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How to tackle the 'Weakness Question'

Chocolate digestives dunked in tea, a pint (or six) of Beer on a Friday night or a bacon sandwich smothered in Heinz tomato ketchup on a Sunday morning? Trust me when I say you're not alone. However that is beside the point - employers will ask you tough questions, and it's up to you to prove yourself worthy of their consideration. Luckily we're going to help you with one of the toughest interview questions - 'the weakness question'. Interviews are an art, if you want more advice on perfecting them, check out our interview advice.

No interviewer will expect brutally frank answers like "I have a below average intelligence" or "I am extremely difficult to work with" or even "I turn up about 20 minutes late to work most days."

However, interviewers will probably expect standard textbook "canned" answers such as "I work too much. All I do is work, work, work and work." Although, your potential employer would not appreciate or believe this typical, cliché, and transparent answer and they will probably think you are either lying or, worse yet, you are telling the truth! 

If this is the case, you define working too much as a weakness, which could suggest you don't really want to work much after all?!

It's not the easiest question to answer, and so we've compiled a brief guide on how to tackle 'the weakness question' below! 

It's Simple: Honesty Really Is The Best Policy

Whatever you do, tell the truth. Whilst there are quite obviously answers that interviewers prefer to hear, you have to make sure it matches up to reality. 

Why do you ask?

First of all, it's not a great idea to get hired for a job that you're not matched for - even if your inner 'during interview mode' self, is able to obtain the job through the art of the blag and your understanding of being able to produce the answers interviewers want to hear.

Secondly, any good interviewer will check your references. If your answers don't match what they've heard from you, it's extremely likely that you'll lose the chance for the job. Assuming you want to land a position where you'll thrive, this should be your goal too - and, unfortunately, honesty is more likely to get you there. Just provide a well-prepared, yet honest, answer and fingers crossed you will have that dream job in no time!

From The Interviewer's Perspective

The usual "I work too hard" and "I'm a complete perfectionist", predictable answers will make the interviewer feel as though they are dealing with a candidate that they can't really trust, and someone who they are going to have a hard time in developing an open, honest, working relationship with. Furthermore, they still won't be aware of any of your genuine weaknesses either.

If you are able to provide more truthful answers the interviewer will have a much greater chance in judging if they can work around your weakness. 

This, therefore, not only helps the employer but consequently helps you. After all, you wouldn't want to work for someone who wouldn't be able to cope with your weakness which could inevitably lead to a dismissal from the organisation. 

Here's our list of other questions an employer may ask you in an interview - should you want to prepare more.

A Sales Role But Your Greatest Weakness Is Selling... ?!

It cannot be stressed enough that the weakness you talk about is not a key element of the position. In simple terms, don't mention a big weakness that could cost you the job!

However, if your greatest weakness is one of the main job roles, you probably shouldn't be applying for the job after all. Your aim is not to lie but merely present yourself and your core assets to the best of your ability. 

We're all composed of strengths and weaknesses, however, this doesn't mean that we tell an interviewer every little detail about what we do wrong within the workplace.

For example, if you are being interviewed for a Managerial role in charge of a 50 man team, it probably isn't best to mention that you have trouble getting along with people seeing as the job role will constantly involve working with others!

So How To Answer: Talk About A Weakness That You're Actively Working To Overcome

Don't sugarcoat or try to make a negative a positive, alternatively, you should select a personal weakness of yours that you have been actively working to overcome. 

Think seriously about your weak points;

  • What have you struggled with in the past? 
  • What have past managers encouraged you to do differently? 
  • If you were able to wave a magic wand over your head and change something about your work skills or persona, what would it be?

The weakness you choose should come out as a problem that is almost solved; it shouldn't be a critical and hopeless trait that cannot be helped. 

An example could be that you've had trouble in the past with planning and prioritisation.  However, demonstrate and clearly explain that you are taking steps to correct this; could be through the use of a pocket planner or simply actively making more lists throughout the day to ensure work tasks are completed. 

DO YOUR RESEARCH - a little research into a company before an interview will likely help you to understand the employer and their needs more, and help you prepare an appropriate answer.

8 Examples Of Possible Answers

Please do not simply 'copy and paste these answers during your interview, but use them as a basic structure for formulating your own creative answers. 

Remember to answer the questions 'behaviourally' with specific examples that show clear evidence that backs up what you are saying about yourself. Always provide information that shows that you want and can become the very best sales employee for the company and that you have specifically prepared yourself to become exactly that. 

