How to Answer “What is Your Biggest Weakness?”

 

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We can never talk enough about interviews. In the past, we have talked about answering some generic interview questions like “can you walk me through your CV?“, “can you tell me about yourself?“among others. Today we will discuss about how to talk about your weaknesses during an interview. In other words, how to answer “what is your biggest weakness?”

Some variations could sound like:

-What are some of your weaknesses?

-Can you tell me about a development goal you have set?

-What is that one thing about you which you think you can improve upon?

 

Why is this question asked, you wonder. There could be a couple of reasons like:

  • To try to look beyond your interview persona, wanting to get a more comprehensive understanding.
  • To see how self-aware and self-reflective you are.
  • To try to understand your standards of good and bad.
  • How you overcome a professional hurdle and a challenge which is essentially self-created.

 

Interviews can be really stressful and talking about one’s weakness can further increase the level of anxiousness. The following tips and cues will help you to prepare well and answer the question with conviction.

You can’t talk about each and every minor weakness you have. You need to “pick” a weakness which is real, relevant to the professional setting and fixable. Let us delve more in the three adjectives used:

 

  • Real:

The weakness picked should be real and authentic. You shouldn’t randomly “pick” a weakness from a Google search generated list of generic weaknesses just because its answer is readily available online and it sounds good.

Nor you should just invent or “borrow” a weakness you don’t actually have just for the sake of answering the question.

For your answer to be convincing and specific you have to talk about a weakness you think you actually have. Interviewers can generally see past inauthentic storytelling and generic answers.

But make sure to differentiate between a peculiar habit and a weakness. That brings us to our next point.

 

  • Relevant:

Peculiarly bad habits might be seen as a weakness in a sense but if they don’t interfere with your professional life in any way, talking about them is useless. After all, the interviewer wants to know how you overcome challenges at work and more specifically how you overcome professional challenges which involve just you.

For example, nail biting when nervous is a peculiar habit but it doesn’t really concern work.

Talking about weaknesses which will never even potentially affect your work in any way is useless. Your inability to draw won’t matter if you are not involved with the fine arts and graphic designing.

 

  • Fixable:

The weakness you talk about should be fixable.

Let us look at an example of a fairly quickly fixable weakness and one of a weakness that may take time to fix. Lack of delegating skills is a fixable weakness which can be learnt by simply reminding oneself to delegate and learning a few tricks; whereas a fear of public speaking is a weakness one overcomes gradually.

So when you talk about a weakness, let the interviewer know the steps you are taking/planning to take to tackle that.

A note of caution here: a weakness which goes against the nature of your job should get you thinking whether you want to go for such a job in the first place. Plus it risks becoming a red-flag for the interviewer. Could a salesperson who doesn’t have good interpersonal skills be a good salesperson? Or could a person who works in an ad agency afford to not be creative? Your shyness might be irrelevant in a job where you mostly work on your own but a hurdle if your job will involve talking to team members and large groups.

 

Finally, this brings us to how not to answer this question:

  • By not answering the question: No one is without a weakness. Make sure you don’t dismiss the question altogether by asserting you don’t have any weakness.
  • Mental gymnastics: You don’t want to talk about a weakness and then through logical leaps and play of words to prove that it is in fact, a strength. This may sound clever but can make you come across as cocky and a wiseacre.

 

Thus talking about one’s weakness could be seen as one exercise of planning self-improvement and self-reflection. Talking about a real, relevant and fixable weakness can help the interviewer as well as the interviewee in seeing things with clarity.

 

Constructing an Answer to “Why Should We Hire You?”

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There are some interview questions which are generic and commonly asked by most interviewers, but still leave the interviewee clueless about how to answer them. One of the most commonly asked confusing question is “why should we hire you?

Let us take a look at some tips for answering this deceptively simple question.

Similar questions are:

  • Why are you the best candidate for this job?
  • What would you bring to this position?
  • Are you the best fit for this job? Why?

It is a good idea to think of a response for these questions beforehand as a part of your interview prep.

 

Evaluate:

As part of your interview prep, the obvious first step is to take a look at the job requirements. See which requirements you meet and which ones you fit just about and which ones you don’t really meet.

This gives you an idea about your own strengths and weakness. This, in turn, would let you construct a “script” where you can play up strong points and find a response to compensate for the weak points, if any.

