Difficult interview questions: discussing your weaknesses

Here’s some more expert advice from our guest blogger Ed Mellet:

Testing a weakness or vulnerability
You need to be prepared for questions that will probe into anything on your CV that could be seen as a potential weak area. This could include poor exam results, dropping out of university, gaps in any post-university employment or taking what the employer might think is ‘a long time’ to get a job.

You may feel awkward about being asked about something that’s a bit of a sensitive area, and that’s only natural. The best way to get around this is by rehearsing interview questions and answers before you have the interview. This is particularly important if it’s an area that you’re a bit touchy about as you don’t want to come across as defensive.

Think about how you can turn a potential weakness into a positive. For example, if it’s taken a long time to get a job after leaving university you can talk about:

  • How you’ve developed a structured job search plan (showing your organisation and time management skills)

  • Courses you have taken (showing that you are improving your skills)

  • Volunteering you have done (demonstrating that you are using your time well and are developing skills)

  • Anything that you are doing to build-up your knowledge, for example keeping up-to-date with developments in the area by reading, doing online research etc. (showing initiative and commitment to the field)

  • It’s also worth remembering that the company must think that you can do the job or you wouldn’t have been asked to go for an interview.

    What do you think is your greatest weakness?
    It’s likely that you’ll get asked this common interview question in every interview you go for, and you’ll be expected to answer it even if you don’t have any work experience.

    When you answer, balance a potential weakness with a strength. The things that the interviewer will be looking for include:

  • Being able to admit that you’re aware of the weakness

  • Being able to describe how you have tackled this potential problem

    For example, perhaps you mention that you’re not naturally an organised person. In this case you could also tell the interviewer about how you have managed the art of listing-making and prioritisation to make sure that you keep focused and get projects completed on time.

    Tips for answering this question:

  • If you have no work experience it’s fine to talk about a study-related challenge, they are looking for how you overcome problems more than a list of your weaknesses.

  • Don’t make a joke out of it. Humour is best kept for when you are actually working in the job, in an interview it can blow your chances. The interviewer doesn’t want to hear about your weakness for late night curries after a few pints.

  • Don’t mention a weakness that would be a deal-breaker for the interview, e.g., if you are applying for a finance job, it’s not a good idea to say that you don’t have a head for figures!

  • With thanks to Edward Mellett, Director of graduate jobs website WikiJob.co.uk, for contributing this post.

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