Interviewing for Finance Professionals 101: What is your weakness?

“Well, I tend to take work home with me, and can find it difficult to get that balance between ‘work’ and ‘play’ right sometimes. Which means that, sometimes, I don’t have the necessary time to recharge, which can affect my performance. I’ve managed to correct this to some extent by being more rigid with my time planning and ensuring time-critical tasks are done earlier in the day.”

Yawn.

If you’ve ever interviewed, you’ve probably heard this one before, in some shape or form. That’s because there is a commonly held (and applauded) thought process behind it, which is that if you can give a weakness which is also a strength (i.e., it shows your total dedication to the job and shows you work long hours) then it’s a good way to ‘swing’ it in your favour.

Rubbish. Using a very fabricated example like this not only screams you made-it up, it just doesn’t answer the question.

Not being properly prepared to answer a question about weaknesses can cost you the job. While you might or might not be asked out directly about a ‘weakness’, you will likely have to provide some critique of your own skill set at some point in the interview, whether it’s in the guise of an area for professional development, an inhibitor you’ve overcome, or a ‘gap’ in experience or competencies in relation to the role you’re interviewing for.

#1 Never use a personality-based flaw

Toss those ‘perfectionist tendencies’ and work-life balance issues out the window. And never use one about public speaking. Not only do they not sound authentic, because everyone uses them, they could raise a question mark in the mind of your interviewer. Although things like public speaking might not be relevant to the job now, as a future finance leader, communication and presentation skills are key. Personality is subjective, so remember, your interviewer(s) may view what you see as a minor weakness as a major one. All the more annoying if it’s one you just made up.

#2 Try to identify something on the periphery of the job description you’d need to learn, but can do so, quickly

An area of knowledge, or a hard skill, is still a weakness, but it’s much easier to overcome. You’ve spent your whole life learning, so what is stopping you from continuing this and learning something else? As long as the skill or area of knowledge you chose isn’t ‘essential’, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker. Something like a new system (if it’s not essential), or an additional responsibility you’ve had exposure to but not accountability for, could be a good option. Likewise, if there is an ‘elephant in the room’ like a lack of specified industry experience, this could be an excellent opportunity for you to put your case forward as to why this won’t be a problem for you, or them.

#3 Identify where you’ve had to overcome a similar weakness before

As mentioned above, it’s more than likely that in every role you’ve ever moved into, you’ve had to learn something. Take your ‘weakness’ as above, and think of where you’ve had to overcome a similar gap in your previous career history. Once you’ve identified this example, you can use it to show your interviewer(s) that it shouldn’t be a problem, as you’ve been in this situation before, and it hasn’t inhibited you, or affected your performance.

#4 Show them you know what you need to do to not let it affect you, or them

Finally, once you’ve demonstrated why it shouldn’t be an issue, seal the deal by outlining your game plan to overcome your weakness. If it’s an area of knowledge, how are you going to get up to speed quickly – who would you need to talk to in the organisation, and is there any self-study you can do? Can you gain this system exposure through other means?

Illustrating you not only can identify weaknesses in your ability to excel, but understand how to fix them is key to self development. It’s also key to leadership. So next time, instead of praying they don’t ask you, or rolling out the answer you’ve had since University, use it as an opportunity to engage, and show them how capable you are!

Good luck!

P.S. one of our earlier posts also addresses the question of weaknesses see here, and had a final suggestion as follows;

“Hiring Manager: “What is your biggest weakness?”
Candidate: “Mmmm…I’d have to say chocolate…yes chocolate”

Sometimes…a little bit of well placed humour can go a long way 😉 Assuming of course you follow up with a response that is a little more cogent!”

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