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What to Do When Asked About Weaknesses in a Job Interview

What to Do When Asked About Weaknesses in a Job Interview

A job interview can be as close to legal torture in the 21st century that hopefully any of us will ever get.

We’d rather have our pointless appendices’ removed than sit opposite someone who has the power to decide if we’re going to get any money in our bank account and feel like a useful member of society. No pressure then.

So if it’s not bad enough that you spent hours agonizing over the perfect outfit, checking the location (a hundred times) and reorganizing your CV for the 50th time you know at some stage you’re going to feel like you are facing the Spanish Inquisition or feel like you are 7 years old in front of the head master (who can reduce you to a blubbering wreck just by saying your first name.)

How are you supposed to perform well in an environment like that?

How are you supposed to showcase that you are the perfect candidate for the job when you can’t think of one clever thing to say?

And how are you supposed to get around the random questions companies insist on asking, like asking about your weaknesses in a job interview?

Let’s look at how to deal with those tricky questions that can leave you feeling stumped and like you have no chance of getting the job in ways that doesn’t require you to reinvent yourself.

Before you get in there

Who are they?

    It’s not rocket science to know that if you want a job you should do your research on that company:

    • What matters to them?
    • What is their brand like?
    • What does their website look like?
    • Does it talk about individuals, mission statements, ethos, values or charitable work?
    • How do they present themselves?

    Taking the time to learn about the company you are going to aim to work for means that whatever question that comes up you have in your head (hopefully if you actually took notes and really thought about the company) what they want to know and what floats their boat, i.e. you know who they want to work with.

    While anyone can (in theory) work anywhere, we all fit in some places better than others. Some will tell you it’s good to be able to change who you are; however eventually that can get physically, mentally and emotionally exhausting and that’s no good for long term success.

    Knowing who you are looking to work with means you can find out if you actually want the job too and if you don’t it helps you assess what matters to you in your career.

    Who am I?

      Turn on the TV, phone or laptop and just by watching an advert, you can work out what they are selling, what age it’s intended for, what kind of person it’s aimed at and even where their ideal demographic likes to eat or travel to.

      None of that is by accident.

      A strong brand attracts the right people. And just like organisations want to attract the right customers they also want to attract the right staff. Therefore before you even get to the interview really take the time to answer the questions above on yourself:

      • What matters to you?
      • What is your brand like?
      • What do you look like online?
      • What is your mission statement, ethos, values and charitable interests?

      Let who you are exude through every question you are asked. This also enables you to appreciate why you would really like to work for this company.

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      You’ve taken the time to assess if their values, beliefs, products, etc match up to what you want and that helps you to connect regardless of whether you get an answer wrong or not.

      This also means you have prepared some of the things that you want from that organization too. Are you looking to stay in that job for the rest of your life? Are you looking to learn new skills? Are you looking to be a part of a bigger team? Are you looking to take on the big challenges that face society?

      Knowing this information can really help because interviews are not just about being asked questions it is about the ability to ask effective well thought questions too.

      Practice, practice practice

        Interview skills is a bit like any communication skill especially public speaking; you need to consider what you want to get out of this communication and they want to get out of this communication too.

        To do this, it is about having the right skills and the right mindset. Like public speaking or any communication where you have a vested interested, an interview’s results can be damaged by not ensuring you look after both the mindset and skill set.

        For instance, you could have an awesome positive attitude; however if you’ve not done your research and physically prepared accordingly, you could still fail. Likewise, if you have all the right skills but lack the right mindset, again you could fail. To get around this you need to be prepared mentally.

        This works well for big moments in life too. Really visualize walking away from the venue, secretly grinning from ear to ear because you got exactly the result you wanted, i.e.:

        • How do you feel?
        • What was said?
        • What is going to happen next?
        • What are you wearing?
        • Where are you?

        Craft the result in your head in every detail.

        Why is this so important? Because in life, we can’t always plan for what is going to happen however we can be determined to get the result we want. And by being determined, we can ensure we keep heading in the right direction. Essential for interviews where you don’t actually know what is going to be asked of you.

