How to Answer: What Is Your Greatest Weakness?

This lesson is all about how to answer
that dreaded weakness question. It’s a question that has brought down many
of worthy candidate, so let’s make sure you’re prepared to handle it gracefully.
It’s an awkward question. Certainly, it would be considered a nosy
and rude question in most settings, but it’s somehow considered perfectly
appropriate in job interviews. Most candidates hate this question,
and many consider it pointless. After all, they aren’t about to confess candidly
to their biggest flaws in the middle of a job interview. And most of us don’t have
much practice speaking in a neutral way about our flaws and insecurities. However,
this question has become a cliché for a reason. Unfortunately, the
weakness question is still asked a lot across industries, companies,
and levels of seniority. Interviewers still love this question
because it makes them feel like they’re being thorough and hard-hitting.
You may get lucky and have a more enlightened interviewer, but I
recommend that every candidate be prepared with a good answer to the
weakness question just in case. I have seen many great candidates get
tripped up by the weakness question. It can be very difficult to talk
about your flaws in a stressful situation like a job interview. Negative
topics require added diplomacy. Meanwhile, you’re nervous and thinking
about 1,000 other things. Is my hair sticking up? Is my
breath okay? Why did he just frown like that? What am I going to say if he
asked why I left my last job?” However, there is a way to answer that is
honest and authentic and still increases your odds of getting a job offer.
A good weakness answer has two important parts. Part one is your
weakness. Briefly describe a real weakness that wouldn’t be a major handicap on the
job. Learn how to choose a good weakness in a minute. Part two is how you’re
already working on that weakness. Part two is the critical component.
Discuss your proactive efforts to improve. This shows that you’re self-aware,
have a drive to be your best, and that the weakness will not slow you down. So,
let’s talk first about how to choose a good weakness. You want to be authentic.
Don’t select a weakness just because it sounds good. You’ll make a better
impression with sincerity. That doesn’t mean you have to share
weakness that makes you look bad. If you’re like most of us,
you have several weaknesses, and at least one of them will be
interview-friendly. You also want to pick a weakness that is acceptable for the job
at hand. Be aware of the job requirements and don’t cite a weakness related
to any of the required skills or desired qualities. If you’re
an accountant, don’t talk about hating math or lack of attention to detail.
If you’re in sales, don’t confess to being to reserve or lacking persistence. Next,
select a weakness that is relatively minor and fixable. By fixable, I mean,
it’s something you could improve through work and motivation. For example,
fixable is, “I get nervous when speaking in front of large groups.” You
can get better through practice and learning new skills. And this
is a common development area. Harder to fix? “I’m very shy and often
have trouble speaking up in meetings.” Well, there’s nothing wrong with being
shy. An interviewer could assume that the candidate would have trouble collaborating
in a team environment. Next tip, describe your weakness in a concise
neutral way. Don’t feel like you have to go into great detail.
Be brief and most importantly, avoid on a defensive or overly
negative. Then is on to part two. Demonstrate that you are working on your
weakness. In the second part of your answer, you need to describe how you have
already taken steps to improve in your area of weakness. Here’s why. First,
a great candidate is always looking for ways to learn and grow. Two,
a fabulous candidate then takes the initiative to improve. Use your
answer to demonstrate your motivation to be the best at what you do.
This is how to truly emphasize the positive when talking about your weakness.
Okay, so now let’s look at some examples of strong answers to what is your greatest
weakness. Example one is delegation. I think one area I could work on is my
delegation skills. I’m always so concerned about everything being done right
and on time that I can get stuck in that mentality of, “If you want it
done right, do it yourself.” Unfortunately, that’s not always possible
and I’ve realized that I can slow things down if I’m too controlling.
I learned this recently when given the opportunity to manage the departments,
summer interns. I had never managed direct reports before, so this was a hugely
educational experience in many different ways. It definitely taught me
how to delegate. And my manager noticed a difference in my management style at the
end of the summer. I know that I can benefit from additional development
in this area as well. So, I signed up for a management skills
training course and I’m always looking for opportunities to manage projects
for our group.” Why does this work? This is a good example for a junior-level
employee in a role in which delegation abilities are not critical. Please note
that the last sentence in the first paragraph is important because it
acknowledges how the weakness can be a problem and why it’s worth working on.
The weakness is acknowledged and described but the emphasis is more on how the
candidate has sought out ways to improve. Keep in mind that this is not such a
terrific answer if you’re applying for a job that requires you to manage
people. Example two, too direct. “Sometimes I can be a bit too honest
when I provide feedback to coworkers. My personality is naturally very
straightforward and to the point and most of my colleagues really value that,
but I have learned that there are times on the job when more diplomacy is
required. I took a training class on conflict management and it really
opened my eyes to the need to communicate differently with different people.
So now, I’m much better at providing constructive feedback even if it
doesn’t always come naturally.” Why does this one work?
This weakness is described well. The candidate notes how directness has
been a weakness while also making it clear that he is not a raging jerk to his
coworkers. And the second part, he talks about concrete steps he has taken
and how he has improved. An example three, public speaking. “Honestly,
I would say that public speaking is an area that I could work on.
I tend to get nervous when asked to present to a large group of people.
In small team meetings, I’m the first one to stand up and present,
but put me in front of a big group and I can get flustered. I actually spoke to my
manager about this and we set it as one of my development goals for the year.
I took an internal presentation skills class and the tenants of meetings
of Toastmasters and networking group for people who want to improve their
communication skills. With some practice, I started to feel more comfortable. Last
month, I even volunteered to represent our team at division-wide town hall.
I only had present for 10 minutes, but I did it and got great feedback.
It was actually kind of fun. So, I plan on continuing to seek
out opportunities to improve in this area.” Why does this work? Fear
of public speaking is a common fear. In this sample answer, the candidate
makes it clear that she has no trouble communicating in general which could be a
red flag. It’s just getting up in front of a big group that scares her.
She goes on to describe how she identified the weakness, spoke with her manager
about it, and then took proactive steps to improve. She even has a little triumph
at the end. And now a few words about what not to do. Here are the mistakes that
candidates typically make and you may be able to relate. First, trying
to turn a negative into a positive. You’ll find many articles that advise you
to turn negative into a positive by sharing a supposed weakness
that is actually a desirable quality. A few examples, “I am too much of a
perfectionist. I work too hard sometimes. I care too much about my work.”
It’s an old trick and the interviewer sees right through it. In fact, this approach
will likely make her think you’re hiding something.
Second thing to avoid, refusing to answer the question.
Some candidates will assert that they can’t think of a single weakness,
this is probably because they freeze up and are afraid to say the wrong thing.
This answer also makes you look like you’re hiding something or you’re
just not at all self-aware. And finally, revealing a weakness that raises red
flags. Another mistake is to be too candid and confess to a weakness that would
hinder your ability to excel in the role. I once had a coaching client answer,
“I have trouble getting up in the morning and getting to work on time.”
His real weakness was that he was way too honest. Okay. So, that brings
us to the end of this lesson on answering interview questions
about your weaknesses. Now, you’re ready to come up with a strong answer about your
own weaknesses, then you’ll never have to stress about these
dreaded questions again.

