“What is your greatest weakness?” is probably the most confusing question you may be asked during a job interview… but it is asked almost every time. To tackle this question, you first need to understand why it is asked and how you should definitely NOT answer.
Why is it asked?
- This is one of those questions where the interviewer is not, in fact, looking for a specific answer, but rather to see how you go about answering.
- They are trying to take you out of your comfort zone to see if they can get to “the real you.”
- They want to see if you can keep your composure without spiraling into a tirade about your issues. This is why it is imperative that you are ready to recognize and answer this question no matter how it is asked.
What NOT to answer:
- With a joke. Making a joke would indicate you are so uncomfortable with the question that you are trying to derail the conversation by using humor.
- With a weakness from your personal life. This isn’t a therapy session, so telling an interviewer about your personal life issues is the worst possible answer. Additionally, any answer that isn’t related to you professionally tells interviewers you can’t separate personal issues from the workplace.
- With a question. “Well, hey, what is truly is anyone’s greatest weakness?” “What is YOUR greatest weakness?” It is a stalling tactic that will shut the interview down and may come off as just rude.
- With a strength you are trying to pass as a weakness. This is the oldest trick in the book and it smells like bologna from a mile away. “Well, I am a perfectionist….”
- With a one-liner. “I smoke too much.” “I hate people.” This will either end the interview or they will keep asking until you give them more, and you want to air as few weaknesses as possible.
They may ask you the same thing in different forms, so have unique answers for each.
- What is your greatest weakness/What are your greatest weaknesses?
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be and why?
- In what area do you think there is room for improvement?
- If I were to call your current/previous employer/manager/team leader, what, if any, would they say are your greatest flaws/issues?
- What are things about yourself that you are currently working on/think could use improvement?
How to answer:
- First state the weakness(es).
- Follow it up with a story. Every weakness should be one that, within a professional setting, you learned from. Please note, this should be different from a strength that you are passing off as a weakness. Saying you are a perfectionist is not a weakness, however, saying that you often question yourself and overthink project outcomes is.
- State that you are happy that you are aware of it and know how to handle it.
EXAMPLE: “Hm, that’s a tough one. I suppose I find that I am often way too much of a people pleaser and therefore hyper focus on making every party happy instead of using my own best judgment. About a year ago, we were given a project which had to be completed within a week. At the onset, I spent a full day ping-ponging back and forth from different managers to creative etc, just trying to get everyone on the same page and placate everyone. Finally, on the morning of the second day, I sat down and looked over what everyone wanted and pulled out what was needed. It was sort of a revelation, and from then on I have really worked to cater to the ‘needs’ firstly and to use my own professional judgment to add in everything else after. We delivered on time and my boss was really happy with the results.”
Lists of weaknesses that can be applied with a positive result:
- Being overly critical of yourself (NOT a perfectionist)
- Wanting to please everyone
- Being unfamiliar with all the newest trends or products(software, blogs, social media platforms, etc.)
One final reminder: like all interview questions, try to tailor your answers to fit whatever company you are applying to. If you are applying to IBM as a software developer, inattention to details is not something you should say. Likewise, the story should be one that relates to the industry of the company you are applying to, if you can.
Good luck and feel free to visit our other blogs for more great interview tips!