That brings us to the next point.

 

Emphasize the Right Things:

It is necessary to emphasize your skills and knowledge when you are asked this question, because that’s what the employer wants to hear; in fact they want to know what you can contribute to the company. Putting emphasis just on your interests and requirements might not work.

Some do’s and don’ts would make this clear.

Do put emphasis on:

  • Your skills
  • Your knowledge
  • How you can contribute to the company
  • Your experience

Do not put emphasis on your personal reasons like:

  • I have always been interested in xyz…
  • I really need this job…
  • I could really use a raise in my income..
  • Your office is really close to my house and I wanted to reduce my commute time…

It is necessary to remember you are talking in a professional setting, and not casually talking with a couple of friends.

 

Keep it Concise:

As with most interview answers, this should also be clear and concise. It is a good idea to keep in mind four or five points about your:

  • Technical skills and qualifications
  • Industry experience
  • Awards and remarkable accomplishments
  • Education and training
  • Soft skills

 

Imagine you are structuring a sales pitch…for yourself. This mental trick should help you to quickly think about what all you want to include. Keep the loose script in mind and then use it according to the situation.

Make sure the pitch is about how you can contribute to the company through your skills/education/experience. Remember, we aren’t answering “tell me about yourself”.

 

But what if we you have applied for a different industry?

Simply saying “I am interested in…” will not do, right? Worry not! Many skills are transferable and a lot of times, the interviewer could be looking for a certain positive and confident attitude. So, how do you talk about your interest, without making it just about you? Let us look at an example.

Example:

“Although I am an IT person, I feel this is a good opportunity for me to explore teaching. My previous job involved interacting with clients from all kinds of backgrounds, while delivering suitable IT solutions. I have interacted with people from small districts in the state who wanted to educate the denizens about IT, with teachers from international schools who were looking for a technological upgrade for their classrooms. I feel I have the necessary interpersonal, social and educating skills that would help me pay attention to the needs of each individual student.

I have always been interested in technology, and it would be nice to impart my skills to budding minds.”

This communicates the interest, the soft skills, and of course the motivation behind applying for a job in a different industry.

 

So the next time you are prepping for an interview, you know what to do!

 

How To Answer “Where do You See Yourself in Five Years?”

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In the past, we have talked about answering some common interview questions like “can you walk me through your CV?”, “can you tell me about yourself?”, and now we are back with another FAQ: “where do you see yourself in five years?”

It’s one really tricky question because it’s open ended and forces you to talk in the long term.

Who plans what they are going to do in the next five years, you wonder. I don’t even know what I am going to do in the next five months, you scream out in your head.

And what is the guarantee that you are going to stick to the supposed plan?

Hiring managers/employers/interviewers know this.

There are a couple of reasons why they ask this question:

  • To see what you come up with on the spot.
  • To gauge if you plan to stay in the company long term.
  • To gauge if you are a good investment.
  • To see what your definition of success is.
  • To gauge what growth you are looking for.
  • To gauge if the company can provide something that matches your expectations.

 

Hiring can be a time consuming process, and companies want to make sure that they choose someone who would be worth all the time spent in scanning resumes, creating shortlists of candidates, interviewing etc,. Everybody looks for the perfect candidate, don’t they?

 

Here are some tips to keep in mind if you are ever required to answer the question: “where do you see yourself in five years?”

 

  • Don’t be Bluntly Honest:

Honesty is a good policy, but it might not be the best when it comes to this question. You don’t need to worry if you think your long term five year plan won’t really sit well with the interviewer. You don’t need to be that blunt.

Mind you, that doesn’t mean you lie. It merely means you practise some diplomacy.

Refrain from  saying things like  “I don’t see myself here in five years…”, or “I probably will go back to my hometown to look after my family…”

Even if you intend to do something like that, you don’t need to make it known. Because that is not what the question is about.

 

  • Balancing Act:

On the flip-side, you might be tempted to show how ambitious you are, and how seriously competitive you are. Which is a good response, but that needs some generality.

You don’t need to go into specifics here. It is not a good idea to be saying bluntly specific things like “I see myself in your job in the next five years…” or “I intend to become a VP by that time…”

 

But that doesn’t mean you don’t show your enthusiasm.

