In most job interview settings, you can expect to be asked certain stock questions. Thing is, though -- you don’t want to give a stock answer that everyone else gives. A common ploy used by recruiters is to ask you for strengths and shortcomings. They don’t want to hear that you’re a perfectionist; that one has been way overused. They’re looking to see how honest you are and what kinds of risks they’ll be taking if they hire you. Prepare for the question with an honest yet creative response.
Consider a negative trait you know you have but that you’ve been honestly working on and then try to find some aspect of the weakness that you could turn around into a strength. Procrastination is a shortcoming that may have hurt you in the past and caused you to miss deadlines. Refer to the weakness and then go on to say how you’ve gotten better with your new PDA with its automatic message reminders or the new calendar you consult throughout the day. Tell the recruiter that while you may procrastinate on some tasks, you make up for it by keeping busy with other duties and end up doing more work. Also, emphasize that while you may procrastinate, you eventually get the job done.
Impatience also can have some benefits. If you rush to get jobs done and don’t like to wait on others for input, you may have difficulty working on a team or you may be the team member others turn to when they need something done quickly. Give examples of how you’re usually given the first part of a project since you’re ready to go and don’t like waiting for others to finish before you can start a job. Talk about your ability to make decisions quickly but how that can come across as thoughtlessness to others, so you’re working on slowing down and making sure everyone understands your direction before you plunge forward on a new project.
Fear of Public Speaking
Fear of speaking in front of groups may or may not pertain to the position you’re applying for, but it’s a legitimate weakness in most industries. Talk about how hard it is for you to speak up at meetings, but temper your answer with positive steps you’re taking to improve, like taking a public speaking course or joining a Toastmasters group. Explain that you get nervous speaking in front of others, but that you practice deep breathing techniques that have really helped.
While you don’t want to give a glib or stereotypical answer that has little meaning, you also don’t want to shoot yourself in the foot by saying you aren’t ready to take over the job you’re applying for or handle the responsibilities that might come to you. Talk about a weakness that won’t have any bearing on your ability to do the job at hand. For example, if you’re interviewing for a job as a copy editor for an advertising firm, you could say your weakness is math and numbers. Who cares? If you’re interviewing for a job as a computer technician, talk about your weakness at writing, because as long as you can fix the computers, your employer won’t care too much about your ability to put a decent sentence together.
Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."