Home' Border Enterprise : Winter-Spring 2010 Contents 28 enterprise
LIKE death and taxes, the question is
inevitable. Employers always ask it.
Candidates dread it because it cuts
to the core of identity and can spark
a swarm of doubts.
"What's your worst weakness?" the interviewer
The good news is that the dreaded question
may be more negotiable than you think.
Recruitment experts who have asked and heard
every question agree that it can be handled
successfully but paint it as suspect.
One of the industry's most influential figures,
online job search svengali Tony Lee, calls
the question "more harmful than helpful". In
response, just baldly admitting a weakness
may win you points for honesty but dent your
chances of getting hired. "Conversely," Lee says,
"if you give a flip answer, or respond with, 'Well,
I don't really have any weaknesses,' you may be
perceived as arrogant or lacking in candour or
The interviewer may snipe that you clearly
think you are perfect, putting you in a pickle.
But relax. "Realise that most interviewers
don't expect you to be perfect or reveal your
true weaknesses. They're just probing for soft
spots," Lee says.
So, he advises, counter by framing a
weakness as a professional strength. Show how
your shortcomings make you ideal.
Assume that you are detail-oriented
--- a workaholic --- and that, when tackling key
projects, you neglect friends and family. Then,
switch the spin by saying you are meticulous
and pursue projects until you iron out all kinks,
even if that means overtime. "This way, you've
cast your weaknesses into positives most
bosses would find irresistible," Lee says.
The author of 101 Great Answers to the
Toughest Interview Questions, Ron Fry, calls the
probing question a landmine but agrees that
it can be dealt with. Fry bolsters the case for
turning the answer into a positive --- indicate a
tendency toward over-enthusiasm, he suggests.
An example he gives is that you claim that you
need to learn to slow down and stop expecting
others to be equally committed. Or you
could confess that you need to strike a better
Or, Fry says, admit to a former foible --- trouble
waking up early, say. Then explain how you
conquered the foible. Any overcome weakness
you cite should be neither work-related nor
--- even worse --- a key job requirement.
Irrespective, try to relax because the point of
the question is to see how the
candidate dances around
it. That is the true test,
Another way to ace
the question is just to tell
the truth, Fry says --- a
point pursued by workplace
psychologist Dr Karissa
Honesty may sound "way
out", Thacker says. Even so, it
will separate you from the pack
because the worst-weakness
question is the one that candidates
"BS" the most, she adds. Saying
that you work too hard or could
communicate more clearly makes you
sound like everyone else. "Tell the truth!"
Still, beware of overdoing the candour.
Avoid spelling out the roots of any weakness
that you expose. In fact, forget applying for jobs
that demand strength in an area where you are
weak, "as you will eventually be miserable" (and
leave a trail of resignations and sackings on your
CV if the approach becomes a habit).
Accent how you have worked on any
weakness that you choose to own. Be
specific and behavioural. For example, Thacker
suggests, you might say that you are no fan
of administrative detail --- poring over minutiae
such as the 210th line of the budget will never
be your strength. "So, when I need to do it, I do
it first thing in the morning," you could say.
If all else fails and you feel floored, why
not depart from expert advice and have a
laugh, take a risk? You could answer the
most dreaded interview question with a single
sensuous word refreshingly free from corporate
What are your worst weaknesses? Tell us at
You will be asked it, so how do you answer?
David Wilson asks the experts how job applicants
might handle this recruitment staple.
WEED OUT YOUR
l Fight back ... turn your weakness into a strength
Beware the pitch of your voice. Candidates
often overlook how high or low they speak,
focusing instead on clever responses, dress
and body language. Pitch depends on the
degree to which tension has a stranglehold on
your vocal cords. Under stress, we may sound
shrill. When confident, we speak in a lower
voice, which comes across as authoritative
(low and calm). Think of a newsreader. One,
admittedly demanding, way to beat the
squeak is to practise scales like a singer.
Or breathe deeply, which relaxes your vocal
cords, and drop your voice with each word.
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