Daily English
Cultural English
Practical English

6 What are your weaknesses?

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SUMMARY OF TIPS:

Your Goal: To name weaknesses that can be improved on and that may be an
asset in the right circumstances

! Don’t try to present a strength as a weakness, such as being a workaholic or being too detail-oriented.
! Keep the weakness a small one.
! Show how you are working to improve on your weakness.
! Give specific evidence or examples of how you’re working to overcome your weakness.
Some options:
! Tell the interviewer about a weakness you have already overcome.
! Tell the interviewer about a mistake you made in the past to show that you can learn from your mistakes.
! Tell the interviewer about a weakness that does not relate to the duties of this job.

Sample Answer 1:

A weakness that I have is that I don’t like to do public speaking and I get nervous when I have to give a presentation or a speech in front of other people. I
realize that I won’t need to do any public speaking in this job right now, but I want to overcome this fear so that when the time comes, I’ll be prepared. It’s important to me to identify any shortcomings that may affect my job performance or career advancement opportunities, and to do something about
them.

To combat my fear of public speaking, I took a public speaking class at Litton College a few months ago, and after I finished the course, I joined a Toastmaster club. I have been going to the club meetings regularly where I give speeches in front of other members and I get constructive criticism about my performance.

I can say that in the past five months, I have become a better and more confident speaker. I think, however, I can be even better, and that’s why I’ve continued to attend meetings and to look for opportunities to put into practice what I’ve learned. I’m confident that in a very short time, I’ll be an even better and more effective speaker and presenter.

Sample Answer 2:

When I started my first job, I had trouble with procrastination. Even though I never missed a deadline, I found that procrastinating put me under unnecessary stress, and this hurt my enjoyment of the job. Fortunately, I realized the problem fairly quickly and did something about it.

The first thing I did was to talk to my colleagues about how they managed their time effectively. I learned that many of them used project management software, which I also began to use. This type of program allowed me to set deadlines and benchmarks for the different tasks I had to do, and gave me reminders about how far along I should be on a given task. This helped with my planning and has made me more organized overall. Now, I use this type of planning for all of my major job tasks, and procrastination is no longer a problem for me.

Other weaknesses and remedies:

! I sometimes lose patience when I attend long meetings. What I do now is I prepare myself mentally before each meeting to expect a certain amount of discussion. Setting that expectation in my mind helps me to be more patient and to be a better listener.

! Sometimes when I’m working on a big project, I focus too much on the details. So now, I always spend a few minutes at the end of each day sitting back and thinking about the general scope of my work. It forces me to keep priorities straight and helps me keep the right mindset.

! I used to have some problems with organization. Now, I keep a schedule book with me at all times throughout the day and that keeps me on track.

GLOSSARY

public speaking – speaking in front of an audience; giving a speech or a presentation
* When I was in college, I took a public speaking course so that I could learn to be more comfortable in front of an audience.

to overcome – to deal with or control something so that it is no longer a problem
* Becky wants to start traveling for work, but first she will have to overcome her fear of flying.

when the time comes – when something happens; at the appropriate time; at the right time
* Rosie has been saving her money for years, so when the time comes to buy a house, she will have enough money in the bank.

to identify – to recognize something or someone; to select the right thing or person
* Chuck pays a lot of attention to detail and he’s very good at identifying small mistakes in other people’s writing.

shortcoming – something about oneself that isn’t as good as it should be; something that is lacking in one’s abilities or experience; a fault; a defect
* One of her greatest shortcoming is that she’s always late. I don’t understand why she can’t get to meetings on time.

to combat – to fight and win; to overcome
* The United Nations has programs that are working to combat world hunger.

constructive criticism – negative feedback (comments) about one’s performance that is intended to help someone improve
* Can you please give me some constructive criticism about this design? Please don’t just say that “it’s fine,” because I want to know your honest opinion.

confident – believing that one can do something; convinced that one can do something
* During an interview, it is very important to be confident and let the interviewer know that you are the best candidate for the job.

to put into practice – to use information or knowledge in a real-life situation
* Diana took a class to learn how to help someone who isn’t breathing, but she has never had to put her knowledge into practice. Do you think she could really save someone’s life during an emergency?

procrastination – a tendency to delay doing things until the last minute; waiting until close to the deadline to complete something
* She’s always saying that she’ll start on that new project tomorrow. Her procrastination is really becoming a problem.

stress – worry about one’s personal or professional problems
* Be nice to Alison. She’s under a lot of stress at home because her mother is sick.

