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How to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

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In an interview, talking about your weaknesses and flaws is difficult. We’re here to make it easier.

Today, I want to talk about one of the most common and aggravating interview questions of them all: What is your greatest weakness?

Are you rolling your eyes? Most candidates hate this question and consider it pointless. After all, they aren’t about to confess candidly to their biggest flaws in the middle of a job interview.

However, this question has become a cliché for a reason. Interviewers continue to ask it even though they know they are unlikely to get answers that are 100% honest.

Why? Because the way you answer a question about your weaknesses is very telling. You may not even realize what you are communicating when you answer this question.

And let’s face it, you’re probably doing it wrong. Most people do. I say that as an interview coach who has now worked with thousands of job seekers. At least 90% of my clients need help with answering the weakness question.

Here are the mistakes that they typically make (you may be able to relate):

1. Trying to turn a negative into a positive.

You’ll find many books and articles that advise you to “turn a negative into a positive” by sharing a supposed weakness that is actually a desirable quality in an employee.  A few examples:

• I am too much of a perfectionist.

• I work too hard sometimes.

• I care too much about my work.

Clever idea. At this point, though, it’s an old trick and the interviewer sees right through it. She has seen many candidates try the same song and dance. In fact, this approach will likely make her think you are hiding something.

2. Refusing to answer the question.

Some candidates will assert that they can’t think of a single weakness. This is probably because they don’t prepare for the question properly and freeze up, afraid to say the wrong thing. This answer also makes you look like you are hiding something.

3. 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.

Read on for our advice on how to avoid these mistakes and talk about your weaknesses in a way that is both honest and smart.

Interview Questions About Weaknesses


Here are some of the different weakness questions that are regularly asked in job interviews:

• What is your greatest weakness?
This is probably the most common phrasing.

• What are some of your weaknesses?
Here you are being asked for more than one. The interviewer knows you have that one B.S. weakness prepared and wants to push you for more (see also: follow-up questions below)

• What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Some interviewers will ask you to sum up both strengths and weaknesses in one answer.

• If I called your current/previous manager, what would he/she say that you need to work on?
This phrasing is tricky. By planting the idea of calling your current/last manager, the interviewer is trying to subconsciously encourage more honesty (Some candidates immediately start thinking, “What if he actually calls her?”)

• Tell me about a development goal that you have set.
This question probes for weakness, but also emphasizes your ability to proactively set development goals.

• If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Here’s another phrasing — again asking for your GREATEST weakness, or at least the one that you feel is most limiting.

• What do you most want to improve in the next year?
This phrasing takes a more positive approach, but it is still a question about weaknesses.

Follow-up Questions About Weaknesses


You should also be prepared for follow-up or probing questions, especially if your answer to the original weakness question was vague or unconvincing.

• But how has that weakness negatively affected you?
You’ll often hear this follow-up question if you’ve failed to describe a REAL weakness (see “turning a negative into a positive” strategy above”)

• OK, how about a real weakness?
This is a more pointed follow-up when the interviewer is skeptical about your answer.

• Can you share another weakness or area for development?
A tough interviewer may ask for more than one weakness, especially if the first one provided sounds false or over-rehearsed. Some interviewers just know that candidates often prepare only one weakness and want to see what they come up with on the spot.

 

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?” Watch this brief video to learn a little more about Big Interview, and then take a quick look at the step-by-step system we’ve developed to get you ready for your interview.

 

Why Interviewers Ask About Your Greatest Weaknesses

So why do interviewers ask about weaknesses when they know that most candidates don’t answer honestly?

They’re trying to get past your nice, presentable interview facade and get a sense of what you’re really like to work with — the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Even if you don’t answer honestly, your answer tells them something about you. If you dodge the question or try to fake your way through, the interviewer will wonder if:

1) You’ve got scary secret weaknesses that you won’t discuss.

2) You think you’re perfect because you have no self-awareness.

3) You think you’re perfect because your standards are very low.

4) You’re a con artist. (this may be okay if you’re in politics or public relations)

I have seen strong interviewers get tripped up with 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 (See also: Answering behavioral questions about failure).

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 asks why I left my last job? How am I going to remember that teamwork example? Can he tell that I’m sweating?)

However, there is a way to answer that is honest and authentic and still increases your odds of getting a job offer.

How to Answer “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?”


(and other interview questions about your flaws and weaknesses)

A good weakness answer has two important parts:

Part 1) Your weakness
Briefly describe a real weakness that wouldn’t be a major handicap on the job (Read on for how to choose a “good” weakness)

Part 2) How you are already working on it
Part 2 is the critical component. Discuss your proactive efforts to improve. This shows that you are self-aware, have a drive to be your best, and that the weakness will not slow you down.

Part 1: How to Choose a “Good” Weakness

• Be authentic.
Don’t select a weakness just because it sounds good. You will make a better impression with sincerity. That doesn’t mean you have to share a 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 as defined by the additional guidelines below.

• 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 too reserved or lacking persistence.

• Select a weakness that is relatively minor and “fixable.”
By fixable, I mean it’s something you can improve through work and motivation.

For example:

Fixable: “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 am very shy and often have trouble speaking up in meetings.”
(While there’s nothing wrong with being shy, an interviewer could assume that the candidate would have trouble collaborating in a team environment. This is a preference or personality quality that would be more difficult to change.)

• 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 sounding defensive or overly negative.

Read on to the last section for examples of good weaknesses to describe in job interviews.

Part 2: How to 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:

1) A great candidate is always looking for ways to learn and grow

2) 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.

Examples of Strong Answers to “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

Example 1: Delegation

“I think one area I could work on is my delegation skills. I am 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 am too controlling.

