BiblioPile Press: When your career matters.

It’s a Mistake not to Admit Mistakes
By Terry Pile

Why do employers ask about deficiencies and what kinds of answers are they looking for?  Most interviewers are more interested in your response than knowing your actual weakness.  Your answer can indicate great deal about your personality. 

“I am looking for introspection in an individual,” said Human Resources manager Erin W. at Colewell Banker Bain Associates.  “I also want to see how well the candidate has prepared for this question. They should know it is coming.”   

Judi H., senior account manager at Premera believes, “Being able to discuss your weaknesses also indicates an ability to handle constructive criticism without becoming defensive.  It shows a willingness to grow personally and professionally. “

Here are strategies to consider when preparing your answer to the “weakness” question.

Describe new skills
Identify new skills you are learning or would like to learn. They should improve your professional development and enhance your value to the company.  For example, if you are applying for a sales position your response might be, “Although most people consider me to be a good communicator one-on-one, I feel I can be better presenting before large groups.  I have started attending Toastmasters and already noticed improvements in my ability to communicate before an audience.”

Erin W. offers another twist on the “new skills” strategy.  “I believe it is acceptable for job candidates to want to learn various facets of the company they are interviewing for.  They wouldn’t be expected to know everything about the business.”  An example might be a marketing professional who wants to learn more about the finance department in an effort to make more budget conscious decisions.

Offer a weakness that may be perceived as a strength
“I am not looking for interviewees to berate themselves,“ said Judi H.  “The kind of answer that would stand out would be a weakness an employee feels he/she needs to work on which the interviewer might consider a strength.”  An example, “I tend to be a quick study and realize I need to develop more patience.  Not everyone works at the same speed as I do.  I should do more mentoring of those coworkers who are a little too deliberate.”

Have an action plan
Craig N., an Employee Assistance Account Executive at First Choice Health Plan, is not impressed when a job candidate claims to have no weaknesses.  He believes people should be honest about their weaknesses, with discretion, and a have a plan for overcoming them.  An example of having a plan is, “I believe all correspondence should be professional and error-free.  I am not the greatest speller in the world, but I always use spell check and have my dictionary handy.  I ask one other person to proof my work if it is an important document.  This is something everyone should do since proofing your own work is very difficult.”

Prepare examples in advance
Some interviewers choose not to ask the “weakness question” directly but to couch it in terms of a past experience.  “I don’t ask about weaknesses specifically,” said Maribeth C., nurse recruiter at Overlake Hospital.  “I like behavioral-based questions that help me learn more about how the candidate handles a specific situation.” Behavioral questions that draw out deficiencies are, “Tell about the biggest mistake you made in your career and what you learned from it,” or “Give an example when you disagreed with your boss or coworker and how you handled it.”

By thinking about and practicing your work stories in advance, you’ll be well prepared to handle behavioral questions.  Be sure to have examples dealing with conflict, stressful situations, achievements, initiative, teamwork and leadership.

Remember, most interviewers want you to succeed in an interview.  They are impressed by confidence despite your weaknesses.  As Maribeth C. put it so succinctly, “No whining about past experiences!  I need to know that you have your eyes on the road ahead and not looking in your rearview mirror.”