        In the room

        How you act

          I’m very aware that so far I’ve not told you what to say to those difficult questions that really throw you and that’s because if you get everything else right, those questions (and their answers) become less important because overall you’ve still had the chance to shine and impress.

          When you walk in that room, you want to look like you should be there (and are pleased to be there) but not like you own the town. Arrogance can cost you the job and there’s a fine line between confidence and arrogance.

          Make eye contact. Are you the kind of person that can get served first in a packed bar? Then it’s a good chance you’ve sussed eye contact. Eye contact is not just about the eyes, it’s about your body too. How do you stand? With confidence?

          Do you look like a bunny trapped in the headlights of a car? Or happy to be here?

          This works on two levels, first it makes you look confident and secondly, it makes the other people in the room feel more comfortable. Try changing the way you sit and act in a room and watch how those around you can change too. We feed off other people.

          How you breathe and speak

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            A space in a sentence is not the same as an “Um” pause. Know the difference. One has confidence the other is feeling out of their depth.

            Practice lots of kinds of questions and practice out loud your replies. As someone that has helped a lot of people become successful public speakers, I know the importance of breathing for you and your audience.

            So practice, because where and how you breathe can impact on the way you come across:

            • What is their style? — Know the style of the person asking the questions.
            • Do they speak fast?
            • Do they like to use jargon? (Or do they hate it?)
            • Do they speak quietly or loudly?
            • Do they speak in long sentence?
            • Do they ask open questions or closed?

            These and more give you clues into the interviewers preferred way of speaking and if you can naturally mirror their language, terminology, tonality and phrasing the interviewer can feel like they are building a rapport with you.

            Don’t overdo it though, because that can be creepy and put them off!

            Down to the evil interview questions

            Think of it from the interviewer’s point of view, they’ve got to fill a position in their organization and they want their business to be the best. They want to know that the person they ask these questions to will be perfect to fit in their team, make the difference and help them achieve what they aim to.

            A big responsibility to achieve all of that in a few questions. So how can they find out who someone really is? How can they work out what is true in your CV and what you researched on line as the “top 10 things to include in your CV”?

            These questions are a mixture of tedium of asking the same question so many times, researching what questions you should ask (yes, it’s not just the interviewee that will hit the search engines!) and trying to ask questions that enables them to remember the individual behind each answer. So let’s look at what to say:

            I don’t know

              Not knowing the answer is not against the law and no one knows everything. So if you don’t know the answer, the first rule is don’t lie. You will get found out.

              Think about this right now, what could be an answer to a question that you don’t know that enables you to look honest and keen to learn more and capable in areas around this subject?

              Preparing some answers (Out loud so you can hear how they sound) means you can feel more prepared. And while I could write the words to say, they would be my words and not natural to you and so could come across as fake.

              The key to shining in an interview is allowing who you really are to shine through. (If they don’t like that, it could be this is the wrong company, not you’re the wrong candidate!)

              Don’t’ be a politician

                Another dangerous approach is to keep talking without answering the question. This is an infuriating technique that could cost you points. Think about answers that you can give that showcase what you do know in this field.

                “I’ve not had a lot of experience with xxx however I’ve had great results using xxx and it led to a xxx% increase in sales so I feel I have the right skills to migrate to xxx”

                Thinking about what you are good at and how it relates to the job you are going for means you can prepare lots of answers like this.

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                When working with someone who is looking to pitch to an audience or engage an audience with an idea that they may not (initially) like, you don’t want to tell the audience what to think, however you do want to answer the negative questions that are in their heads.

                The same applies in an interview. What questions do you feel would worry you if an interviewer asked them of you? How could you alleviate their concerns in prepared answers?

                Proof is in the pudding

                  When you are faced with tough questions, be prepared with examples of how successful you’ve been in the past.

                  For instance, when I first trained as a coach many years ago, I didn’t want to tell people I was a newly qualified coach (newly qualified can sound amateur and not up to the job, right?), so I steered my answer to the fact that I was 1 of the UK’s youngest female automotive Body shop managers with over 20 years experience in business.

                  Proven experience, right?

                  Think about successes in your career and how they can feature in your proof.

