How NOT to Handle the Biggest Weakness Question

Speaking of job interview questions and answers…I was just watching a show called Million Dollar Listing on Bravo TV. (Do I judge you?) And it had the perfect example of what NOT to say in an interview when asked “What’s your greatest weakness?”

To fill you in, this is not a show about great interview techniques or even how to get a job. It’s a show about three young, hungry, aggressive real estate brokers in Los Angeles – mostly in the most exclusive neighborhoods of Hollywood, Malibu and Beverly Hills. The brokers are named Chad, Josh, and Madison. Cut to Madison’s trusty assistant giving him notice just as he got the biggest listing of his life. Ouch. We’re talking many millions. So he needs help FAST.

The interview Q & A begins…

Next time we see Madison, he’s interviewing people for the job. I love that we get to be flies on the wall as we watch him handle some real live real estate job interviews. We’re shown segments of three of the job interviews, with three of the interviewees revealing their greatest weakness.

The first actually let us know her weakness while answering a different question.  (I’d try to be careful about this, btw. In interviews, less is often more.) But I’m including it anyway since it’s a great example of what not to do! She went for an interview with a top, high-powered broker and told him like hey wow she needs like free time for her art work and other personal interests. That may be true, and I do always say be yourself, but…WHAT was she doing in this interview in the first place? She wasted her time and his.

Lesson 1: Know what the job is and who you are

Don’t go to the interview unless you can handle the requirements and really want the job you’re interviewing for. I know that sounds painfully obvious, but you’d be surprised how wide people cast their nets sometimes. Of course, there’s no harm in going if you at least think it might be for you, but please do yourself and the interviewer a favor:  First research the industry and job requirements.

Even if Madison (or any boss) makes the mistake of not being specific about the workload in the ad, you should make it your job to investigate what the job requires (either beforehand or during the interview). And if you still want the job, despite needing time for your creative pursuits or whatever, then don’t undercut yourself by telling the boss the job is only a means to an end. People who are passionate about their work want to hire people who will be dedicated to helping them excel. If that is not you – and for many it isn’t – then don’t even think about taking the job.

But if you actually think it might be for you, please give an answer that shows you’re excited about the opportunity to work there and will dedicate yourself to making your boss a star. You can talk about your creativity later. You can even find ways to apply it to your job. But for now, your weakness is that you work too hard or are a perfectionist or sometimes worry about not having done enough so you look for ways to do it even better next time or some such thing. (Keep reading for a great sample answer.)

Lesson 2: Don’t ever say you’re not organized, ok?

The next interviewee was asked her greatest weakness and she answered “Well… sometimes I’m not very organized.” NEXT!

Seriously, if I’m looking to hire someone, the one thing I absolutely want the person to be is ORGANIZED. So never never never admit that’s your weakness!

Lesson 3: A weakness should be expressed as a strength where possible

So now we come to the third interviewee. (Feels a little like Goldilocks, doesn’t it?) She was asked her greatest weakness, and she said sometimes she expects a lot of others because she expects so much of herself. BINGO! She hit the golden prize – especially because of who her potential boss is and what he values. (Smart to look for those clues as you listen to the person interviewing you.)

Madison saw himself in that answer and loved it. Not that you should all go use THAT answer, but it was a smart move on her part. And yes…she got the job.

Bonus interview tip for your actual answer to the greatest weakness question

Remember to keep your answer brief as to what the actual weakness is, and then expand by talking about what you’ve done to improve or even overcome the weakness.  This way you leave the interview Q & A on a positive note.

If you’d like to read more about how to answer interview questions like this, here are some posts that might help:

Job Interviews: What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

Job Interviews: What’s Your Greatest Strength?

Good luck out there! And please let me know how it goes.***

 

About the author…

Ronnie Ann, founder of Work Coach Cafe, bases her real-world advice on her many years as an organizational consultant where she helped interview and hire people, added to a certificate from NYU in Career Planning & Development and her own adventures as a serial job seeker. She can also be found on her new blog, and on Google+.

Comments

  1. Wow, great post! I especially like the advice on listening to your interviewer to understand them better (and I watch too!).

  2. Thanks Meagan! Appreciate the reinforcement of that idea. People sometimes are so nervous thinking about what they need to say, they forget the most important part – just listening.

  3. jmkenrick says:

    I like this post, but I have trouble with the idea of expressing your weakness as a strength. While I think a lot of personal qualities can be double edged swords (for example, being personable can help form relationships – but maybe you’re more likely to be a distraction at work,) I don’t know anyone who has no ‘bad’ weaknesses.

    To be perfectly frank, if someone told me that they expect too much from other people because they expect so much from themselves, I would just assume that they do have another weakness, they’re just not not willing to share, or not self-aware enough to realize what it is.

    Is that really the only route to go with in an interview? I don’t think I would be comfortable giving an answer like that.

  4. Hi jmkenrick!

    This was one of my more lighthearted posts. I probably could have been more clear about this. I couldn’t resist because there was this great example of the greatest weakness question happening right before my eyes as I was watching.

    I wasn’t suggesting you struggle to try to find a weakness that’s a strength – unless you actually have one like that…and some folks do. Since I always coach people to be as real as possible in interviews (it shows), I’m just saying a strong way to answer this question is by finding a weakness (one that’s not too horrible) and showing how successfully you’ve dealt with it.

    Hopefully this article will help:

    Job Interviews: What’s Your Greatest Weakness?

    I wish you the best of luck!

    Ronnie Ann

  5. yea it does help me to realize what to say when i go for my interview. thanks.

  6. Hello ueiying!

    Nice to see you again. Glad this helps. ;-)

    Good luck in your interviews!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  7. Great post! I am just recovering from a bad interview experience and have another coming up, so this helps alot. My biggest problem I think now is rambling on the behavioural ‘ give me an example of a time when….’ I had about 20 of these, it becomes so exhausting, I guess I just need to have a stack of examples in my mind to answer these. BTW – this is my post as regards the interview: http://irish-mammy.blogspot.com/2010/02/do-not-pass-go.html

  8. Hi Treasa!

    Sorry about the rough interview, but sometimes getting a few of those behind us strengthens our interview skills.Just remember to prepare ahead of time, and then when you get there be conversational, pleasantly confident, listen carefully, and keep those stories directed at the point you want to make – and keep them short. ;-) (Love your post btw.)

    Best of luck!

    ~ Ronnie Ann

  9. slagheap says:

    That’s actually a pretty canned answer (“…I expect so much of myself”) and quite frankly, I’d call BS on it if I were the interviewer.

    The reality is, the people who make it through this type of interview are the ones who have an arsenal of responses in their head all ready to go. Or, they have the ability to spontaneously come up with “this is what you want to hear” kind of answers.

    No one is truly themselves in an interview. You have to fit into the mold they are looking to fill.

    • chandlee says:

      In response to the “I’d call BS if I were the interviewer,” I have an alternate perspective. I think you can be your “best self” in a job interview — and that you should be honest in identifying who you are and how you work. My advice: share a weakness that you’ve learned how to address and how you’ve done that.

      And don’t over prepare too much: sometimes employers don’t even ask the weakness question!

      All the Best,
      Chandlee

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