23 thoughts on “How to Answer: What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

  1. Great advice! This is such an important topic to cover. It's difficult for most people to talk about their negative traits, but this is a very common interview question. It's so important to be prepared with a sincere weakness and the way you're working to improve.

  2. haha i love the fact that you address how ridiculous this question is. it's definitely important to have an answer prepared and not be caught off guard


  4. Inside Big Interview, our complete training system for job interviews, we give you video lessons, sample answers, and an interactive practice tool for all of these different versions of “What is your greatest weakness?” Here are some details:

  5. A weakness should directly relate to your potential job and not in the past. The trick is that you have other strengths to combat that weakness. I believe this is to test your character and ingenuity. If the rest of your interview shows you are capable this should be a positive .

  6. I totally agree that this is an awkward question. Yes, it is still asked and being prepared is so important. I especially like that you mentioned to mention a "fixable" weakness. Fantastic advice. Thanks for sharing!

  7. You're 100% correct, preparation and time spent answering any and every possible question may be the different between getting the job or not.

  8. Pam Skillings, you are awesome as always. Funny story; a friend of mine said she got this question and answered, "I really don't want to work anymore, but I have a kid in college." The recruiter actually laughed and said, "I get it." She didn't get the job however.

  9. I really likehow you are more clear than other videos. Do you have a video what are your greatest strengths?

  10. Interviewer: "What is your greatest weakness?"
    Candidate: "Answering this exact question."
    Interviewer:"Point duly noted."

  11. On the job description, what if one of the preferred skills is speaking Spanish? I'm in my fifties, and I cannot speak Spanish at all. I've sincerely tried to learn, without success.

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