By Austin Belcak (‘13)
Austin is the founder of Cultivated Culture where he helps people use unconventional strategies to lands jobs they love along with salaries they deserve. Most recently, he’s helped people get hired at places like Google, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook.
“Now tell me, what would you say is your biggest weakness?”
It’s the question that people dread and interviewers love. Why? Because it’s one of the easiest ways to weed out the good candidates from the bad.
It may not feel like it, but there is a right answer to this question. However, most job seekers fail to convey it. The ones who do end up winning favor with their interviewer while the ones who don’t end up with their application in the trash.
The good news for you is that by the end of this article, you’ll know how to ace this question and set yourself apart from the competition! Let’s dive in:
Step #1: Pick A Skill You’ve Been Actively Working To Improve
The first step in creating an awesome answer is acknowledging an actual weakness. A skill or trait that you don’t feel incredibly confident about, but you’re working to improve. Here are a few good examples (if you want more, there is an entire list of weaknesses here):
- Public speaking
- Fear of rejection
- Giving feedback
- Cold emailing / connecting with people you don’t know
- Delegating tasks
Our plan is to acknowledge our weakness to the employer, show how we’re working to improve it, and then highlight the results we’ve seen from our work.
This is incredibly effective because it shows your interviewer that you’re aware of your weaknesses and you’re not afraid to take action in order to improve them.
Step #2: Describe How That Skill/Trait Has Been Challenging For You
For the next few steps, let’s use the example of fear of rejection to build out a hypothetical answer that will blow your interviewer away.
You’ve been shy since you were a kid, but as an adult you realize the importance of moving out of your comfort zone – asking to be part of a big project, emailing someone you admire, trying to connect with other people at work. The problem is, your fear of rejection and social anxiety from the past have kept you from taking action even though you know it’s important.
It’s kept you from getting credit for work you’ve done, from getting that promotion you deserve, from meeting new friends, and from enjoying the little things in life.
One day on your way to work, you saw the author of your favorite book on the subway! After a few seconds of ecstatic happiness, the fear set it. You wanted to say something to her, but your fear clouded your mind with all of these doubts:
- What if she doesn’t want to be bothered?
- What if she yells at me and tells me to get away in public here?
- Why would she even want to talk to me?
Instead of doing anything, you watch her get off at the next stop as pangs of regret zap your stomach for the rest of the day. When you get home that evening, fuming at yourself, you made a decision – from now on, you are going to take this fear of rejection head on.
Step #3: Describe The Action You Took To Conquer Your Weakness
That evening, you pour yourself a glass of wine and do a Google search for “how to overcome fear of rejection.”
After reading a few articles and watching some videos, you have your plan. You are going to commit to three things that pull you way out of your comfort zone and force you to face your fears:
- You signed up for a public speaking class that meets weekly
- You committed to sending one email to a stranger you’d like to meet every day
- You are going to make a business case to be on the company’s brand new project and you’re going to pitch it to your boss this Friday
Step #4: Highlight The Results You Achieved & Talk About How Others Have Acknowledged Your Progress
Finally, you’re going to highlight the amazing things that happened when you took your fear by the horns and met it head on.
After two months of public speaking classes, you emailed your alma mater and asked if you could speak to one of their classes about what it’s like to be a female software engineer in Silicon Valley.
You gave that talk and dozens of girls emailed you asking for advice – you even referred one of them into your company and she was hired! Now your school has asked you to guest lecture on a monthly basis in front of hundreds of students.
One day you decided to shoot for the moon with your daily cold email and message Malcolm Gladwell (the NY Times bestselling author). Two days later he emailed you back! You ended up chatting about his podcast Revisionist History and he said to give him a shout if you’re ever in New York.
Finally, your boss accepted your pitch and put you on the team responsible for rolling out this new project. You ended up helping the team pivot the target demographic, which landed incredibly well because sales from that demo shot up two months after the project launched. Your boss came up to you a few weeks later and thanked you for being persistent with your pitch.
Now you have a concrete answer that acknowledges a weakness and shows how you took action on overcoming your fear and were rewarded with massive results.
That is what companies love to see from candidates when they ask them about their weaknesses. Now your homework is to apply the same framework to your own life:
- What weakness has been challenging for you in the past? Why?
- What actions have you taken to overcome that weakness? What made you decide to take action?
- What results have you gotten from working to improve and how have other people noticed?
Bonus Pro Tip: Job interviews are high stress environments and stress makes us do weird things.
It makes us choke up and forget what we were going to say, it makes us think our answers aren’t good enough, and it can make us act like a completely different person.
The best way to beat stress in a job interview is preparation. When it comes to interview questions, crafting and memorizing your answers ahead of time will give you an edge on the big day. You’ll be able to regurgitate your awesome answer no matter how your body or brain decides to feel when you’re sitting across the table from a potential employer.
The good news is that most interviews ask the same sets of questions and there’s a trick to memorizing your answers without wasting a bunch of time. To learn how to effectively prepare for interviews and manage your nerves, check out this guide!