Bear in mind, they want to be sold - they are waiting to be sold - so make sure you don't disappoint!

Example 1: The One Who Loves All The Little Details

"I am sometimes much too concerned with details, but I have learnt that delegation solves this aspect and I am now using it often."

Example 2: The One Who Likes To Take Their Time

"One of my weaknesses is that I occasionally have to compromise on time for quality and perfection."

Example 3: The One Who Focuses On Quantity Not Quality

"I feel I am not very detail-oriented. I'm a person that wants to accomplish as much as possible. I realise this negatively affects Quality and therefore I'm trying hard to find a balance between Quality and Quantity."

Example 4: The One Who Likes To Do It Alone

"At times, even when I need help, I try to solve my own problems instead of asking a co-worker who might know the answer. This would save me a greater amount of time and I would be more efficient. I'm working on understanding and knowing when it would be beneficial to ask for help."

Example 5: The Impatient One

"I believe one of my weaknesses is my impatience. Whenever I work in a team and any of the team members do not perform up to my expectation, I tend to get extremely impatient and annoyed. I do understand if they're working hard and if their sales portion is difficult, but there are occasions when a person can't do an assignment due to incompetence and laziness. I'm trying to work on this weakness by explaining things to some people in greater detail and encouraging 'lazier' individuals by reminding them of deadlines."

Example 6: The Not So Organised One

"When I first started in the work world, I found that I wasn't as naturally organised as I wanted to be. Without a system to keep track of everything I was juggling, I had trouble keeping all the balls in the air. So now I make lists religiously and check them every morning and every afternoon to make sure that nothing is slipping through the cracks and all my priorities are correct. I'll never give up my lists because I know that, without them, my natural state is a less organised one."

Example 7: The One Who Hates All The Paperwork

"I really have a dislike for paperwork. I've found it's easier for me to address the issue if I set aside specific times during the day to fill out forms. If I break it up into small portions, it's not so bad to deal with."

Example 8:  The One Who Likes The Bigger Picture

"I'm really great with the 'big picture' and have learned to surround myself with people stronger at dealing with detail work than I am, as I quite often struggle in this area."

Practice Makes Perfect (It really does!)

Whilst the "weaknesses" question often brings that horrible lump in your throat try to be enthusiastic and confident when responding to probably the most negative question that you can (and probably will) be asked. Don't rush your answers (this won't make your weakness look any better) and don't ramble on and one and one either! 

Try to, um, avoid, err, like, using, unnecessary words, yeah? And um, you know, don't repeat yourself, or, like, actually, use, annoying, kind-a-like, phrases, you know what I mean?

Look At The Job Description For Help

To help figure out what an employer is looking for always take a good look at the job description. This will give you tips as to the qualities that an employer is looking for. 

You can then work out the skills and qualities that are vital to that role to ensure that one of your main weaknesses doesn't affect being able to perform the duties and tasks necessary.

To Conclude

Never say you are a "workaholic" or a "perfectionist " because overall it just sounds negative.

Try to convert negative biased qualities into positive ones. Remember every one of us has our own unique mix of strengths and weaknesses.

Although it may be that you will indeed be asked to discuss your weak points during your sales interview, all successful applicants are able to turn these moments around and move into a more positive conversation. However, do not be consumed by your weaknesses. Learn what exactly it is that you do well, what it is that you need to improve upon and then build your career plan on your knowledge of both.

Follow this advice and you'll be fine, and if you've been made an offer you may want to check our guide on how to make a great first impression on the first day of your new job.

Rob Scott, Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment, Author Photo

About the author

Rob Scott

Rob is the Managing Director of Aaron Wallis Sales Recruitment, a national recruitment agency specialising in sourcing sales and marketing staff for businesses across a broad range of commercial sectors. Before setting up Aaron Wallis, Rob spent ten years at a specialist Sales and Marketing recruitment division of a £0.5BN recruitment group, leaving in 2007 as Marketing & Sales Director to establish Aaron Wallis.
With over 24 years of experience in sales recruitment, Rob is a History graduate with an MBA (Merit) and a PgCert in Management Practice.  In 2007, 2009 and 2013 Rob conducted the most extensive surveys of sales professionals in the UK and is a trusted authority in the sales industry. From guiding employers through the recruitment process to helping candidates find their dream job, Rob's advice has been quoted in leading publications such as Business Insider and The Independent, as well as OnRec, which host The Online Recruitment Awards every year.

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