It’s a question that seems to be beloved by so many interviewers – and can cause anguish to the person on the other side of the situation: ‘What would you say are your major weaknesses?’ To be honest, some interviewers simply ask the question because it’s what’s expected. Sadly, there are a few who might use it as a tripping-up mechanism; the good news is that, as a genuine sales professional, you probably wouldn’t want to work for or with them anyway!
Most often, it’s a way to help further asses the candidate who is sitting in front of the interviewer. Most people are prepared to discuss their strengths, although some will underplay them. The aim is to find the right line between seeming boastful and offering yourself as the best ‘solution’ to their current hiring ‘problem’. In reality, when handling the weakness question, you are trying to achieve the same results.
Here are three key ways to help you in managing this:
1. Consider what the job advertisement, posting, or description is asking for.
Assess your areas of strength and how they match with the noted duties; but also those where you may not perfectly match up to requirements (and do remember there really is no perfect candidate). Make sure any such weakness is not a vital aspect of the role, or the interviewer might simply screen you out. Do think of how you might turn what could be perceived as a weakness into a positive, without being glib about it. For example: if the sales role you are interviewing for is in a new marketplace to you, emphasis can be placed on your questioning skills and commitment to finding out what a customer truly needs. Rather than taking things for granted, as a well-versed applicant might do, your commitment to questioning can open up other opportunities that could be missed by someone who has ‘seen it all before’.
2. Avoid pretending that what you feel is a strength is actually a weakness.
Experienced interviewers will quickly see right through this tactic. Examples are answers such as: ‘Well I suppose I’m a bit of a perfectionist, by always making sure that I deliver exactly what I promised to my customer’ – or – ‘My boss often tells me I work too hard but I feel that putting the hours in gets the results I want’. Do also remember that, when talking about these weaknesses, your interviewer may be asking for references from the people you mention. It’s not good if their response tells a completely different story!
3. If a weakness is a ‘problem’ it’s up to you to suggest the ‘solution’.
Often, interviewers are looking at how openly you respond, how honest you are, but also how you are already dealing with the situation. They are unlikely to be impressed by someone who spots a flaw but then does nothing about it, or only seems half-hearted about sorting it out. If you seem to be well along the path to ‘redemption’, and can clearly explain how you are achieving this, then your interviewer would be less worried about it. By doing so, you are also showing you have some of the other skills that would be considered vital for the role of a sales professional.
Appearing well prepared for any interview results in you having the best chance to make a positive impression. Being able to effectively handle the ‘weakness’ question, may also place you a step ahead of many other applicants.