  • How to Talk About Your Goals without Being too Blunt and Direct:

The company wants to know how enthusiastic you are about working there long term, and what your goals are. Being too blunt and specific is a problem, but funnily enough, being a little, just a little, grand isn’t.

Instead of saying “I intend to replace you and become a VP…”, you can say something like,

“I wish to become an expert in the industry, and reach a position where I can lead and act as a mentor. I also would love to learn a bit more about management in the coming years…”

Such an answer talks about the fact that you want to reach a particular kind of post, you want to acquire a specific skill related to your industry, and you want to reach particular milestones. Without making it sound like an attack.

 

  • What to Do About the Question When You Are Switching Industries:

But what if you are switching industries? How do you handle the question then?

Again, since you don’t need to be too specific here, you can say something like,

” In the next five years, I would like to have expanded my knowledge about the industry and my skill-set. I think it is important to always put in efforts to gain skills, regardless of one’s post…”

Such an answer conveys that you will be spending time in learning and expanding your skill-set, even when you reach beyond your entry level position.

It is just about general and just about specific, isn’t it? And notice how there’s no lying involved. Just re-framing things in a way that conveys a growth-mindset.

 

One just needs to strike a balance between being general and being specific! Between being grand and being articulate.

“Where do you see yourself in five years?” is a question that subtly looks at your definition of growth, goals, success, learning and development. 

How to Answer “Tell Me About Yourself” in An Interview

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Have you ever been asked to tell a bit about yourself during an interview? Have you felt yourself going blank as you get asked this question? Have you found yourself entirely clueless?

Going completely quiet as one gets asked “can you tell me something about yourself?” is more common than you think. In that one moment, it is as if people forget everything they have accomplished in their life.

We bring you some tips to keep in mind while you prepare for an interview, so that when you do get asked the question, you have some great things to say.

Firstly, Why is the Question so Tough to Answer:

Answers to questions which require you to talk about your strengths, weaknesses, your experience, your CV can be memorised.

A question like “tell me about yourself” no doubt, can have rehearsed answers. But it is still a very unstructured question, which requires you to pick just the right things to talk about. We are left wondering what exactly does the interviewer want to hear. That is what makes it tricky.

Here are some tips.

 

  • Prepare Well:

Not with a word to word rehearsed answer, but going to an interview, with a loose script in mind is a good idea. In other words, going to an interview with the answer to the following questions in mind is a good idea.

  1. What is my educational background?
  2. What is my career background?
  3. What qualities make me stand out from other candidates?
  4. What are my interests and aspirations?
  5. Why am I a good fit for the company?

Collectively, the answers to these questions are a response to the bigger question “can you tell me about yourself?” .

 

  • The Resume Trick:

Common wisdom says it is not a good idea to simply summarise your resume. Besides, the question “can you walk me through your CV?” is there to fill that role.

However, you can use the relevant detail from your resume as a reference, and then use it as a way to talk about yourself.

For example, one can say something like:
“As you can see, my resume shows I have experience in IT, and you might be wondering why I decided to apply for this managerial position. Well, I have always considered myself a…”

 

  • The Quality Check:

Now comes the core of the answer.

When you are asked a question like this, you can talk about an instance which highlights a couple of your qualities. Beginning by giving some context as mentioned in the previous point, you can then talk about those qualities, followed by a specific example.

Here, your quick-thinking plays a role: you choose the example, and the quality according to the company culture, the position and other requirements of the job.

Does the position require you to be a good administrator? Sharp critical thinking skills? Great interpersonal skills? Good communication skills?

So, when you prepare for your interview, also think about this, and then try to recall a time when you displayed the quality.

But, wait, what if you are applying at a position from a different industry? How does one choose an example then? Wouldn’t that become irrelevant?

The answer is no. The example would not be considered irrelevant if you tailor it in a particular way, which highlights the quality, and not just the technicalities.

 

But what if you don’t have experience? How does one choose an example then?

One need not choose an example from just the professional field. Unpaid experiences count. Remarkable incidents and achievements garnered from extra- and co-curricular- activities one did as a student, volunteering, charity work, community/social service can also be used as examples to talk about the relevant qualities.

 

Remember, the purpose of the question is to get an idea about how much you understand about the requirements of the position: the qualities you require to handle the tasks successfully.

