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Interview Advice

08/09/2015 by Daniel Cohen

What’s your greatest weakness?
An interview question that crops up frequently in interviews, be it with HR, line or during a competency based session and one that can prove to be a stumbling block no matter how consummate your profile nor indeed no matter how impressive your achievements to date. There is an art to this, we have put together some ideas on how to approach this and what to avoid

Avoid actually offering an irredeemable character flaw
Now many moons ago I was interviewing for a graduate sales role for a publishing giant, 8 or 10 of us herded through in one go to pit our wits against each other (imagine the Hunger Games around a boardroom table). This question came up and we got round to one particular applicant: “Oh my god, well let’s see now, I panic a lot, I get flustered, I tend to make mistakes under pressure, I don’t think I’m very good under pressure…” and it didn’t stop there. 
An excellent character assassination but clearly 
not the way to go about things, you do not want to actually offer something to set their alarm bells ringing. Neither do you want to offer multiple weaknesses

He’s not the messiah, he’s a very naughty boy!
Equally, you do want to have an answer for this. Years ago we had a candidate, 
18 months experience, interviewing for an analyst role in markets. When posed this question the response, verbatim “well this might sound a bit arrogant but I don’t think I have any”. HR attempted to stifle a giggle as this feedback was relayed to us afterwards. The candidate was not invited back.

I work too hard, I’m committed 24/7, I sacrifice everything for my job
Actually a counterproductive response, not least because it’s palpably untrue (at least one would hope so, there’s a difference between an honest day’s work and the unhealthy level of application that you are suggesting), it’s a clichéd response. So, a couple of examples of what not to do, now some ideas on how to approach this.
Lack of exposure / limited exposure to X
Worthwhile response particularly for more junior candidates for a few 
reasons: this is something that is out of your hands to an extent if you only every cover a certain phase of a process, it’s not a character flaw and indeed it is something that can be remedied in a short space of time. Candidates can even suggest the solution to this shortcoming in interview with a combination of theoretical study or taking the extra time to learn the processes/job functions previously not touched upon. Some clients will also hire at a level with a view to training someone into the full job over a 2-3 year period, under such circumstances this becomes a particularly viable answer

Turning it on yourself in the right way.
Consider some of the following: Harsh critic of my own performance, Set myself impossibly high standards, undertake a lot of harsh self-examination if a deal goes wrong, Bad loser (word it a little less bluntly). Note the difference between this and stating you try and commit 24 hours a day to a cause. These 
are all qualitative notions which show you strive to achieve as much as possible and you have the hunger (especially if you are interviewing for a sales role). Back it up with conveyance that to overcome this ‘weakness’ you set about assessing how to improve yourself, what could have been done differently in order to succeed at a future point.

Stickler for detail, following the rules, insist on things being done by the book even if it’s not a popular decision.
In compliance or risk jobs this would of course be considered a virtue, the ‘weakness’ would be a case of allowing it to have an imagined negative effect on working relationships. Back it up with an example of incurring a trader’s wrath for maximum effect

Bunker play / putting / short game
Only to be used if you have spent some time chatting about golf or the interview has gone very well and you have swapped jokes!
Just some perspective there which might prove useful, there is of course no perfect way to answer this, the perceptions of the interviewer will always play a massive part in any questioning process. We will examine other interview aspects in detail throughout the year, keep an eye out for more information!

Category: Recruitment Author: Daniel Cohen

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0207 199 6263
finding the right person for the right role