This interview question is among the most dreaded. Since you are a subject matter expert on the topic of the interview, yourself, that would mean that dread of this question is a by-product of a lack in preparation. Therefore, it is an area you can improve upon.
Employers ask the “strengths and weaknesses” questions for several reasons:
- For insight into your self-awareness
- To judge your sincerity in delivering the answers
- For insight into the dimensions of your leadership acumen
- To discover your assessment of your strengths
- To discover your assessment of your weaknesses (or “opportunities”)
A skilled interviewer can easily tell a disingenuous response, typically delivered when a person fakes or fudges a response instead of saying, “I don’t know.” Keys to success in this part of the interview are self-awareness and sincerity.
I have found that the higher the caliber of leader, the more comfortable they are discussing their weaknesses. That seems counterintuitive, since leaders are supposed to have more strengths than weaknesses, right? Wrong. Leaders have more weaknesses because they seek out their weaknesses so they can improve upon on them.
Here are three ways to become more self-aware about your true weaknesses:
Contrary to popular belief, most employers don’t just look for ways to knock your score down. You didn’t deserve all 10’s. Performance reviews are a tangible list of strengths and weaknesses. Instead of getting hacked off because your scores were lower in certain areas, ask your superior for mentorship in weak areas. Ask your human resources director how you can tap company resources to improve upon your weaknesses.
Highly creative people tend to be less organized. Hard-driving executives often lack soft skills. If you are a high-performing sales pro, odds are you can’t stand paperwork. None of us are perfect.
Often our weaknesses are a by-product of our strengths. Most assessments will tell you where you land. The DiSC profile is widely used in restaurants and hospitality. BOSI is free insight tool that will give you instant results.
Ask a peer in another division or department for sincere feedback on your professional performance and demeanor. Pick someone you trust who knows you well. It has to be a cross-functional colleague because conflict of interest will interfere if you are on the same career path. Whomever you ask will most likely feel uncomfortable, so remind them that you are asking for honesty; you need to know what’s in your “blind spots.”
Every leader I know would rather hire a sincerely honest person whose skills need improvement over a highly skilled liar. Skills can be taught. Character and behavior cannot.
Interviewers’ ears are tuned to listen for the three biggest failures when they ask you about your weaknesses:
Skilled human resources pros and recruiters undergo education and training on human behavior. Part of that coursework is on spotting a liar. Humans have many “tells” that give away your poker face. Body language is one way. Another way is to ask the same question several times in different ways during the course of an interview. If they get different answers, you were obviously making up answers as you went along.
It’s understood you will “prepare” for your interview. But just as a good interviewer can spot a lie, they can spot a canned or memorized answer. If you have to memorize a response that means you are afraid of speaking from the heart, and that speaks to a lack in sincerity and self-awareness.
In the “weaknesses” question as in all questions, if you have a command of that area you will be able to expound on the topic. Giving a one-dimensional response or a list of weaknesses is a transparent way of saying, “I am telling you some stuff so we can move on to another topic. Quickly. Now. Please?”
You should be able to address your weaknesses, give examples of when they creep up, and speak to how you recognize them and the improvement steps you are working through to overcome them.
Working through your weaknesses is a 360⁰ process the same way managing a successful kitchen, leading a hospitality service team, or providing effective sales and account management are 360⁰ endeavors. If you’re on the sidelines, your lack of understanding will show through and your interview success rate will suffer. If you’re passionate about the process your character cannot help but shine, and will propel you to greater success.