Nobody’s Perfect

Nobody’s Perfect

One of the most dreaded interview questions is “What are your weaknesses?”

No matter how qualified you are, you can’t get away with saying that you have none.  If things are going well up to this point and you’ve established a strong rapport with the interviewer, you can try some humor and say, “Isn’t this the part where I’m supposed to say that I work too hard and am a perfectionist?”  Then laugh, and make sure your interviewer knows it’s a joke. Your interviewer probably has heard those answers way too many times before and, if you’re trying to be serious, won’t believe a word.  In any event, your prospective employer will expect any lawyer to work long hours and strive for perfection, so they aren’t even weaknesses in this context!

Whether or not your interviewer has a sense of humor, most likely you’ll still have to answer the question.  A better strategy is to reframe it in your mind as, “Where do (or did) I have room for professional growth and how have I addressed the situation?”  The potential employer wants to see that you’re mature enough to reflect upon your performance and proactively take steps to correct any shortcomings.

As with any aspect of an interview, you want to prepare beforehand, yet not sound overly rehearsed.  You most likely will encounter this question or a variant thereof at some point in the interview.  Therefore, you should give some thought to possible flaws to mention.  Make sure they are work-related but not essential to your success on the job.  Carefully consider the position the employer wishes to fill and the qualifications and characteristics required.  If you will be managing teams, you don’t want to say that you are impatient with others.  If you’re interviewing for a trial lawyer position, you probably shouldn’t admit to being afraid of speaking in public. In all cases, avoid defects that impugn your integrity in any way.

Your attitude is almost more important that what you say. Avoid defensiveness or evasiveness. Also, refrain from using overly negative terms.  Talk about “issues” or “concerns” or “an area I could work on” rather than “problems” or “weaknesses”, and make sure your purported weakness is fixable.  You might also soften the impact and distance yourself from the possible shortcoming by saying that people who don’t know you well sometimes see you as [fill in the blank], but once they get to know you, they realize that you are [fill in the blank in more positive terms].  Refer to your imperfections in terms of behaviors rather than character flaws because behavior deficits can be remedied while character flaws are deeper and more intractable.

Regardless of the possible weakness you choose to mention, it’s essential that you discuss that you realized how it might be a problem, and describe the steps you took to correct it.  Back up your answers with specific illustrations. It’s important to remain confident and upbeat with your answer.

If these skills are not central to the position you are seeking, you could, for example, say that you found yourself falling behind current technological advances, or that your business skills weren’t up to the level you desire.  If true, describe courses you took and coaching you obtained to correct these shortcomings.  Discuss how your additional skills make you a value-added candidate.

Remember that nobody is perfect and everyone needs to improve and grow continually to progress in their careers.

Valerie Fontaine

Valerie A. Fontaine earned her JD from UC Hastings College of Law and her BA, Phi Beta Kappa and magna cum laude, from UCLA. She was on the Editorial Board of COMM/ENT, a Journal of Communications and Entertainment Law. Valerie practiced law with a prominent Los Angeles law firm and entered the legal search profession in 1981. Valerie is a member the Board of Directors of the National Association of Legal Search Consultants (NALSC) and serves on its Ethics Committee.
Valerie Fontaine

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