 

  • What Not to Do:
  1. Do not go off track.
  2. Do not use too many fillers like “well”, “umm”, “okay”, “so”.
  3. Do not start talking about awkward personal details.
  4. Do not parrot what’s written in your CV and cover-letter
  5. Do not make it too long.
  6. Do not ask “what do you want to hear?”

 

So now, the next time you find yourself faced with “tell me about yourself”, you will actually have things to talk about!

Preparing the Perfect 30 Second Introduction

 

30 sec Intro

 

Imagine you have gone to a conference. There will be lots and lots of professionals, eager to do some networking. No one has the time to actually have a long discussion but everyone is willing to network, somehow.

Or just imagine you are someone looking for a career opportunity. You get on an elevator, and there walks in the CEO of a company you were going to apply at!

There’s a new client you need to network with, preferably for the long-term. There’s a call and you need to make them listen first, you need them to stay. You need to sell your brand. And fast, they have a list of companies waiting for tie-ups!

In situations like these, the thirty second intro comes to the rescue. It’s  also known as an elevator pitch.

 

First things first, what does it mean?

As the name suggests, it is a short, clear, concise introduction of your brand (personal or company, depending on the situation). While you might consider it as a verbal equivalent of your business card, it is supposed to be much more engaging.

It should have the brevity of an elevator ride: you should be able to give a basic but engaging introduction of your brand in the approximate time-span of an elevator ride.

You have to be prepared because you never know when opportunity knocks, right? It’s almost like a script you rehearse and follow. Almost. We will get to it soon.

 

Now, what should you include in the short introduction?

This will depend according to your purpose and audience. But the very basics include:

  • Who you are, that is, not just your name but also your clear job title.
  • Chief skills, competencies and chief audience.
  • What makes you unique.
  • An example that gives substance to your claim to be unique. But make sure you don’t go on telling a story. A general example is fine. We will get to the example soon.
  • Perhaps a tagline, a hook to sum it all up.

Even if you are going for an interview, or you want to write a summary for your LinkedIn, you can think of your intro along the lines of these questions, which are essentially variations of the basic outline just laid out above:

  • Who you are, and your current job title.
  • Where you have worked before. Remember, talk about it very briefly, only the highlights.
  • Your chief skills and competencies, your chief audience.
  • What makes you unique. Again, with examples of your accomplishments for substance.
  • What you are looking for and why.
  • Why you are currently in the market.

Remember, it should include all this information but not necessarily in this order. If you can think of a more engaging and fun (but still a coherent order), go for it.

 

What are some things you should keep in mind?

Now, why is it almost like a script?

Because you will have to prepare this beforehand, and perhaps even rehearse, so you know what to speak, when and to whom. Why ‘almost’? Because you are not going to parrot it. You will have to be mindful about your purpose, and the circumstances you find yourself in. It is not enough to stress the importance of changing the “script” according to who you are talking to. And most importantly, let the other person talk and let you ask questions.

You should be able to elaborate on a detail if you have been asked about it.

 

Now, an example! Construct something along these lines, which can work for your LinkedIn summary, your networking events, for interviews or maybe even unexpectedly bumping into someone. Remember, look at the context, assess what needs to be said and go for it!

A: I am A. I am currently a lawyer with the firm YXA. Let me know if you ever need my help in anything.

B: There are so many start-ups these days but new ventures take time to gain traction. Some people actually hope they don’t end up doing something illegal unintentionally! I see this a lot. That’s where I see the value of my job: helping people who want to set up their start-ups but aren’t sure in case of how to go about the legal processes and formalities.  I am B, a lawyer currently employed at the firm YXA. We deal with various arenas of law and legalities. Just recently I assisted a group of women who loved to bake cakes together set up a little bakery start-up of their own. If you have any of such requirements where the legalities need to be sorted out, I would be happy to assist!

A is just too plain. B gives the introduction, who is served, and also an example. There are enough details: not too many, which might confuse, and not too few, which might make one sound shady. There is a scope to ask more.

Once you know the structure in your mind, you will be able to create your own unique intros!

 

Remember, it’s almost a script. Keep the basic outline in mind, but don’t parrot it, and give the other person the time to respond. And don’t forget to hand them your visiting card while parting.

Keep it short, simple. No unnecessary jargon please! Show them what makes you different!