As you may well know an interview is your opportunity to impress an employer. Your performance in an interview will determine whether you will move on in the application process or if you will be told the position has already been filled. It is your chance to talk about how great you are as you will likely be asked about your skills, experiences, and accomplishments.
However, what if you are asked about your shortcomings and failures? Should you lie to them and just reiterate how awesome you are? Should you be brutally honest and tell them a true story of a situation where you really blew it? Either way you’ll likely end up second guessing yourself into a mumbling answer about a group project you got a C- in.
To avoid that mess here are some strategies to answering questions that address weakness and past mistakes.
- What are your two greatest weaknesses?
This is the big one. The Michael Jordan of scary interview questions. You may only be asked for one weakness, however it is better off to be prepared so dig deep and think of two.
The way to attack this question is to do just that, attack it with a strategy. Be honest and pick a skill that you are weak in. Make sure you do not pick a skill that is mentioned in the job description as a qualification. Next describe steps you have taken to improve upon the skill so that it has become less of a weakness. Do not twist a strength into a weakness and vice versa. Being too organized, too motivated or too intelligent are not answers that are going to give insight into your abilities of self-reflection and improvement. Lastly discuss where you are now with the skill. Is it now a strength or is it still a weakness? If it is the latter explain what you are doing to continue improving it.
- Tell me about a time when you failed at something?
Make sure you actually talk about a time when you failed at something. The employer is not looking to see if you are a failure but rather how you react to failure. Use the STAR method (Situation, Task, Action, and Result) (maybe link to a pdf) to give a professional example from an experience on your resume, on or off campus activity, or from your coursework. Describe the reason you failed but also what you learned and the positive effect the experience has had on you. You may want to describe an example of an experience where the lesson from the failure helped you succeed.
- What would a previous employer say is something you need to work on?
Again be honest and pick a skill that you may have been weak in while at that past experience. However do not use skills such as leadership, teamwork or communication. Explain how you have worked on that individual skill, improved upon it, and will continue to improve upon it in the future. You may even want to use an example from a more recent experience demonstrating your improvement in the skill. Avoid the urge to take a shot at a previous supervisor or employer who was less than great to you during your time there. Understand that if you are bad mouthing a place you worked at in the past the employer may not feel so great about you now coming to work with them.
Follow these strategies, try to find a middle ground between humility and cockiness, and you’ll have no problem discussing your shortcomings in an interview.