How to Slam Dunk a Difficult Interview Question

What is your biggest weakness? Oh snap…didn’t think that one through! Countless improvements you want to make to yourself pop in your head “I like to sleep in” “I haven’t been to the gym in weeks” or “I’m a danger to others on the golf course”. Of course, the answer has to be relevant to the job. Here are a few different ways to answer that question that you may have never considered.

A weakness that is actually a strength. Great candidates don’t take the easy route but a layup could still get you the job but if you are competing with a few others for the role you don’t want to make layups…you want to nail the 3 pointer with a great answer. What is the layup/easy route? Answers like “I care too much!” “I’m a perfectionist!” or the classic “I’m a workaholic!” Don’t get me wrong…answers like this may get you the job…as a cashier or barista. You have to know your audience which I will get into in more detail later in the article. Examples of interviews you can take the layup weakness answer are interviews with managers that are not hiring for a challenging/entry level role or are not the direct report for the role. As always, candidates that take the time and do their homework in the process will know their audience.

Now for the great answers…you must, as mentioned above, study up on the role, the company, and the hiring manager. You can shoot from the hip on these questions but luck favors the prepared. And don’t just state a weakness and leave it hanging out there…close on it with your ability to adapt, learn, or grow.

Your weakness is actually one of the reasons you are successful at your job. A couple great examples are “I don’t like being in the office” while interviewing for a Sales Role that takes a lot of travel OR “I don’t like work travel” for an Analyst role that is in the office 100% of the time. Just think of 180 degrees from your strengths. Most likely your guidance counselor did the same review when you were both meeting on your career…someone with SAT scores with high math (strength) & low verbal (weakness) in Engineering or high verbal & low math in Communications. Always close on the answer though… on why it is not going to be a problem and NEVER make a big deal about it “I CAN’T STAND doing paperwork” or say “I hate” instead…”I don’t like” or “I don’t enjoy”. Every Sales person has to spend some time in the office and every analyst has to travel for training a hiring manager will immediately screen someone who is a going to be a pain.

A weakness that is trainable. This is also a great opportunity for the “Compliment Close”. Examples are “I have heard great things about you and your ability to train & lead” or “I have great respect for your company’s expertise in this field”. Review the job description and your resume to look for clues. If there is a huge curve on the training you may want to avoid this route. This needs to be something you can quickly learn or learn in the natural progression of your career. An example is “Managing People” if you are interviewing for a role with no direct reports.

Call out the elephant in the room. This falls under trainable but it is a big issue or a long training curve. Under the requirements on the job description it lists “Must have experience with XYZ Account” for a Sales role or “Must have experience with XYZ software” for an Analyst role. You don’t have it but here you sit in the interview. If you applied through a posting it is probably for one or both of these reasons… either the candidate supply (either the market or candidates that applied for the job) is low or candidates that have the experience are too expensive (outside the salary parameters…ie you’re a bargain) so that company has to be flexible. If you are going to call out the elephant you have to able to tackle it and close on it. Examples of closes are; you supported the team/group that did, worked closely with someone who did, or worked on something similar. “I supported the team that called on the XYZ account when I was in my Sales Communications role”, “I was aligned with team that handled that account and gathered lot of information about the account from my peers” or “I have dealt with ABC software which has a lot of similarities to XYZ software and could quickly learn”

Overall the key to great interview answers is knowledge of your audience. This is attained by studying up in the role, the company, and the interviewers. Strengths and weaknesses are basic interview questions and you better be able to list both and why. Do the work and you can get the job!

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