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Tell me your three weaknesses.

Started by Sunil_chd, Jun 03, 2009, 04:21 PM

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Tell me your three weaknesses" is one of the toughest, if not THE toughest, common interview questions.

It's tough, because you are in an interview, you really don't want to advertise your main weaknesses to the employer. Naturally, many applicants will try to find some minor weaknesses, but it's difficult to pick the "right weaknesses", in the very short time frame you have in a job interview.

Unfortunately, this is some hiring manager's all-time favorite question. It's frequently asked.

When I just graduated from the college, I took an interview for a position of marketing representative at a major Fortune 500 company. The hiring manager asked me "What are your three weaknesses? I give you 60 seconds to answer the question. "

I tried very hard to find the "right" weaknesses but couldn't get one. I became nervous and said something like "My first weakness is ... sometimes I'm too enthusiastic..."

"Is enthusiasm a weakness?"

"Yes. Because in some scenarios, I think we will get best result if we are enthusiastic but not too enthusiastic. A small number of colleagues and customers may not feel most comfortable if you are just too enthusiastic."

Then the hiring manager pushed very hard to get my second weakness: "OK. Then what is your second weakness? Now you still have 30 seconds... 25 seconds... 20 ... 10 ... 5 seconds left..."

At the end of the 60 seconds, I didn't figure out what my second weakness was.

The story had a happy ending. I passed the interview, as well as couple rounds of interviews after it, and got the offer. I accepted the offer, and started my career at that company.

Later when I pursued different career opportunities, the "three weaknesses" question was asked again and again by different employers. I became more and more familiar with the answer, until one day I became a "three weaknesses" expert, and felt slightly disappointed if I was not asked the question in a job interview.

Recently, I became a hiring manager myself. I also asked the question at many interviews.

Now let me tell you what I have learned both as a job applicant and as an employer.

Before we start, I want to emphasize that there is no absolutely right or wrong answer for the question. Each interviewer is different, and some may favor one type of answer, while some like others.

To answer the question well, we need to clarify one issue first: why does an employer ask the question?

Does the employer really try to know what your weakness is? Probably a few employers do, but most of them don't. The reason is simple. Most applicants will not volunteer announcing a major drawback. You know it. Employers also know it.

If so, why do so many employers still love asking the question?

Because, the actual purpose of the question is not to find what your weakness is. The real goal is to test how you perform under pressure.

Employees at many jobs need to work under pressure. A salesperson may need to face a very tough customer. A customer representative may need to handle an urgent customer complain. A manager may need to lead a very difficult project. In these scenarios, some people, even they are organized and professional in normal times, may become very nervous and ineffective. How a person performs under pressure is important to determine whether she can be successful in a job.

Therefore, the hiring manager needs to know how a job applicant will perform under high pressure, but the information is difficult to get. He can directly ask the question: "How do you perform under pressure?" But this is just a question. A candidate with good communication skills can handle the question well, no matter how he actually performs under pressure.

So we have this "three weaknesses" question. The question puts the interviewee in an unfamiliar field with high pressure and makes her nervous when she tries to answer, which mimics the actual tough business environment she may need to face if she gets the job.

Now we are ready to answer it.

First, stay calm. It's even better if you can give a little bit of smile. Answer the question in a sincere tone and attitude.

There are two schools of thoughts to answer the question.

The first type of answer is most common and it's pretty safe to deal with virtually all employers.

Just find three weaknesses. They are your real weaknesses. But don't voluntarily discuss any major weakness which may disqualify you from getting the job. You may explain how you will address the weakness. Ideally you can close the question by showing your interest to the job you are applying to.

Here is an example:

Let's assume you are a college student and interviewed by an employer, a major multinational Company A, for an entry level sales position through the on-campus program:

"First, I think my time management skill has room to improve. I plan to read some books to improve my skill set in the area.

Second, I feel my presentation skill is not as strong as I want. While I'm very confident of my overall communication skills, which is great, I certainly want to practice more on making presentations to large audience.

Finally, I'm graduating from college this year. Some employers may regard the lack of experience as my weakness. That's true, but I also want to point out, on one hand, my internship projects and some academic projects prove that I can learn very quickly and make real contribution to the team in a very short period. On the other hand, this is actually one reason why I'm very interested in the position at Company A. Because company A is famous for your great training program and excellent career development prospect, if I'm offered the opportunity, it will be terrific for me to acquire the experience, develop my career, and address this weakness. "

Now let's look at the three weaknesses one by one.

First weakness is "time management skill has room to improve". Is this a weakness? Yes, it is. Will this weakness affect your candidacy to the job? Very unlikely. Because who can say their time management skills don't have room to improve? Very few. The hiring manager may even be happy that you actively sharpening your time management skill. So when you get hired, you can complete more work at his team!

The second weakness follows the same theme. It is a real weakness, but it will not hurt your candidacy.

The third weakness is "lack of experience". This is a weakness. No doubt about it. Because we assume you are participating an on-campus recruiting program. All other candidates are also students with the exact same weakness. Furthermore, the fact that the company is coming to your campus proves they are willing to hire new college students. So this weakness is also very "safe", and won't hurt your chance, not even slightly.

At the end of the third weakness, you show your interest to the job. This is very useful.

Now let's look at the second way to answer the question. You can give one weakness, and then try to avoid giving more weaknesses. For example," I cannot think of my other weaknesses at this time. Of course I'm not perfect in life, and I have weaknesses here and there. But I feel, my skills, experience, and long term career plan, really match the job very well. I mean, I do have some weaknesses, but that's not very important in the scenario, because for this job I'm a PERFECT match!"

I personally know quite a few people used this method, and passed the interviews. The reason is when an employer asks the question, he doesn't really care about what your weakness is. As long as you handle the question professionally and effectively, you will be fine.

The method is more suitable to sales or management jobs, which require good communication skills and assertive attitude.

If you feel uncomfortable to answer this way, just stick with the less risky first method. :yes

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