                  Steer clear of extravagant exaggeration

                    While it’s important to showcase “why you” with proof and to be confident. No one likes a big head, so be mindful of your language.

                    I’m over enthusiastic at the best of times, so I have to be mindful of my audience and ask myself “is this the kind of language that makes them feel comfortable or am I making myself stand out for the wrong reasons.”

                    Feel free to say “I had a xx% increase in productivity from the team thanks to this idea;” however, avoid “It was due to my brilliance that I created this system that helped the department increase productivity by xx.”

                    How does your choice of language impact on the way you come across? Are you someone that risks exaggeration or exuberant language?

                    Know when to shut up

                      If you are digging yourself in a deep whole with an answer that goes nowhere. Know when to stop talking.

                      Taking a moment to prepare your prospective replies can help with this. If you’re concerned about not talking or having an answer, repeat their question back to them in this style: “That is a good question, ‘what is my view on my ability to deal with xxx?’” and in doing so, you create the space to think.

                      Thinking is not banned in an interview. If anything, a well prepared reply says you are confident in your own skin and are taking this seriously instead of just splurging out the first thing that comes into your head.

                      The answer for “What is your biggest weakness?”

                      They ask the question that you feel can only make you look bad, so how do you handle it?

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                      Remember the reason they are asking you these questions is because they want to find out who you are really are. They need to know who they are employing, so remember they are not trying to trick you.

                      Everyone makes mistakes. Everyone has new things they need to learn. Everyone has something they wished they had handled differently. Everyone has something they’ve said they regretted.

                      Think of a moment in your professional life that you wish you had handled differently. How can you word it so that it sounds like you not only recognized the need to do something differently but learned something powerful from it too?

                      If you want to see how this works. Listen to the radio and a seasoned pro turn any question around so that they get to talk about what they want to.

                      I once trained a team who were likely to end up on the radio. They knew they weren’t going to be asked to speak about their business (which they wanted to) and it was likely to be a conversation about something random like mince pies. I remember one member of the team saying, “this is impossible” only for us to change their style of communication that meant within 2 sentences talking about mince pies had turned into talking about what the business was doing locally.”

                      It takes practice but can be done and is a skill you won’t just use in interviews, you could find yourself using this in every area of your life.

                      Another skill to copy from presenters and those great at TV and radio is their ability to bat the conversation back to the other person in a respectful way. While the interviewer is keen to hear you speak, it’s important to know when to stop talking and enable the interviewer to take control of the conversation again.

                      A big issue for candidates is that they are so keen to say everything relevant to the subject that has been raised that they don’t know when to let the interviewer take back the conversational control.

                      By practicing what you are saying and what you want it to say about you, you will feel more comfortable with giving the control back.

                      Final thoughts

                      I heard a story years ago that the English Rugby team were playing atrociously. They then employed a coach (not a sport coach, but a coach like myself) to help the team perform better.

                      One of the strategies they put in place was that in the second half, the team would come back on the pitch in a clean kit. This enabled them to feel fresh and new to the game bringing a new attitude and mindset.

                      I’ve been unable to find any proof of this story (and I’m always keen to verify what I share with you). However, I can tell you that this clean kit approach has worked with many clients who’ve found themselves making a mistake and not wanting 1 mistake to spiral into a cacophony of failure.

                      That they stop dragging up what has gone wrong. Stop the panic from escalating and start as if this is the very beginning. It’s powerful because the brain gets itself back to a positive state.

                      Thus if you find yourself drowning in a bad answer, let it go and concentrate on the result you want. And get that fresh feeling of “I’ve arrived and will do my best” or “If I’m not right for them, then they are not right for me.”

                      What could be your go to thought that gets you back to fresh thinking be?

                      Ultimately an interview is like any powerful communication you have in your life. Be it at work, at home, your child’s school, your parents doctor or even trying to get a flight out of a fog bound city.

                      The skills you learn to communicate powerfully can have a knock on effect across your entire life. So it’s worth investing some time and honing your skills.

                      Featured photo credit: Andrew Worley via unsplash.com

                      More by this author

                      Mandie Holgate

                      Coach, International BEST Selling Author, Speaker & Blogger helping thousands around the world.