to manage (one’s) time – to schedule one’s activities so that one can finish everything that needs to be done
* If I learned to manage my time better, I wouldn’t have to study all night before an exam.

benchmark – a goal; a standard; the time or place when one’s performance and progress can be measured and evaluated against what is expected
* The company tests all of its new employees and uses the results as a benchmark for their performance on the same test the next year.

to lose patience – to become frustrated and lose control because of a delay or because something is happening too slowly
* Damian isn’t a good teacher because he often loses patience when his students ask him to repeat an explanation.

to set an expectation – to establish the type of behavior or performance that is acceptable
* Their boss sets high expectations for all of the employees in the office and doesn’t accept any complaints about the work being too difficult.

scope – the full or large range of ideas and tasks involved in something
* The publisher and the photographer signed a detailed contract that described the full scope of the work they would be doing.

mindset – a combination of attitudes and opinions about something
* The reason Derrick and I don’t get along is because he has a very traditional mindset, believing that women shouldn’t work outside of the home.

organization – the neat and logical arrangement of ideas or things; good arrangement of ideas so that they can be understood by others.
* Creating an outline helps many students improve the organization of their writing.

COMPLETE TRANSCRIPT

ESLPod.com presents "Interview Questions Answered," episode six.

Hello, I'm your host, Dr. Jeff McQuillan, coming to you from the Center for Educational Development in beautiful Los Angeles, California.

This series is designed to teach you the English you need to know to have a successful interview. We'll first listen to some tips on how to answer the
question, and then we'll listen to and explain two sample answers for the question.

Our question in this episode is: "What are your weaknesses?" This is one of the more difficult questions to answer in an interview, and many people don't know what they should say.

Your goal in answering this question is to name a weakness - something that causes you problems that can be improved - something that you can make
better. You also want to mention something that could be a positive thing in different circumstances.

Now, you don't want to try to mention a strength and say that it's a weakness. For example, you can't say, "Well, one of my weaknesses is I work too hard. I'm a workaholic" - I work too much. That is a strength, and your employer - the interviewer - will see that you're not really answering the question. So, don't try to use things that are strengths and call them weaknesses.

Instead, you want to keep the weakness a minor one, or a small one. Don't mention a big problem you have, mention a smaller weakness - a smaller part of you that needs to be improved upon. So for example, if like to show up late - come to work late every day - you don't want to say that's one of your weaknesses. Or, you like to steal from the company, definitely not something you want to say as one of your weaknesses, even if it is! Instead, you want to
pick some things that are less important.

You also want to say how you can improve in this area of weakness - how you can make yourself better. In fact, you want to show that you are already making yourself better in terms of this weakness.

Finally, you want to give some specific evidence or examples of how you are working to overcome or to improve upon your weakness. You want to give them
an example of what you're doing to improve yourself - to improve this weakness that you have.

Here are some options in answering this question. First, you can tell the interviewer about a weakness that you have already improved - you have already
overcome - you have already made better. So, you used to, for example, get nervous when you had to call someone on the telephone, but then you did
something - you practiced, you talked to someone, you got some training - and now you don't have that weakness any more. So, you're telling them about a
weakness, but you're also telling them about how you made it better.

Another option is to tell the interviewer about some mistake - some error that you made in the past to show how you learned from that mistake - how you learned from that error. So, you can say that you did something wrong in one of your previous jobs, but that you learned from that and that you became stronger. So, the mistake is the weakness, but you also show how you became better.

Finally, you can tell the interviewer about a weakness that doesn't relate directly to what you are going to be doing on this job. It doesn't relate to the duties or the things that you have to do for the job. So, it may be a weakness that's not related to the things you are expected to do in the job.

Let's listen to a couple of sample answers, and I think you'll have a better idea about how to answer this question: "What are your weaknesses?"

[Start of sample answer]

A weakness that I have is that I don’t like to do public speaking and I get nervous when I have to give a presentation or a speech in front of other people. I realize that I won’t need to do any public speaking in this job right now, but I want to overcome this fear so that when the time comes, I’ll be prepared. It’s important to me to identify any shortcomings that may affect my job performance or career advancement opportunities, and to do something about them.

To combat my fear of public speaking, I took a public speaking class at Litton College a few months ago, and after I finished the course, I joined a Toastmaster club. I have been going to the club meetings regularly where I give speeches in front of other members and I get constructive criticism about my performance.

I can say that in the past five months, I have become a better and more confident speaker. I think, however, I can be even better, and that’s why I’ve continued to attend meetings and to look for opportunities to put into practice what I’ve learned. I’m confident that in a very short time, I’ll be an even better and more effective speaker and presenter.

