by Meridith Levinson

Job Interview: Should You Raise the Weakness Question Yourself?

Apr 05, 2011

Is it smart to proactively address weaknesses during a job interview? Or should you wait for the hiring manager to ask first?

While reporting my latest story for, How to Ace a CIO Job Interview, one of my sources offered a risky recommendation for job seekers. He suggested putting your weaknesses on the table during a job interview.

The source, David Starmer, the former CIO of Back Bay Restaurant Group who recently started a new job with Papa Murphy’s International, told me that during his interviews with the Vancouver, Wash.-based pizza chain, he was worried that his lack of experience with larger restaurant groups would be a liability. Rather than hope his interviewers wouldn’t bring it up, Starmer chose to address it himself. He asked the executives interviewing him point blank whether this gap in his experience would be a problem for the company.

“The only way to make sure it’s not an issue is to bring it up and talk about it,” says Starmer.

Putting a weakness on the table during a job interview is a risky strategy, but it didn’t end up hurting Starmer. The executives said his experience with smaller firms wasn’t an issue, and they eventually offered Starmer his current job as senior director of store solutions and services.

Starmer says that he felt comfortable airing this issue because the executives interviewing him were candid about the company’s challenges, opportunities, and the role he would be filling, and he wanted to be equally forthright with them.

The main advantage of this proactive approach is that it gives the job seeker the opportunity to spin or downplay the weakness, and thereby shape how the hiring manager perceives it. In essence, it gives the job seeker the  chance to shape the first impression of his or her weakness. 

Of course, Starmer’s job interview strategy could have backfired. By putting a potential weakness on the table, he might have introduced some doubt about his candidacy into his hiring manager’s mind that otherwise would not have arisen. 

It’s worth considering the nature of the weakness as well. If your weakness is more obvious than say, a difference in the size of a company, the risk may be even greater.

Would you proactively address a potential weakness during a job interview? What do you see as the pros and cons of doing so?

For more stories on job interviews, see How to Ace an Executive Level Job Interview, 8 Ways a Job Interview Can Take a Turn for the Worse and IT Job Seekers: Can You Answer an Interviewer’s 12 Gotcha Questions.