Managing Your Weaknesses

It’s one of the most dreaded interview questions – “What are your weaknesses?” Some see this as an opportunity to humble brag – pretending to be self-deprecating but in fact using it as an opportunity to highlight an attribute of which you are proud. Common examples are “I am a perfectionist” or “I am a workaholic”. This is not what any good interviewer wants to hear.

When an interviewer asks to hear about a candidates weaknesses, what they are really looking for is evidence of self-awareness. They want to see that this person understands themselves well enough to actually know their development areas, as well as having the motivation and ability to work on improving those areas. What they really want to hear is more along the lines of “I am not naturally good at managing my time, but have become increasingly aware that this is unhelpful in my working life and so I have begun scheduling my calendar in advance, leaving adequate gaps for unexpected circumstances and setting reminders for myself to ensure I stay on track”.

Figuring out what our weaknesses are is the first step in managing them. This can be challenging, as well as extremely uncomfortable at times. Think about things that have gone wrong for you in the past week, month, or even year. Write them down, identify what went wrong and why, is there a common theme emerging?

Sometimes, even after being as self-critical as possible, you are still unsure of what your weaknesses are. This is where the uncomfortable part begins. Ask. Ask a trusted friend, colleague or mentor. Ask family, in fact ask as many people as you can, whose opinions you trust. If you ask in such a way that reassures them that you looking for honest, constructive feedback they will be willing to help. But take this valuable information in the spirit in which it was intended; to help you grow as a person, both professionally and personally.

The information you receive may be completely unexpected and you may even believe it to be inaccurate. But if you have chosen these people for a reason – because they know you well and you trust them – consider that they are being brave and honest with you and respect that. Try not to react in the moment, even if, in fact especially if the information is upsetting or angers you. Write down the key points, ask for examples of how you show these behaviours and then reflect. Even if at first you don’t agree, given time to reflect on these points may lead you to see that there is in fact truth in them.

Of course, 360 feedback is an excellent tool designed specifically for this very purpose – it involves giving a questionnaire to a number of colleagues and other stakeholders, preferably those who work with you on a regular basis and who are at different levels both within and outside your organisation. Questions such as “what do I do well”, “what could I do better” and “what would you like to see me to do more of” can elicit helpful responses. In doing this, themes will begin to emerge.

Now that you have this information, what can you do with it? How do you go about actively managing your weaknesses?

  1. Pick one area you would like to work on to begin with. Identify the steps you can take to improve your listening skills for example if that is something which has been identified as a weakness. Identify two or three concrete behaviours directly related to the weakness, that you are going to change.
  2. Ask yourself how this behaviour is visible to others. If possible, at least one of the new behaviours should be visible to those around you so that others can see that you are making an effort to improve.
  3. Acknowledge your weakness to others. Tell them that you are aware that sometimes you don’t listen as actively as you could but you are making an effort to improve on this. Knowing your development points and owning them is a sign of strength. Explain what you are trying to do and even ask trusted colleagues to call you up when you are slipping, to remind you if you’re not listening, or if you are falling back into your old ways.
  4. Keep a journal and make daily notes on how you practiced the new behaviours. Use this to identify any potential triggers which may have led you to slip back into your old behaviours.
  5. It takes an average of 66 days to form a new habit and while at first it may feel unnatural, it will eventually become ingrained in your daily behaviours. The early stages are the most important in terms of learning the new behaviour so try to be particularly vigilant in the beginning.

It takes daily practice and we, as humans can be lazy at times and slip back to our old ways, particularly in times of high pressure or stress. Practicing, developing our awareness and asking others to hold us accountable can help ward against these slips and learn to manage our weaknesses.


Published in The Sunday Business Post 24th June 2018