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                      Last Updated on September 30, 2019

                      How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes (with Examples)

                      How To Write Effective Meeting Minutes (with Examples)

                      Minutes are a written record of a board, company, or organizational meeting. Meeting minutes are considered a legal document, so when writing them, strive for clarity and consistency of tone.

                      Because minutes are a permanent record of the meeting, be sure to proofread them well before sending. It is a good idea to run them by a supervisor or seasoned attendee to make sure statements and information are accurately captured.

                      The best meeting minutes takers are careful listeners, quick typists, and are adequately familiar with the meeting topics and attendees. The note taker must have a firm enough grasp of the subject matter to be able to separate the important points from the noise in what can be long, drawn-out discussions. And, importantly, the note taker should not simultaneously lead and take notes. (If you’re ever asked to do so, decline.)

                      Following, are some step-by-step hints to effectively write meeting minutes:

                      1. Develop an Agenda

                      Work with the Chairperson or Board President to develop a detailed agenda.

                      Meetings occur for a reason, and the issues to be addressed and decided upon need to be listed to alert attendees. Work with the convener to draft an agenda that assigns times to each topic to keep the meeting moving and to make sure the group has enough time to consider all items.

                      The agenda will serve as your outline for the meeting minutes. Keep the minutes’ headings consistent with the agenda topics for continuity.

                      2. Follow a Template from Former Minutes Taken

                      If you are new to a Board or organization, and are writing minutes for the first time, ask to see the past meeting minutes so that you can maintain the same format.

                      Generally, the organization name or the name of the group that is meeting goes at the top: “Meeting of the Board of Directors of XYZ,” with the date on the next line. After the date, include both the time the meeting came to order and the time the meeting ended.

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                      Most groups who meet do so regularly, with set agenda items at each meeting. Some groups include a Next Steps heading at the end of the minutes that lists projects to follow up on and assigns responsibility.

                      A template from a former meeting will also help determine whether or not the group records if a quorum was met, and other items specific to the organization’s meeting minutes.

                      3. Record Attendance

                      On most boards, the Board Secretary is the person responsible for taking the meeting minutes. In organizational meetings, the minutes taker may be a project coordinator or assistant to a manager or CEO. She or he should arrive a few minutes before the meeting begins and pass around an attendance sheet with all members’ names and contact information.

                      Meeting attendees will need to check off their names and make edits to any changes in their information. This will help as both a back-up document of attendees and ensure that information goes out to the most up-to-date email addresses.

                      All attendees’ names should be listed directly below the meeting name and date, under a subheading that says “Present.” List first and last names of all attendees, along with title or affiliation, separated by a comma or semi-colon.

                      If a member of the Board could not attend the meeting, cite his or her name after the phrase: “Copied To:” There may be other designations in the participants’ list. For example, if several of the meeting attendees are members of the staff while everyone else is a volunteer, you may want to write (Staff) after each staff member.

                      As a general rule, attendees are listed alphabetically by their last names. However, in some organizations, it’s a best practice to list the leadership of the Board first. In that case, the President or Co-Presidents would be listed first, followed by the Vice President, followed by the Secretary, and then by the Treasurer. Then all other names of attendees would be alphabetized by last name.

                      It is also common practice to note if a participant joined the meeting via conference call. This can be indicated by writing: “By Phone” and listing the participants who called in.

                      4. Naming Convention

                      Generally, the first time someone speaks in the meeting will include his or her name and often the title.

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                      For example, “President of the XYZ Board, Roger McGowan, called the meeting to order.” The next time Roger McGowan speaks, though, you can simply refer to him as “Roger.” If there are two Rogers in the meeting, use an initial for their last names to separate the two. “Roger M. called for a vote. Roger T. abstained.”

                      5. What, and What Not, to Include

                      Depending on the nature of the meeting, it could last from one to several hours. The attendees will be asked to review and then approve the meeting minutes. Therefore, you don’t want the minutes to extend into a lengthy document.

                      Capturing everything that people say verbatim is not only unnecessary, but annoying to reviewers.

