Changing the Meaning of 'Weakness'

August 14, 2017

"What is your biggest weakness?" The dreaded interview question. The one we stress over, worrying that our answer makes us seem either unqualified or arrogant. We expend ourselves contemplating the best wording and trying to develop an answer that exudes the perfect balance of modesty and self-awareness. But why should this question cause such concern? If we simply change our definition of ‘weakness,’ maybe we can more competently establish self-improvement practices and have an easier time answering this question.


In the interview context, ‘weakness’ is defined as a personal quality that poses a disadvantage in the workplace. To me, ‘weakness’ is synonymous with ‘flaw.’ These terms represent unfavourable qualities that I feel guilty for possessing – a feeling you shouldn't have when starting a new position since it could hinder your enthusiasm and confidence. Instead, I am going to offer an alternative word: potential. Thinking of your weaknesses as potential rather than flaws will change your perspective about the qualities you possess. The word ‘potential’ has more depth. It represents areas of development and presents the opportunity for you to create effective growth goals, turning these qualities into strengths. Rather than carrying a negative connotation, ‘potential’ implies improvement and success.


Let's look at an example. As a co-op student, I have had many interviews and have thus been asked, "What is your biggest weakness?" (or some version of it) multiple times. My usual answer would often involve my tendency to be reserved and introverted, and examples of how I was trying to become more outspoken. While extroversion can be the more preferred personality trait in certain circumstances, introversion should not be considered a weakness. In some cases, introversion is seen as the more favourable attribute. Whatever personality traits you have, seeing them weaknesses creates feelings of insecurity which inhibits the process of developing growth goals. Instead, I ask myself "What are some areas of growth you would like to develop?" By changing the wording, I can more easily think of specific instances in which being more outgoing would be beneficial, such as during a networking event, working in a group project, or presenting a case analysis for DECA ;) I now have something concrete to work towards, and can make use of my strengths to reach my full potential.


Remind yourselves of the classic saying: “No one is perfect.” We all have our own strengths and areas of development. Viewing these areas as weaknesses will likely discourage your willingness to grow. However, once you recognize the attributes you would like to develop, you will be more inclined to establish a course of action in order to improve and be successful.


Johanna Simco

Director of Training Administration, DECA U Guelph 2017-2018

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