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How to Turn a Negative Into a Positive in an Interview Regarding Weaknesses

by Neil Kokemuller

During a job interview, you'll probably be asked to discuss some of your strengths and weaknesses. The first part is easy. The second part, not so much. Navigating the "weakness" question effectively can help set you apart from other job candidates. One common strategy is to convert your weakness from a negative to a positive. You have to prepare well to avoid coming across as trite. A strong answer shows humility, self-awareness and commitment to personal development.

Plan Ahead

The starting point with "how" to turn a negative into a positive is to plan ahead. You won't succeed in the interview if you haven't prepared. You know the weakness question is probably going to come, so take an inventory of your personal and professional strengths and weaknesses. Your goal is to come up with a genuine weakness that doesn't bring up a red flag for the hiring manager. You don't want to point out a weakness that contradicts a desired quality for the position. For example, if you seek an accounting job, you don't want to tell the interviewer that you have a hard time staying organized or keeping up with important details.

Show Self-Awareness

Your ability to speak honestly and intelligently about a weakness reveals that you have strong self-awareness. You recognize that you have weaknesses, that you understand them, and that you know you must improve. Acknowledging a weakness also makes you more likable and human. One good strategy is to present a weakness at the same time your present a strength. For example, you might say, "I am very focused on forming positive relationships with colleagues and customers, but I spend so much time on that that I sometimes struggle with details." This response lets the interviewer know that you have a weakness with details, while at the same time letting her know that you are good at building relationships. This works well with a relationship-centered, communication-driven position.

Show Growth and Development

Continuing on with your response, you also want to show emphasis on growth and development. You could finish your answer with, "I have gone to a couple seminars in the past year to improve my process of keeping track of details. I have developed a system of daily and weekly reminders that has helped me overcome some of my past problems in this area." Your answer reveals that you understand yourself and are committed to improving in areas where you struggle.

Avoid Common Mistakes

When answering the weakness question, it is important to avoid some common mistakes. First, don't say you have no weaknesses. This is not only unrealistic -- after all, everyone has weaknesses -- it also shows a lack of humility. You also need to avoid a trite response, or one that sounds canned. A common example is, "I'm a perfectionist so sometimes I'm too hard on myself." While this theoretically turns the answer into a positive, it also comes across as disingenuous. Another example is, "I'm so committed to my work that sometimes I push myself too hard." Again, this sounds like a generic response with little thought behind it.

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