[End of sample answer]

In our first sample answer, the person began her answer by saying that "A weakness that I have is that I don’t like to do public speaking." Public speaking means standing up in front of other people and giving a talk - giving a presentation. This can be a weakness in many jobs where you're expected to give presentations to other people in your company or to other companies.

So, this is a weakness that she says that she has. She says she gets nervous when she has "to give a presentation or speech in front of other people." This is very common; many people get nervous. It's not a serious problem. She doesn't pick a big problem. More importantly, she talks about how she made herself better. She says, "I realize that I won’t need to do any public speaking in this job right now," so that she selected a weakness that is not related to this job, but it's a general weakness when it comes to some companies.

She goes on to say that "I want to overcome this fear so that when the time comes, I’ll be prepared." She's doing a couple of things here; first, she's talking about how she wants to overcome her fear. To overcome, "overcome," (one word) means to get over a problem - to control something so that it is no longer a
problem for you. "I overcame my fear" means I'm no longer have that fear.

So, she wants to overcome her fear of public speaking "so that when the time comes," meaning when something happens, "when the right time comes," when she needs, in this case, to do public speaking, she'll be able to do it. So, she shows here not only that she wants to improve on her weakness; she also shows that she wants to do better and wants to have more skills for a potential future job.

She says that "It’s important to me to identify any shortcomings that may affect my job performance." To identify means to recognize - to know - to select. The shortcomings that you have are the problems that you have. Shortcomings, "shortcomings," (all one word) are things that aren't as good as they should be, problems that you have to work on - to improve. She says that she wants to be able to know - to identify - these problems, and do something about them.

Now she's going to say how she is working on this problem. "To combat my fear of public speaking," she says, "I took a public speaking class at Litton College a few months ago." To combat, "combat," means to fight and win. Here, it means the same as to overcome. So to overcome, or "combat my fear, I took a class at Litton College. After I finished" this class - this "course, I joined a Toastmaster club." Toastmasters are groups of people who practice public speaking. Often, they are the business people who are nervous when they give public presentations, and so they have meetings. This is not part of the company; this is an outside of the company organization. They have meetings which they use to learn how to speak better in front of other people.

So, she goes to this Toastmaster club regularly. She goes to their meetings and she gives "speeches in front of the other members." After she gives her speech, she gets "constructive criticism" on her performance. Criticism is when someone tells you did something wrong. Constructive criticism, "constructive," is criticism that helps you. So, you can have criticism that doesn't help you, someone says, "Oh, you're terrible," that's not helpful criticism. If they say, "You're doing this wrong, and here's how you can get better," if they give you a way of improving that's called constructive criticism. So, the woman giving this answer says she gets constructive criticism, which helps her improve on her public speaking.

She ends by talking about how she has now mostly overcome this weakness; it's no longer a problem for her, mostly. She says, "I can say that in the past five months, I have become a better and more confident" public "speaker." To be confident means that you believe that you can do something. She says, "I think, however, I can be even better, and that’s why I continued to attend meetings and to look for opportunities to put into practice what I’ve learned." So even though she's gotten better, she shows that she continues to want to improve herself, and so she keeps going - she continues going to these meetings.

She also says she looks "for opportunities to put" it "into practice," or "to put into practice what" she "learned." The expression to put something into practice means to use what you have learned, perhaps at school or at a training, and use it in a real-life situation - an actual situation.

She says that "I’m confident that in a very short time, I will be an even better and more effective speaker and presenter." So, notice how she took this weakness - getting nervous about talking in front of other people - and she described how she made herself better - she already is making herself better, and that she will continue to improve. She also selected a weakness that that is not directly connected with what she has to do on this job, so that's another smart strategy.

Now let's listen to the sample answer, this time at a native rate of speech.

[Start of sample answer]

A weakness that I have is that I don’t like to do public speaking and I get nervous when I have to give a presentation or a speech in front of other people. I realize that I won’t need to do any public speaking in this job right now, but I want to overcome this fear so that when the time comes, I’ll be prepared. It’s important to me to identify any shortcomings that may affect my job performance or career advancement opportunities, and to do something about them.

To combat my fear of public speaking, I took a public speaking class at Litton College a few months ago, and after I finished the course, I joined a Toastmaster club. I have been going to the club meetings regularly where I give speeches in front of other members and I get constructive criticism about my performance.
I can say that in the past five months, I have become a better and more confident speaker. I think, however, I can be even better, and that’s why I’ve continued to attend meetings and to look for opportunities to put into practice what I’ve learned. I’m confident that in a very short time, I’ll be an even better and more effective speaker and presenter.