                      For each agenda item, you ultimately want to summarize only the relevant points of the discussion along with any decisions made. After the meeting, cull through your notes, making sure to edit out any circular or repetitive arguments and only leave in the relevant points made.

                      6. Maintain a Neutral Tone

                      Minutes are a legal document. They are used to establish an organization’s historical record of activity. It is essential to maintain an even, professional tone. Never put inflammatory language in the minutes, even if the language of the meeting becomes heated.

                      You want to record the gist of the discussion objectively, which means mentioning the key points covered without assigning blame. For example, “The staff addressed board members’ questions regarding the vendor’s professionalism.”

                      Picture a lawyer ten years down the road reading the minutes to find evidence of potential wrongdoing. You wouldn’t want an embellishment in the form of a colorful adverb or a quip to cloud any account of what took place. Here’s a list of neutral sounding words to get started with.

                      7. Record Votes

                      The primary purpose of minutes is to record any votes a board or organization takes. Solid record-keeping requires mentioning which participant makes a motion — and what the motion states verbatim — and which participant seconds the motion.

                      For example, “Vice President Cindy Jacobsen made a motion to dedicate 50 percent, or $50,000, of the proceeds from the ZZZ Foundation gift to the CCC scholarship fund. President Roger McGowan seconded the motion.”

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                      This vote tabulation should be expressed in neutral language as well. “The Board voted unanimously to amend the charter in the following way,” or “The decision to provide $1,000 to the tree-planting effort passed 4 to 1, with Board President McGowan opposing.”

                      Most Boards try to get a vote passed unanimously. Sometimes in order to help the Board attain a more cohesive outcome, a Board member may abstain from voting. “The motion passed 17 to 1 with one absension.”

                      8. Pare down Notes Post-Meeting

                      Following the meeting, read through your notes while all the discussions remain fresh in your mind, and make any needed revisions. Then, pare the meeting minutes down to their essentials, providing a brief account of the discussion that summarizes arguments made for and against a decision.

                      People often speak colloquially or in idioms, as in: “This isn’t even in the ballpark” or “You’re beginning to sound like a broken record.” While you may be tempted to keep the exact language in the minutes to add color, resist.

                      Additionally, if any presentations are part of the meeting, do not include information from the Powerpoint in the minutes. However, you will want to record the key points from the post-presentation discussion.

                      9. Proofread with Care

                      Make sure that you spelled all names correctly, inserted the correct date of the meeting, and that your minutes read clearly.

                      Spell out acronyms the first time they’re used. Remember that the notes may be reviewed by others for whom the acronyms are unfamiliar. Stay consistent in headings, punctuation, and formatting. The minutes should be polished and professional.

                      10. Distribute Broadly

                      Once approved, email minutes to the full board — not just the attendees — for review. Your minutes will help keep those who were absent apprised of important actions and decisions.

                      At the start of the next meeting, call for the approval of the minutes. Note any revisions. Try to work out the agreed-upon changes in the meeting, so that you don’t spend a huge amount of time on revisions.

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                      Ask for a motion to approve the minutes with the agreed-upon changes. Once an attendee offers a motion, ask for another person in the meeting to “second” the motion. They say, “All approved.” Always ask if there is anyone who does not approve. Assuming not, then say: “The minutes from our last meeting are approved once the agreed-upon changes have been made.”

                      11. File Meticulously

                      Since minutes are a legal document, take care when filing them. Make sure the file name of the document is consistent with the file names of previously filed minutes.

                      Occasionally, members of the organization may want to review past minutes. Know where the minutes are filed!

                      One Caveat

                      In this day and age of high technology, you may ask yourself: Wouldn’t it be simpler to record the meeting? This depends on the protocols of the organization, but probably not.

                      Be sure to ask what the rules are at the organization where you are taking minutes. Remember that the minutes are a record of what was done at the meeting, not what was said at the meeting.

                      The minutes reflect decisions not discussions. In spite of their name, “minutes,” the minutes are not a minute-by-minute transcript.

                      Bottom Line

                      Becoming an expert minutes-taker requires a keen ear, a willingness to learn, and some practice, but by following these tips you will soon become proficient.

                      Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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