It's a tough one to answer because it almost just asks for a lie. Why would you ever give away your TRUE weaknesses, right? They'll get you disqualified! So professors and coaches tell you to come up with weaknesses you can either turn into a strength, or weaknesses that have nothing to do with job performance. That’s one way, I suppose. That’s been my strategy so far. Well, here's a bit of a different take I have after talking to the marketing manager at King's Hawaiian, responsible for hiring there.
A Look At Interviewers
First of all, let’s just look at hiring managers for a minute. Who are they? Well, at the most basic level, they are people. Not machines. They are people with a personality, with strengths and weaknesses themselves. People who are able to see you, look at you, evaluate your personality, your reactions, your tone of voice. At a little bit more advanced level, they are people who are trained to look at you and evaluate you professionally, as it related to the job you’re applying for and the company. And most importantly, they are people who once were on the other side of the table themselves. They are people who know very well that you do have real weaknesses, no matter what answer you give them.
When they choose to ask the question “What are your weaknesses,” they ask it for a reason – whatever reason that may be. They know the ways answers can go – they are trained to read answers between the lines. They once thought about how to answer it themselves. So how do you answer this question then to satisfy them?
Most Important Is Cultural Fit, Weaknesses or Not
Let me interject another thought here that will make the evaluation of how to answer “What are your weaknesses” a bit more clear. As I was talking to the King’s Hawaiian lady, I asked her what the most important thing was that she looks for in a candidate. She didn’t say their references, their job history, or even their degree or achievements. She said, without having to think twice, “Cultural fit.” So personality is the most important thing you can show during an interview. She said that you can be as qualified as you want, with the most stellar references, work history and track record – if your personality doesn’t fit into the company, you will not be hired.
Hm, let’s think about this for a minute. I am writing this blog mostly for people in or right out of college – but it really applies to everyone across the board that currently has no job they want to keep for the rest of their lives, or that just have no job at all. We are so focused on just getting a job that we often overlook the most important thing: Do I actually fit within this company? Am I actually going to be happy going to work with these people every day? Am I going to dread getting up every morning to be at a place I hate for 8+ hours every day? I understand the need to have a job, and any job will do if you otherwise have to live on the street. Unfortunately, companies don’t look at it that way. Especially right now, they get to choose the perfect candidate, so you might as well go with it and FIND that company that’s a great fit for you.
And then that’s it. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: They have seen your resume, they already think you’re qualified. The interview is mostly not to show them you’re qualified, but to show them that you would fit in. And that’s exactly what NAME was saying. So as long as you show your true personality, you will be happy at work if hired because you know they are going to be like-minded.
How I Got Fired Because My Strength Was Their Weakness
For example, I worked at a non-profit for 3 weeks before I was fired. Why was I fired? Because my personality was more bubbly than I admitted to in the interviews. My work style was much faster than they wanted. My get-it-done attitude was not appreciated. Are these good qualities? I think so! But they fired me! What did they tell me when they fired me? They said: “Your work is great, you have really good ideas… but you’re just not the right personality fit.” That was that, nothing I could do. So I moved on to an agency, where there’s a corporate, young and progressive-minded culture; it is a place where work is fast and projects get done yesterday. And I love it. Absolutely love it and fit in perfectly. My work experience was exactly the same for both jobs – but the culture was quite different. I liked going to work at the non-profit. I LOVE going to work at the agency. And another point you can take away from this: What you list as your strengths - might not be attractive to your interviewer. And what you view as your weakness might constitute the perfect fit! Just think about THAT!
This experience has shifted my thinking from “having to find ANY job” to “really wanting to find the RIGHT job.” Why? Because if you don’t find the RIGHT job, you’re not going to last. It’s that simple. (And if you somehow manage to last, you’ll hate it.) And then you’ll have to keep starting all over again and again. Until you learn that cultural fit truly is the most important thing in a hiring decision. These are the people you will spend more time with than you do with your family – it HAS to be a good fit.
So What's The Best Answer?
With this in mind, let’s get back to my original point. What does this little excursion here have to do with the question “What are your weaknesses?” Well, my point sort of is: It doesn’t really matter. My best guess is that they simply want to see if you’re honest. If your nature is genuine. How do you sound when confronted with an uncomfortable question or situation? Again: They KNOW you’re not perfect. They KNOW you have real weaknesses that put you at a disadvantage. Just like everyone else in the world does, too. The point is: Do you know what they actually are? Because if you know what they are, you can do something about them! THAT’s the positive spin! Don’t come up with a weakness that’s really a strength. “I work too hard. Haha, I guess that’s a good weakness to have!” Bullshit. You’re out! You apparently don’t even know what “weakness” means.
Here’s a weakness: “I know this isn’t good – but I tend to arrive late. It’s not that I don’t organize my time well, I do get everything done… I’ll just stay late. And I’m not hours late, but I somehow have a hard time getting out of the 15-minutes late thing. I AM working on it and I have gotten much better at being on time and I make it a point to pay attention to timing.”
THAT’s a real weakness. Did you just expose yourself? Absolutely. But if that really is your weakness, then you WILL be late for work. Here is what King’s Hawaiian marketing manager said: “If this truly is your weakness, I want you to tell me that. Because maybe the position has flex hours, and then it would be perfect for you. Now, it might disqualify you from a position where you just have to be on time precisely, but then they’d notice you being late soon enough, wouldn’t they?”
And that takes us back full circle to the fit. You want to get a job you will keep. So when they ask you about your weaknesses, they want to make sure they’re not in the way of you doing your job. Because they WILL fire you when it comes out and it’s a real barrier to you doing your job well. If your weakness doesn’t matter or can be worked in (such as you’ll be on flex hours anyway), it solidifies your fit. AND they know you’re honest and you know yourself.
So be truly honest with your weaknesses. If they can see you know yourself, it proves your sound character and your maturity. It also lets them evaluate if you’re a good fit. And if you are a good fit, you will get the job, despite of your weaknesses. Because everyone has weaknesses. EVERYONE does, you don’t have to hide them. You just need to be someone with the “right” weaknesses for the job.
If your weakness is that you can’t lift anything over 10 pounds but you will have to frequently move furniture – guess what. You’re not going to keep that job. So you might as well admit to it from the start. It can only make you stronger. And if it doesn’t make you stronger, you weren’t the right fit anyway.