No job candidate is perfect. Everyone has their flaws. Fortunately, employers aren’t looking for perfect people, just the right people.
Honesty is always the best policy during a job interview, but that doesn’t mean you have to put your weaknesses on display. Whether it’s your résumé or your personal challenges that might raise red flags with a hiring manager, addressing your weaknesses and framing them in a positive way can help you avoid making excuses or sounding defensive.
Even if your résumé is a little less than ideal, you can put a positive spin on some of the most common trouble spots employers are likely to question.
When you don’t have much experience
Lack of experience sets up a frustrating paradox—employers want to hire people with experience, but in order to gain that experience, you have to find an employer who’ll give a person without any a chance. What to do?
Remember that everybody starts somewhere, and hiring managers interview inexperienced candidates all the time. When you’re still growing in your career, there’s one positive quality you can emphasize to help you win over a potential employer—enthusiasm for learning. Show the employer that not only are you able to learn, but you’re excited by the possibilities.
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It’s not enough to say that you pick things up quickly, however. Everyone says that. Emphasize real-life examples of your ability to learn and adapt. If you’ve made a point to take extra classes, earn certifications, or even pursue new and interesting hobbies for the love of learning new things, take a moment to point them out. Ditto if you’re making a career change and you can point out skills from your previous job that show you’re quick on your feet.
Demonstrating that you’re a good cultural fit is also important. Skills can be trained, but finding the right personality match is much trickier for employers. Even the most qualified candidate isn’t likely to work out if she doesn’t fit in with the company’s overall vibe. If you’ve done your homework, you’ll have a good sense of the ideals the company embodies. Drawing attention to how well you’ll fit in can take the spotlight off your lack of experience.
When you have gaps in your employment
Don’t kid yourself—hiring managers are going to notice those gaps on your résumé, so you’ll need to address them.
Although honesty is the best policy, there are ways to turn things around so they don’t look so troublesome. If you struggled to find a new position after a layoff, for instance, you could say that you took your time trying to ensure that your next employer was a good fit. If you took a break to raise small children, care for a family member, or even broaden your horizons by traveling, don’t be afraid to say so. You’ll come off as more genuine and sympathetic than you would if you tried to sweep those things under the rug.
If you’re able to show that you did productive things with your downtime, such as taking classes or doing volunteer work, make sure you note them. It’s important to demonstrate that your résumé gap was a period of personal and professional growth and not just a time when you allowed yourself to sleep in late and binge-watch Netflix in your pajamas all day.
When you’ve hopped from job to job
In a Robert Half survey, HR managers said that having more than five jobs over a ten-year period is just too much job hopping. If you’ve made frequent job changes, be prepared to explain them.
Although moving between jobs every few years is more common these days, especially among younger workers, too many job hops in a short span of time can raise red flags. Are you never satisfied? Difficult to work with? Do you lack follow-through and commitment? The hiring manager will wonder, and it’s your responsibility to enlighten him.
Hiring managers are looking for reassurance that the company won’t go through the expense and effort of onboarding and training you only to have you leave in six months. Start by explaining why you made each career move, and be prepared to tell the hiring manager how it helped you advance your career. Be honest, but keep it positive. (Don’t say “I hated that job”, say “I felt I needed to move on to find a better fit for my skills”.) If you left because the job bored you, say that you were “looking for more of a challenge.”
Rather than getting defensive about your frequent job changes, focus instead on what you learned from each one. Be sure to play up the transferable skills you gained along the way.
Even if the interview process has revealed a few personal challenges—perhaps through the dreaded “What’s your greatest weakness” interview question—there are ways to spin them as positives.
When you’re a perfectionist
Employers don’t want to hire people who nitpick every little thing and make life difficult. No one wants to work with that person. Instead, say that you’re thorough and you have high standards for yourself and your own work. It’s best to leave the word “perfectionist” out of your interview altogether, even if you identify yourself as one. The Muse explains why.
When you’re quiet or shy
Shyness can be misconstrued as awkwardness or social ineptitude. Hopefully, through your interview, you’ve been able to demonstrate your ability to “people.” But, if you can’t help but let your shyness show, frame it as a “reflective nature.” Explain that you get very focused when you’re at work.
When you take a long time to do things
Sci-fi author Douglas Adams said, “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.” Unfortunately, hiring managers aren’t going to view missed deadlines as a positive. If you take a while to accomplish things, don’t lie and sell yourself as someone who’s always prompt. Instead, emphasize your attention to detail and your belief that each task deserves enough time to be done right.
Whatever you do, don’t make excuses for your weaknesses. A job interview isn’t a time to defend yourself, it’s a time to present yourself in a positive way that shows why you’re the best candidate. To get more job offers, make sure to focus on your potential.