“What’s your greatest weakness?” is a common interview question that doesn’t need to trip you up. While some recruiters have stopped using it after receiving too many canned answers, many others still include it in their repertoire.
So what's a candidate to do?
None of us is perfect, and interviewers know that. We each have our strengths and our weaknesses. Job interviews focus primarily on identifying whether your strengths and abilities are a good match for the position at hand, but touching on your weaknesses, or allowing the interview to see how you view your weaknesses, is a valid part of the process.
The good news is that this question lends itself very well to preparation. There are several strategies to help formulate your answer.
What you should not do is shrug your shoulders and respond, “I don’t know. I can’t think of anything.” This only comes across as smug and that you’re unable to identify your own faults or areas for improvement, neither of which is flattering in a potential new employee.
Here are some more ways to avoid answering this question:
I’m a perfectionist. I expect too much of my colleagues. I take on too much by myself. I work too hard. In terms of possible answers, this is my least favorite as it comes across as phony. Even the most novice interviewer will want to roll his eyes and realize you’re reframing one of your strengths.
Bringing information about your personal life into the interview is a distraction that only murks up the waters. Saying “I’m not a morning person” or “I’ve never been very athletic” sidelines the conversation and detracts from selling yourself as the best candidate for the job.
This carries with it some risk. You may feel the trait is not at all related to your job performance, but the interviewer may feel differently or may think through repercussions of how it might affect your job performance.
A staff accountant who shares he is not a good writer. An attorney who says she’s not the best with numbers. At first blush, it may seem like a safe answer, but admitting to a current weakness could come back to haunt you. It’s never smart to provide information that might hurt your candidacy.
Terrific, Scot. You just told me how not to answer this question -- and some of those are recommended answers by others. So, how DO you answer the weakness interview question?
There are two principles to follow
My all-time favorite approach is to think back to a past weakness of yours that you have corrected. Tell it in the form of a story – that it had been a problem for you at work, that you identified the problem, and that you took steps to improve the situation, and that it is no longer a problem for you.
Finish your answer with words to the extent of “…and in fact, I am always looking for different ways to improve upon myself.”
Answering the question this way not only demonstrates a willingness to think critically of your own skills, but also conveys that you welcome constructive criticism and are open to self-improvement.
While this is best used by managers, team members can use this as well: recognize your weakness and partner or task the work to someone on your team who has that as their strength.
Everyone has weaknesses and strengths. The idea here is to state the weakness, and then show how you avoided that weakness by having or tasking someone else do that work because it is their strength.
Most likely, you also probably learned something from that person along the way and that helps you with your weak skill going forward.
That whole "diversity of job skills" on a team is there for a reason -- weaknesses on the team are balanced out by the strengths of people on the team.
Often times, answering the weakness question is not so much about confessing to a negative personality flaw as it is giving the interviewer a glimpse of how you view yourself and how well you make efforts to improve yourself.
Self-awareness and self-management are prized skills for a hiring manager. How you answer this interview question can demonstrate these skills.
You can prepare for this expected interview question. Prepare for it and then knock the answer out of the park.
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