Job Interviews: How To Answer “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?”
Interviewers (including me, I must confess) love to pull the "greatest weakness" or "biggest weakness" question out of our trusty bag of favorite interview questions. And then we sit back and wait to see how YOU answer. But fear not. With a little preparation, you'll be ready to handle this question with a strong, creative answer that will leave you looking your best.
Why would an interviewer even ask about your weakness?
Does an interviewer really think you're going to jump up on the table and spill your guts about how awful you are? No. Of course, not. (Although if it were that easy to get candidates to fess up, it sure would make our jobs easier!) While a common question, this one still catches some job seekers by surprise. "I can't really tell my weakness," you think to yourself, sweating a little. And then you have it! "My greatest weakness is I work too hard."
Phew. You've saved yourself. Or so you think. Maybe long ago, before this question became such a standard, the "I work too hard" answer might have passed. But nowadays, it comes across as lame. Sorry, but if you want to ace an interview, this isn't the way.
So what is the interviewer really looking for?
It depends on the interviewer. There may be some who want to see how you handle a tough situation. There may be some who are new to interviewing and are just happy to turn to standard questions, whatever the answer. There may even be a few who just want to see you squirm. Hopefully you don't get any of those! And there are also a good number who simply are looking for an answer that tells them something about you – something that helps build the picture of the match they hope to find. How you handle weaknesses tells a lot about who you are and the type of employee you will be.
The best way to answer the weakness interview question
Since you can't worry about the motives of the interviewer, your best bet is to approach your answer as if you were facing the person who is simply looking for that "adding to the picture of a match" answer. When you're preparing for this question, use your resume to help spark some memories of things that maybe you didn't do so well. Think of something that gave you or others around you trouble or presented an obstacle to something else you needed to accomplish. Nothing so awful you'll make them worry!
- Was there a time you were asked to speak and got tongue-tied?
- Did you try to learn some software that gave you problems and maybe got frustrated that you were slow to learn?
- Do you find yourself wanting to step in and help others before they're ready for your help?
- Are you overly serious at times when you're trying to solve a problem?
- Do you find it hard to let go of project you care about once you start? (Even though that last one sounds a lot like "I work too hard", it has slightly more realistic feel to it, especially if it's true.)
- What else might be a "good" weakness? (Hint: Look for something you overcame or turned into a strength. See next section.)
Spend some time thinking about this, and really try to come up with a weakness unique to you. Nothing too horrible, of course – and definitely nothing that would make you the wrong candidate for this particular job.
The weakness turnaround
And now for the key part – you want to choose something that you have overcome since that time. This way you can answer the question asked, but also show how you've managed to rise above this weakness since that time. This is the turnaround. You show that even when faced with personal challenges, you persevere and find solutions for yourself. And you learn. Extra points if you've turned the weakness into a strength. "I used to have a fear of public speaking, but I joined Toastmasters and now I enjoy speaking in public." (Only if it's true, of course.)
The main approach for questions like this is that your answer helps turn the negative into a positive. Also, if possible, make sure that whatever you discuss fits nicely with the position you want now. Of course, what you choose may depend on the type of job. You probably don't want to talk about shyness if the position is direct sales – unless you've conquered it completely. Then it's a great story! Not that you need to have totally conquered every weakness. But showing that you've identified it and met it head on – and made good progress – says a lot about who you are as a person. And that's what they really want to know.