In one of the recent 2016 Republican presidential candidate debates, the candidates were asked, “What do you consider your greatest weakness?” Late-night host Stephen Colbert quipped that it was the one question that “no one in human history” has ever answered honestly. Presidential debates aside, nearly anyone who has had a job interview has faced this same question — and while you may want to simply say what you think the interviewer wants to hear, it’s worth thinking carefully about your response.
- Do some honest introspection. It’s not always easy to spot our own weaknesses and strengths, yet we know, fundamentally, what we’re good at and what we’re not. If you look back on your career and your education, what have former employers and teachers said about you? Where have they said you need improvement, and where have you done well? Don’t count out trusted colleagues and friends for input; they can sometimes see points about you that you can’t see yourself. Based on this feedback, it may be as simple as making a list of your ‘pro’ and ‘con’ features as an employee and identify where and how you can make improvements.
- Look at your weaknesses as opportunities. An interviewer will often ask about your weaknesses in order to learn how you deal with them. Don’t try the tired “My weakness is that I care too much.” route. However, if you really do focus too much on getting a project absolutely correct, you can look at this as a chance to 1) demonstrate that you’re detail-oriented and 2) recognize that you sometimes need to stand back and consider the larger picture. Once you recognize your weaknesses, you can either work around them or turn them into positives.
- See how each impacts your work. When discussing strengths and weaknesses with a current or future employer, look at each point in terms of how it affects what you do every day — and how it affects those with whom you work. If your strength is a very efficient and effective work style and everyone turns to you to get things done, that’s a real testament to your work ethic and knowledge base. Just don’t allow your schedule to become get overburdened by requests, and recognize that it’s sometimes necessary to pass projects to others. If, on the other hand, you get the reputation for constantly turning in work late, that will negatively affect how others see you, and is something that can be overcome by your repeated actions towards delivering timely.
It’s important to know your strengths and weaknesses within the workplace. Use the former to enhance your performance and the latter to improve. This signals to an employer that you want to be the best version of yourself.