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  • How to Handle the Weakness Question

    July 7th, 2011, 1:45 pm

    I am meeting with several students interested in interview preparation. They are applying for jobs, preparing for internships, or hoping for a leadership role in a student organization.  There is one interview question that is universally dreaded and gives students pause: “What’s your biggest weakness?”

    Students handle this question successfully when they are able to show that they are both self-aware and proactive – they understand themselves enough to identify a weakness, and they also take initiative to improve themselves.

    So what does a good answer to this question look like?

    One way to structure your answer is to use a 20-80 rule.  No, I’m not talking about the Pareto principle.

    Spend 20% of your answer describing a legitimate and honest weakness.  “I work too hard” won’t cut it!  But don’t stop there, leaving the employer to wonder how this will negatively impact your work.  Spend the majority of your answer, or 80%, giving the interviewer concrete examples of your efforts to overcome or compensate.  An example might be as follows:

    “I have often struggled in environments where I don’t have a lot of structure – I lose focus or scramble to meet deadlines because they sneak up on me.”

    That’s your 20. It’s an honest answer, but not a complete one.  Read on:

    “So, if you were to look in my briefcase, you would find a remarkably color-coded and earmarked DayPlanner. I have found that if I can structure my time on paper, my life will follow.

    Additionally, I have learned to ask for structure if I need it. When completing a major research paper last semester, I scheduled two extra meetings with my professor to discuss drafts. I made measured progress throughout the semester and submitted an excellent paper for which I received an ‘A.’

    I have learned to structure my own time, and am confident that this will help me as an intern with your organization, given that I will be completing self-driven and independent projects for your PR department.”A great answer! If you can acknowledge a weakness, show how you are working on it, and even connect your learned skills to the job for which you are interviewing, you’ll be in good shape.

    For additional interviewing resources and practice,

    • – Read general interviewing tips and view practice questions on our Web site
    • – Use our Optimal Resume portal to create customized practice interviews online
    • – Stop by to schedule a mock interview with one of our career counselors.  You’ll practice questions geared for your industry and work with your counselor to improve your approach to interviewing.