Oh no, the dreaded question. What do you do? If you are naturally self-deprecating this might feel like an opportunity to pour out all the character traits of which you are less than proud. If, on the other hand, you are normally self-confident and ebullient you might be baffled. A weakness? You? Everyone needs to find a way to answer this which falls somewhere between these two extremes.
What is an employer actually looking for?
This is not a question inviting a confessional outpouring of your demerits. Employers want to see that you are self-aware, able to identify “development areas” for your self-improvement and that you have an idea of how to mitigate or overcome the impact of your weakness.
What to avoid?
The “I am a perfectionist” line has been rather overdone. I would not recommend that you try it. It might well be true of you, but is it really a weakness? Probably not, particularly if you are looking for a career in law where accuracy is all important.
Citing a weakness which clearly impacts on your ability to do the job for which you are applying is always less than ideal. So, talking about your lack of attention to detail and your inclination to rush through to get everything finished – regardless of the quality of the work- is unlikely to attract an employer.
So what can you say?
Now is the time for some honest reflection. Is there anything your friends moan to you about? What about your family? Do you do things (or fail to do things) which cause them real irritation? Perhaps you are hopelessly untidy (I have a vision of a teenager’s bedroom in my mind). Could you run with?
“I find it difficult to keep my surroundings tidy. When I am working I tend to find that books and notes pile up on my desk and close in on my laptop. I always know where things are and while it may look disorganised, I feel in control. I try to make the effort to clear up completely every few weeks. I think that if there is a clear desk policy in the office I will find that a real challenge to start with. I hope that the discipline of having to clear up every day will herald a new era in my organisation.”
This is demonstrating an attribute which could be a problem in the office, particularly if you have to hot desk! You are showing, however, that you have thought about office etiquette and you are (possibly) showcasing some research (into that clear desk policy). It’s unlikely that this will persuade an employer not to take you on.
How to decide what to say
Once you have reflected on possible weaknesses I would think again about the job role for which you are applying. You might want to draw up a list of key attributes – you’ll then be able to avoid talking about a weakness which relates to them.
The key part of this is the insight you can display into how you deal with the weakness. For example, if you have a tendency to rush headlong into a task how do you rein yourself back? What steps do you take to make sure that you plan effectively?
If your honesty tips you over into tactlessness (probably one of my weaknesses which Warwick law students might attest to) how do you stop yourself upsetting other people?
The key thing to remember?
We all have weaknesses. The way in which we recognise and deal with them is often the differentiator between the workplace lame duck and the successful employee.
Try not to be afraid of the question. Reflect on an answer and action your self-improvement suggestions.