then tell them how you worked around it to solve the problem.

"One time, early on in my job, my boss suggested something that I thought was a terrible mistake. I was too afraid to bring it to his attention until the day before the Big Meeting. When I did confront him about it, he was grateful that I had spotted the mistake in his model, but he said I should have spoken up sooner. So I guess you could say one weakness is that I can be a bit timid in situations where lines of reporting aren't clearly defined."

Something like that is vastly superior to a see-through answer like, "I'm a perfectionist."
posted by nyterrant at 3:57 PM on May 12, 2005

Best answer: My answer is that if I'm not motivated, I don't work nearly as hard. I haven't had a failure with it yet, maybe because everyone likes to think of themselves as a great motivator.
posted by breath at 5:10 PM on May 12, 2005 [1 favorite]

I usually say something along the lines of "I expect my coworkers to put in as much work as I do and I can sometimes be disappointed when others don't make the effort"

Pass the weakness onto others and convince them you will be a benefit and kick people into shape with your amazing protestant work ethic...
posted by longbaugh at 1:58 AM on May 13, 2005

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