I’m on my first vacation since before the pandemic! With this break, I've had a moment to reflect on what I’ve been spending a lot of time on in the last month or so — interviewing.
I’ve interviewed over 25 candidates in the last month and have found myself wanting to give one very specific and important piece of advice surrounding one question. This common interview question that has many different variations is, “What are your weaknesses?” For whatever reason, this seems to be the frequent question that trips up about 90% of candidates.
A lot of this can be because candidates are wondering, are employers asking this question because we’re trying to trip you up? Or are we secretly asking what your strengths are? (P.S. Please don’t do that!)
Why we ask about your weaknesses
Personally, there are two purposes for asking this question. First, do you think about and plan for your own improvement and development over time in a proactive manner? Second, can you demonstrate humility and simultaneously be honest with areas you still have wood to chop?
Being self-aware of your weaknesses allows you to develop into a well-rounded professional over time. No one is perfect. Leaning into your weaknesses allows you to look at yourself and identify what is under your control, which will lead you towards getting better 1% every day, which over time will have a tremendous impact on your professional growth. We often see candidates trying to hide what they’re not strong at because they think the interviewer will hold that against them. Let’s look at an example.
If you’re applying for a sales role and your greatest weakness is that you feel uncomfortable communicating with other people, you may not get that role. But ask yourself, is this role really a good fit for you? Probably not.
The most common answer from candidates
Candidates tend to hide their weaknesses, and they view the question as an opportunity to showcase their strengths. The most common answer over the last month has been “I tend to take on too much” or “I work too hard.” As an interviewer, this is incredibly frustrating because it’s a lost opportunity to show me that you have the self-awareness and humility to say that you are still a work in progress. Even professionals that have “made it” like Jeff Bezos and Warren Buffet carve out MORE time to work on their areas of improvement, not less. (check out CNBC’s interview with Buffet)
So as I get back to my vacation, think about what you genuinely want to work on about yourself. What are some areas for improvement that you can create a plan for today instead of just New Year's? Identify those weaknesses as OPPORTUNITIES to improve and grow. Creating and maintaining a positive mindset and an action plan will help you go miles in your next interview.