If any interview question has ever tempted you to fib, or felt like a trick, it was probably the reviled “What is your greatest weakness?” question.
In order to prepare for this question, you should first ask yourself, what are your weaknesses? Be candid in this consideration, and that way you can figure out how to best answer before the question inevitably arises during an interview.
What are employers really looking for when they ask about weaknesses?
This question may make you feel a little squirmy, and that’s normal. In fact, that’s exactly why so many hiring managers ask it: they’re looking for candidates who exhibit honesty, self-awareness, and a penchant for self-improvement even when they’re feeling uncomfortable.
The worst thing you can do in that critical moment is reach into your brain for an answer you think is clever. Don’t lament the fact that you’re too focused on perfection, or that you’re simply too efficient—hiring managers aren’t asking “what is your biggest weakness?” when they actually want to hear about your strengths.
How to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”
Before you flesh out your answer to this question, be sure you’re clear on what it’s asking.
Your personal weaknesses aren’t especially relevant in this context, so perhaps you feel that your overall greatest weakness is the fact that you let dishes sit in the sink for too long, but that’s not going to offer a hiring manager much insight.
It’s okay to have a set of weaknesses for interviews that is separate from the weaknesses you view as most dominant. With this understanding in mind, there are several steps you can take to formulate an answer.
1. Name a skill that’s not necessary for the position
It’s a good idea to choose a weakness that doesn’t directly apply to the job for which you’re interviewing. For example, if you’re interviewing for a remote job that requires very little interaction with your peers, you might say that you have trouble working in groups as your biggest weakness.
2. Focus on behavioral weaknesses
Do not choose to answer with a weakness that would make you ineffective at your job. Instead, choose something that is an overarching tendency that can be overcome with concerted effort, like the habit of focusing so much on details you fail to see the bigger picture until a project is already finished.
3. Discuss the ways you’ve worked to improve upon this weakness
Perhaps the most important component of answering the “what is your biggest weakness?” question is discussing the ways in which you’ve tried to overcome the weakness. This means you could choose to discuss the fact that you naturally have quite poor time management skills, but that you’ve begun using a daily planner with a set schedule to ensure you accomplish all of your tasks in a timely manner.
Do's and don’ts for your weaknesses answer
There are a lot of wrong ways to answer this question. The most common mistake, as mentioned above, is that interviewees will try to get out of answering the question at all. Do not try to wriggle out of the situation with an “I don’t know” or a strength disguised as a weakness. Instead, be honest about an area in which you do have room for improvement.
Some easy tips for crushing the “what are your weaknesses?” question are to make sure you’re prepared, to choose a weakness you’ve been working to overcome, and to be candid with the hiring manager. If you take heed of these tips, you’ll seem authentic and self-aware.
If you’re still not sure which weaknesses you should discuss in interviews, ask yourself where you feel you’ve lacked in previous professional experiences. List those shortcomings out, and choose one or two that you think you’ve improved upon since first grappling with them. Some common weaknesses with which you may be able to answer are time management, working independently, and speaking in front of groups.
Have a few weaknesses in mind, as some interviewers will ask “what are your weaknesses?” rather than the more singular “what is your biggest weakness?”
Prepare your weaknesses sooner rather than later
There’s no way around it: some interview questions are downright uncomfortable. Instead of simply dreading them, get prepared. A good site will be able to show you resume and cover letter templates, in addition to common interview questions.
Utilize these online resources so you’re ready for every version of the weaknesses question, then think hard about how you’ll answer, and how you’ve worked to improve upon that weakness. Be open and honest, and you’re sure to turn one of the most dreaded parts of the interview into a shining moment!