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It's one of the more tricky questions at interviews: 'What's your main weakness?' Here are our tips for turning a negative into a positive.

Shining at an interview is all about being prepared, even when it comes to the question ‘what’s your main weakness?’. Whether you're applying for a job as an offender healthcare professional, substance misuse nurse, pharmacist or probation officer, that means being ready to talk about your shortcomings as well as your talents. Think ahead and you'll be able to respond in a way that not only answers the question, but also uses the opportunity to make a good impression.

It's important to think about what the question is really about. The aim is to test your analytical skills and self-awareness. Therefore, it's vital that you answer confidently.

What not to say...

Never say nothing. If you claim you have no weaknesses at all you'll either come across as arrogant or give the impression you're hiding something. You should also avoid admitting to weaknesses that might affect your ability to do the job. 

The standard answer

Many candidates choose to describe a weakness that could also be viewed as a strength. For example, if you're an offender healthcare nurse you might say, "I'm really passionate about making a positive difference to the lives of offenders, and I can get a little frustrated if others don't share my passion." That's OK, but be aware that the interviewer may have heard this sort of thing many times before. So it has to sound convincing and heartfelt, and you will need to follow the statement with how you keep your frustration in check. 

The way to go

Why not choose a weakness that's relatively minor and not directly linked to the role you're applying for? For example, you could say that you're not very comfortable with public speaking or doing presentations. If you specialise in substance misuse you might need to share your findings with colleagues, and so that could be a skill you need to acquire later, as your career progresses and you take on leadership roles. You could add that it's an area you'd like improve on in the future through appropriate training or personal development, showing your commitment and willingness to learn.

Rather than describing a current weakness, you could show how you've been proactive in dealing with one in the past. For example, working within the secure estate, you could talk about how you found your first days within a prison setting a little daunting and wondered if you would be able to cope. And how you overcame this by developing strong time communication and management skills.

Whichever strategy you choose, it's important to do your research. Make sure you know all the 'ins and outs' of the job you're applying for, which your Sanctuary Criminal Justice consultant will be able to assist you with. That way you can avoid mentioning any weaknesses that might disqualify you and you can tailor your answer to the role.

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