Interviews: Turn Your Weaknesses Into Strengths


Sometimes, interviewers will pelt you with questions that require you to analyze your weaker traits. The types of questions you are likely to encounter in this style of interviewing include:

"Do you find it difficult to work with some people?"

Indicate that you get along well with people and work hard to understand other points of view. You can name one or two traits that disturb you, but make sure they're not overly broad, and give preference to those that a manager would also find hard to accept -- such as dishonesty, incessant talking or unreliability.

"What are your weaknesses?"

You can say you don't know of any that would prevent you from doing an excellent job in the position you are discussing. If pressed, you can turn this into an opportunity to talk about the kind of workplace you hope to enter. You might say that you prefer not to work in an environment where there's no teamwork or where you don't have a sense of why your work matters. Another good answer along those lines, which turns your "weaknesses" into strengths: "I work better in a team environment, despite the fact that I'm a self-starter and think well independently."

If you're asked to name your strengths as well as weaknesses, follow the same principles:

Good answer: "I think my strengths are in my ability to understand the intent of a project, master the details, and organize and pursue a well-developed project plan. My weakness might be that I can be a little impatient with people who don't keep their commitments, although I'm learning that I get better results by being tactful and persistent in asking questions, rather than making demands." (Shows coherence and a learning attitude; turns a weakness into another strength.)

Pretty good answer: "I'm a good detail person. I do what needs to be done, and I get it done on time. I don't know of anything that would prevent my doing a good job." (Less compelling, but fairly believable.)

"What would your most recent boss say about you?"

> Say that you believe he or she would confirm whatever you have claimed as your strengths or your accomplishments

"Has your work ever been criticized, or have you been told to improve your performance?"

If you say no, be prepared to back it up with a statement such as "I've always received excellent reviews." (And be sure your references will confirm this, or you will lose credibility completely.) If you can't say this confidently, answer honestly -- but it's best to choose a situation in which your idea was criticized, not your behavior. All the better if you can explain why the idea made sense to you.

Good answer: "I received some criticism when I introduced the idea of a customer satisfaction survey in the placement agency where I worked last year. It wasn't a popular idea with my boss, who feared the results. But I felt that if we were ever to correct our shortfalls, it would be important to know what mattered most to our customers."

"What would you do if you were asked to do something that didn't make sense to you?"

Indicate that you would say something like "Perhaps I'm missing something, but I'm not immediately seeing why that would be the best way to handle the situation. Could you help me understand?" If you can, provide an example of how you faced such as situation and successfully resolved it.

Good answer: "That happened to me when I was working on a cruise ship and the activities director wanted me to shut down the entertainment early to save money. I felt that the several passengers still in the lounge and all the others had paid their fares and deserved their full value. When I realized that I wasn't able to influence her, I took it on myself to find a dignified solution. I explained to the passengers that the band really wanted to rest up for the tremendous party I had planned for the next evening, and I hoped they would plan to be there, because I would see that they got special treatment. I offered, instead, to play a terrific video that none of them had seen. All was accepted in good spirits, and my boss was grateful that I handled the situation well." (Shows resourcefulness in finding a solution that had integrity without undermining management.)

"What kinds of work do you find difficult to do?"

Mention things that would run contrary to your values or your employer's best interests. For example: "I'd find it difficult to promote a product that I knew had flaws that weren't disclosed" or "I wouldn't want to do anything that I thought could harm the company --although, of course, I'd try to be sure I really understood the situation." Don't say something like "I really hate clerical work." Though that may be true, it makes you sound like a prima donna.

"If you encountered an unreasonable deadline, what would you do?"

Good answer: "I'd prioritize, then seek out best methods to employ, communicate with the manager about what was going on, and go all out to achieve everything that was agreed to be feasible-and more, if possible."

Pretty good answer: "I'd try to get my manager to set the priorities, because I'd want to be sure the most important work got done."

Bad answer: "I'd tell my manager the deadline was impossible to meet and would have to be changed." (Shows unwillingness to work hard or seek solutions.)

"What else should we know about you?"

Here's your final chance for a sales pitch. Don't waste it on talking about your pet parakeet or your passion for limericks. This is a good place, however, to talk about some traits that would be valuable in the workplace: You have always been a person others have come to for advice, or people seem to like your ability to deal with stress using humor. For example, you could say "I'm the person who goes out at 5 a.m. to get a watermelon when we're pulling an all-nighter." Or if you know of the interviewer's interest in model trains, for example, this could be the place to reveal that you're an enthusiast yourself.

If this is the close of your interview, however, you should use the opportunity to make your closing statement to summarize your qualifications and ability to add value in the position you've been discussing and then inquire about the next steps in the process.

Next:How to Answer Tricky Interview Questions >>

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