Your Achilles’ Heel(s)

The worst interview question I have had to date:

Interviewer—“Name three of your biggest weaknesses.”

ME (internal dialogue)—My weaknesses? But I’m supposed to sell myself in an interview, not shoot myself in the foot! And three!? I prepared one—only one, which I am now blanking on, because I’m panicking!

And then all my answers are the WRONG ones—and yes, I do manage to profoundly shoot myself in the foot (or heel, I suppose).

Achilles' Arrow to Heel

Has this interview question ever stumped you? Don’t let it! Here’s the thing. That question is designed to see if we are aware of our weaknesses for one very important reason—to see if we are addressing them and working to turn them from weaknesses to something closer to a strength. Everyone has a weakness and no one is out to get you to fess up (even though it might feel like it).

It is not easy to identify and face our own weaknesses. And some of us have multiple weaknesses plaguing us (at least Achilles only had the one heel to worry about). We avoid our weaknesses because we are scared of them—scared that they could cost us a job, or a promotion, or expose us to ridicule or manipulation. I think too many people react by putting up a front and acting strong and ignoring the problem. No one wants to be weak or fess up to it, but ignoring a weakness means it never goes away.

As I have stated before, fears need to be acknowledged, because a they often alert us to opportunities; thus weaknesses are just another fear that need to be recognized in order for us to see where we need to improve. For example, if you play a sport and you are really good with your right hand, what do you spend time practicing on? You focus on your left hand, since it is the area that needs the most work. If a structure has a weak joint, does the architect add more support to the already strong joints? Of course not; he reinforces the weakest areas to ensure they don’t buckle.

Let me offer an example. Your public speaking is weak and you know it. You also know that public speaking is something you should get better at in order to do well at work. How can you address the issue? Start taking a course in public speaking. That is what an interviewer would want to hear.

Weaknesses breed fear and a lack of self confidence. It takes courage and determination to face them and start working to change them. It may take a lot of work. The LESSON: Weakness is fixable. Weaknesses tell you where you need to improve. Your GOAL: Acknowledge your weaknesses start addressing them one at a time.

So share your thoughts–how is your weakness directing your actions to help you become a better you?

Check out this post on Killer J Blog! About Achilles, the “bad ass” and striving to be like him! (also the source for the image in this post)

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8 thoughts on “Your Achilles’ Heel(s)

  1. Whenever I was asked about my weaknesses, I told the interviewer, “If you want an honest answer, speak to my wife.” ;-p I used that time and time again. It showed I was real and had a sense of humor.

    When asked this question, state the weakness and what you’re doing to improve. Your public speaking example is a good one.

    • I love it! Adding humor would also be a good way to lesson the nerves and make the situation a little more comfortable. And showing improvement is a sign that what’s a weakness today, may not be tomorrow.

      Thanks for sharing!

  2. Well, very interesting post. I’m still courious of which are your weaknesses and you manage to “shoot at your foot”. Anyway I think that this kind of question could be very interesting. Of course all of us knows very well which are our weaknesses but I think that there is always the second face of the same coin. And probably the point is to leverage on this second face in order to promote ourself. For example If I think about myself, I normally tend to look at the half empty glass and at all the problems before starting anything. But on the other side I can forecast problems before than others and whenever you have convinced me (which is very hard sometimes) then I go very strongly and convinced towards my goal.

    • “Leverage” is the perfect word for how to use your weaknesses to promote yourself. I love your example of using what appears like a weakness, you seeing the negative, and turn it to your advantage by showing how it actually means you can be more prepared for potential problems. This shows that it isn’t always a weakness depending on how you view it. This is an excellent point that I will remind myself of in the future!

      As to my weaknesses, I wrote this with public speaking in mind. Though I am usually okay during a presentation, I shook so bad during my last one that I am now determined to become more comfortable and practice. As to shooting myself in the foot, well, let’s just say lessons learned in past interviews!

      Thanks for sharing your great point!

      • This approach to the weaknesses is something that I have understood in work. I participate very deeply in the development of the products that are the core business of my company and I have been also involved in the process of promoting them with the customers. As you could imagine the customer sometimes does not share your point of view (maybe because wants just to squeeze on the price and so on) and of course you are aware that your product is not perfect. But after all the time and energy that you invested in the development you cannot leave him just look at the “half empty” glass. The same is for your life. When you go on an interview, be proud of what you are and let the interviewer understand your passion for what you do and so on. Maybe the interview will no be perfect but what the interviewer will perceive is your commitment, your passion and your dedication in what you are and in what you want to do. This is an absolute value and nobody can argue on that.

      • You make some very powerful points, Ivan, that I appreciate. Being proud, passionate, and committed,surpasses any of your weaknesses–and would definitly leave a strong impression on any interviewer. Thanks for that great insight!

  3. Caitlin,

    I think the “your biggest weakness” interview question is definitely my least favorite. And I’ve never heard of somebody being asked what three of their biggest weaknesses are! I wouldn’t have been prepared for this either.

    Somebody once told me to answer this question by mentioning strengths that are disguised as weaknesses. For example, I work too hard, I’m too committed to my job, etc.

    I definitely agree that the interviewer likely just wants to know that the person being interviewed is aware of their weaknesses and is trying to improve them.

    I also think when answering it helps to not apologize too much for the weakness or get down on yourself too much. I believe the best approach is answering with some confidence that you have a weakness, but you are taking steps to get better in that area.

    And I just realized that improving on one’s weaknesses is actually a strength, so that’s a way of turning the discussion away from your weaknesses to your strengths.

    • Hi Greg,

      I agree that the way in which you answer is important. As you say, confidence in answering and not getting down on yourself is a big deal; I’ve found that being unprepared or nervous can result in someone being overly critical of themselves. And, it had not occurred to me that improving upon our weaknesses is actually a strength. I like that idea.

      As always, thanks for sharing, Greg!

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