[End of sample answer]

Now let's listen to another sample answer to the question: "What are your weaknesses?"

[Start of sample answer]

When I started my first job, I had trouble with procrastination. Even though I never missed a deadline, I found that procrastinating put me under unnecessary stress, and this hurt my enjoyment of the job. Fortunately, I realized the problem fairly quickly and did something about it.

The first thing I did was to talk to my colleagues about how they managed their time effectively. I learned that many of them used project management software, which I also began to use. This type of program allowed me to set deadlines and benchmarks for the different tasks I had to do, and gave me reminders about how far along I should be on a given task. This helped with my planning and has

made me more organized overall. Now, I use this type of planning for all of my major job tasks, and procrastination is no longer a problem for me.

[End of sample answer]

In the second sample answer, we see that the person has identified a weakness. In this case, it is with procrastination. Procrastination, "procrastination," means to delay doing something - to wait until it's almost too late before beginning on something. To wait too long before you start something; this is procrastination.

Now, procrastination is definitely a weakness - definitely something that might hurt you - but this person answered the question by saying that "Even though I" procrastinated - even though I used to wait too long to begin my projects, "I never missed a deadline." So, it was never a serious problem. He says instead, that it put him "under unnecessary," or unneeded, "stress." Stress, "stress," is the anxiety that you feel - the worry that you feel about problems, personal problems or professional problems.

So, even though this is a weakness, it's not a weakness that has hurt him in his job. It is, however, something that he has tried to fix - he has tried to make better. He says, "Fortunately, I realized the problem fairly quickly," meaning pretty quickly or very quickly, and I "did something about it."

The second part of his answer explains exactly what he did to get over this weakness. He says that he talked to his colleagues and asked them "how they manage their time effectively." To manage your time means to schedule your activities so that you can finish everything you're supposed to do. You put things in the right priority, that's part of managing your time.

He learned that many of his colleagues used something called "project management software," a computer program that helped them get their time organized and manage their time effectively. He explains that this project management software helped him "set deadlines and benchmarks for different tasks" he had to do. A benchmark is like a goal or an objective. It's a certain point in a project where you've completed part of it. So, you have a big project
that takes ten weeks, you can divide it into smaller parts, and when you finish a certain part, you've reached a benchmark - you've finished an important part of your task - an important part of what you have to do.

Well, this software program helped him do that, and also gave him "reminders about how far along" he "should be," meaning how much progress he should

have made in order to still be on time, or on schedule. He says, "This helped with" his "planning and has made" him "more organized. Now," he says, he uses this type of project management software - "this type of planning for all of" his "job tasks, and procrastination is no longer a problem for me." So, this is a problem that he says he doesn't have anymore because he did something about it and he improved himself.

There are lots of other types of weaknesses that you can talk about. You might talk about how you sometimes lose your patience; that when someone is talking to you or someone is doing something, you become frustrated. If that's your weakness, then you have to say how you are getting better. You are setting expectations, you are thinking about things and establishing a kind of behavior that is acceptable so that you don't lose your patience.

You might also say that you have problems with organization - that you used to have, in the past, problems with organization, but now you have a schedule and something that helps you organize yourself better, and you're no longer seriously affected by this problem.

Now let's listen to the sample answer number two, this time at a normal speed.

[Start of sample answer]

When I started my first job, I had trouble with procrastination. Even though I never missed a deadline, I found that procrastinating put me under unnecessary stress, and this hurt my enjoyment of the job. Fortunately, I realized the problem fairly quickly and did something about it.

The first thing I did was to talk to my colleagues about how they managed their time effectively. I learned that many of them used project management software, which I also began to use. This type of program allowed me to set deadlines and benchmarks for the different tasks I had to do, and gave me reminders about how far along I should be on a given task. This helped with my planning and has made me more organized overall. Now, I use this type of planning for all of my major job tasks, and procrastination is no longer a problem for me.

[End of sample answer]

That concludes "Interview Questions Answered," episode six. We hope you enjoyed this series. Remember that each of our episodes has a complete Learning Guide, which contains all of the vocabulary and definitions, along with additional information about the questions and a complete transcript of the episode.

To listen to more courses like this, go to our website at www.eslpod.com.

From Los Angeles, California, I'm Jeff McQuillan. Thanks for listening.

This course has been a production of the Center for Educational Development, in beautiful Los Angeles, California. Visit our website at eslpod.com.

This course was produced by Dr. Jeff McQuillan and Dr. Lucy Tse. Copyright 2006.