Have you ever received that question in an interview? First, let me apologize. Most of us in HR who ask this question don’t even know what we’re asking, why we’re asking or what we’re supposed to get out of this question. Furthermore, candidates are usually so poorly prepared for this question that it usually defeats the purpose of asking it in the first place.
I know all of the cool people in HR think the question is bogus. They have a point but there are thousands of bogus questions getting asked daily that we never address. If you aren’t preparing yourself for this stupid question, than you aren’t preparing yourself for the other stupid questions that will come your way. It is easily one of the more common questions still asked today.
Here’s what I’ve figured out from asking this question (or being in interviews where this question is asked): If you answered the question quickly, you are either well rehearsed or you are extremely self-aware. If you can’t answer the question quickly or you give me some bullshit response, you’re either ill-prepared, not at all self-aware or a liar. Well, you’re probably all liars when it comes to this question which is why I don’t ask the question much.
Even if you don’t choose to give me a straight answer on this question, your glaring deficiencies should be on the top of your mind. No matter how good you become at anything, your weaknesses will hold you back. If you are the best salesperson in the company yet you neglect your spouse, it will hold you back. If you are the best number cruncher in the government but you can’t speak to other people without stuttering, it will hold you back. If you are a great speaker but you can’t ever execute a plan, it will hold you back.
When important people in your organization are talking about you, they are using “but” statements. “He’s a great welder but he can’t get along with people.” “She’s a great CEO but she is a liability with the press.” Those “but” statements point to your perceived weakness.
My weaknesses are pretty simple ones:
- Impatient — If you tell me I can’t do something now, I either figure out a way around you or I lose interest in it completely. Getting married has helped this immensely but I am sure my wife would say it still needs improvement.
- Lacking detail orientation — Terrible weakness for a HR person in the current legal climate right? Absolutely. At my first job, I said I was good on detail orientation and simply made it happen. Yes, I have to work twice as hard on it but I can make the big picture stuff happen more quickly to make up for it.
- Laid back — I couldn’t ever say this in an interview (because it would sound like BS) but my laid back attitude has definitely impacted my career negatively. Being approachable helps in HR but it is a pain when it is time to lay down the law and people don’t understand why the attitude has disappeared.
What I can say is that working on all three of these has made me not only a better employee but a better person. Which, you know, sounds corny.
Some people have advocated just focusing on your strengths and letting them compensate for your weaknesses. Unless you are wildly successful (like top 0.01%), focusing on your strengths to compensate for your weaknesses isn’t going to get you anywhere. Maintain (or slowly build your strengths) and focus your energy on your deficiencies instead.
What’s your greatest weakness and what are you doing to improve it?