I learned this recently when given the opportunity to manage the department’s 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 the difference in my management style at the end of the summer. I know that I can benefit from additional development in this area, so I signed up for a management skills training course and am always looking for opportunities to manage projects for our group.”

Why It Works: This is a great 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 2: 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 am much better at providing constructive feedback, even if it doesn’t always come naturally.”

Why It Works: 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.

In the second part, he talks about concrete steps that he has taken and how he has improved.

Example 3: 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 this year. I took an internal presentation skills class and attended some meetings of Toastmasters, a networking group for people who want to practice public speaking. With some practice, I started to feel more comfortable. Last month, I even volunteered to represent our team at a division-wide town hall. I only had to 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 It Works: 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.

Example 4: Impatience

What Is Your Weakness?

Share your weaknesses or your experiences with the weakness question in interviews.

HUMOR: Will Ferrell shows you how to climb the corporate ladder.

Main Photo Credit: nebojsa mladjenovic

Written by

Pamela Skillings

Pamela Skillings is co-founder of Big Interview. As an interview coach, she has helped her clients land dream jobs at companies including Google, Microsoft, Goldman Sachs, and JP Morgan Chase. She also has more than 15 years of experience training and advising managers at organizations from American Express to the City of New York. She is an adjunct professor at New York University and an instructor at the American Management Association.

4462 Comment to How to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

  • Holli

    Hi Pam. I remember you fondly and hope you remember me. What a wonderful article with great advice. Thank you. Holli

  • Vishal

    Truly honest? It takes time and effort to introspect and develop self-awareness. Please don’t blame the system for a lazy candidate’s failure.

  • Evan Morshedi

    Whats your weakness?
    Working on Diesel Engines
    Brain Surgery
    Or answering this questions

  • Kamal Parsad

    Please tell me what should I tell weakness while going for Assistant Manager interview for bank.

  • Fakhir

    Some of the interviewer tries to explore what a candidate does not know. A simpler assessment approach should include a) candidate knows what he has written in cv b) team player c) has problem solving approach and last d) try to assess against the JD for the post you are hiring.
    Perhaps too scientific question and current affairs does not make sense.

  • Alexa

    Wow! They are really trying to trip you up there! I have always been taught never to answer “I don’t know.” My answer to not knowing that information would have been something like “I would have to look up the answer to that question!”

  • Risket

    “What is your greatest weakness?”
    “Fire attacks. They tend to do a lot of damage and I have a difficult time recovering quickly enough to counter attack.”

  • JB

    That’s no different than turning a negative in to a positive, not a forbidden approach. Just doesn’t set you apart from the interviewee that is trying to be honest without over honesty.

  • pravin

    Nice One ! ! !But I think about each and every persone have a one highest Weekness ! What is think about ??? any one asking question what is weakness then look in own then ask him/her?

  • Ayman Nazaal

    Pamella, you are the best. I really admire you, your writings and approach. I gleaned this spider’s digital web for interview Qs&As, and you are always the best!! Love you.

  • Thank you so much for this great post please make it short post user dont want to spend more time on one post

  • Ashley Ragsdale

    thats awesome jeff! todd found this on here and i posted it on my fb page because it is very true, and hilarious. its a good way to be a smartass to a ridiculous question too without being an ACTUAL smartass.

  • Female Naruto

    yeh but this only works on wall street

  • Female Naruto

    if you want to get thrown out of your nursing interview do this

    Interviewer: What is your greatest weakness?

    You: i can honestly say food was one of my greatest weaknesses. i snacked alot in hospital kitchen..i just couldn’t help it- free food everywhere provided by the nhs- i mean we ARE the nhs so i think the food is also for us…but i do try to keep it under control tactically by bringing my own food nowadays and eating breakfast before coming to the wards. (smile)

  • Rhys Williams

    I’ve used the chocolate one. It works. “Chocolate, without a doubt”.it got a laugh and the interviewer moved on. I’d certainly hire someone who gave that answer, but then again I’d never ask such a crass and idiotic question in the first place. The best response to this question is to walk out of the room, you don’t want to work with someone who still lives in the last decade.

  • Nauman Abbasi

    I have answered one of interviewer about the same question about that I always do much deep planning in all my tasks and thats my great weakness.

    And the 2nd interviewer I answered the same question that yes My Sweet Cute Wife is my Weakness.

  • Steve Klemetti

    I agree. They should do it like the Apprentice. Give them tasks to do and the ones who fail, get fired.

  • Steve Klemetti

    I would say “South”

  • Pat Keenan

    What about saying that you are working to improve your
    skills at MS Power Point, taking class, or training to improve?

  • teresa

    There is A lot of truth in what you say definitely, but the truth is, the more honest you are in an interview, the happier you will be in that job because you can be yourself… Not always easy I know, after all you can not tell the rent man “I told the truth in my last interview and did not get the job so sorry I can not pay the rent this month”! but there must be a happy medium 🙂 Your straight forwardness was refreshing and I would probably employ you because of your honesty.

  • jack_k1

    English.

  • jack_k1

    I’d very much like to know whether or not employees who answer this question appropriately do better at their jobs than those who don’t (but get the job anyway).

    That is to say, is there any evidence at all that a good or bad answer to this interview question is predictive?

  • Amedeo Stokes

    Wow you are a bitch, just because you can poke fun of people it doesn’t mean you should. I think we uncovered your weakness…

  • Nazma Sulthana

    Very good article. May I know if I can say ‘Being too Liberal’ towards others used to be my weakness and I have learnt this will sometimes thwart success and so I started to balance being liberal and being strict. Please correct if I am wrong in my perception.

  • Sontino

    Frances your absolutely right! It is stupid. So where do the honest people go to get a job?