What is Your greatest Weakness?
The question, “What is your greatest weakness?”, is one that you can expect in your first round of interviews. It is sometimes assumed to be one of the recruiter’s favorite questions to ask as it puts you in a strange situation and makes you think of a hard thing to admit. Today, you are going to see how to properly understand this question with some tips, examples, and best ways to handle this dreaded question with some great answers. Let’s dive in.
Many times, interviewers ask this question to make you feel a little nervous. They want to see how you work under pressure and how well you can answer this question. Sometimes “What is your greatest weakness?” can be considered as a layered question, so depending on your answer, the interviewer may dive deeper to find out more. But not always.
Focus on A Weakness You Have Overcome
The key to answering “What is your greatest weakness?” is to focus on a past weakness that you have since overcome. Think about something that you had difficulty with and now can do without a problem. Make sure that you present how you overcame the weakness. What steps were taken to get past this hurdle? Did you take a course? Did you get mentoring? Did you get extra help after school? Did you dedicate more time to it? What did you do? Talk about these strategies and what you did step-by-step to overcome the problem.
Picking the Right Weakness
I know this may sound strange, but you don’t want to just pick any old weakness that you overcame or are overcoming. The reason behind this is, it could be a handicap for you and possibly lead to you not getting the position or being called back for a subsequent interview. For instance: you are interviewing for an entry level position which requires solid knowledge of math and basic statistics; you present your weakness to be math. You go ahead and say you are dealing with the weakness. OK cool, but let’s not take any chances at all. The recruiter could assume that you still have the weakness, so let’s avoid this answer altogether.
Another bad example: let’s say it’s a sales position where you will have a lot of contact with people. The wrong answer would be, “One of my weaknesses is dealing with people. I really like working by myself with low interaction with other team mates and clients.” This would eliminate you from the interview process. Pick something that is irrelevant to the position. Now for a better answer.
Good Example 1
Many of my colleagues say that I appear to be nervous when giving a presentation in college. Some people think I should show more confidence to appear knowledgeable about the topic. So last month, I started taking an extracurricular course on public speaking. After taking the 24-hour course, getting one-on-one help, and getting professional feedback on my presentations, I feel much more confident. In fact, my last college presentation in my sociology class was a success. My colleagues even said that I appeared much more calm and confident in presenting.
As you can see from this answer, the initial weakness was speaking in public, but the most important part was how the person solved this problem. Whenever you present a weakness, present the process taken to solve the problem/weakness. Let’s look at another example. In this situation, you are an entry level manager and you have two people working for you.
Good Example 2
My employees would often complain that I was always looking over their shoulders to make sure work was getting done and always questioning their work. They felt like I didn’t trust them, but in fact, I was just curious about how the work was going and evolving. They considered me to be a micro-manager and this was hindering project progress. Obviously, we had different perspectives. To get clarification on this matter, I schedule a one-on-one with my boss to talk with him about it and get some ideas on what I could do to improve this. He gave me several suggestions on what I could do to build trust with them and other ways to improve. After a few months, I could notice a big change, employees seemed much happier, and overall productivity was higher.
This is a good example because you determined what your weakness was and sought help. Notice in this example it says, “he gave me several suggestions on what I could do to build trust with them and other ways to improve.” Expect the recruiter to follow up on this question with something like, what are some of the ideas and suggestions your boss gave you? Could you name a few? Be ready for this follow up question.
Good Example 3
As a recent college graduate, one of my main dilemmas has been to get a good job and start a career. Unfortunately, for many of these positions, companies want you to have work experience. My own inexperience was working against me. I decided to apply for a few internships and do some volunteer work in my free time and sometimes over the weekends. I really believe this made the difference. From having no experience to having completed two internships in marketing and working as a volunteer helping with their digital marketing, I was able to add some valuable experience to my resume and I am sure this experience will help contribute to this company.
Good Example 4
I have always been sort of an introvert. From my time in middle school to high school, I wasn’t the most social of people. In college, with many presentations, forums, and other college activities, I have had to break out of this introvert shell. I can say that one way I was able to do this was by taking some acting and drama classes. So far, I have been taking these classes for a little over two years and I feel much more open and able to participate in events, conversations and debates.
Good example 5
I have always been an extroverted person. I tend to make friends easily and am always involved in many activities. There has, however, been a drawback to this; sometimes when I would be working on a group project in college, I would tend to dominate the discussions because I would be very excited to share my ideas. This was counter productive and not good for the team because only I was contributing and not giving others time to share their valuable ideas. I had a meeting with my guidance counselor at college and asked for some advice. She gave me some tips on how I could improve working in a team environment and how to watch myself from dominating the conversation. Now, I am much more aware of the valuable opinions that others have and really like hearing what others have to say. I still love collaborating, but I make sure I give my colleagues time to share their valuable ideas.
Weaknesses You Should Never Mention
There are a few answers you should never give to what is your greatest weakness. The reason being is, they are so common, interviewers have heard them thousands of times, and your answer will not be taken seriously. Here is some bullet pointed ones you should avoid along with some examples.
- I am a workaholic, I work too hard…
- I am a perfectionist…
- I really can’t think of a weakness…
- I am obsessed with my work…
Bad Example 1
I am a workaholic and I normally work 65+ hours per week. I am always the last employee to leave and I am super dedicated.
This is a bad answer. This answer may have charmed companies and interviewers in the past, but the underlying question to the answer is, why would you really need 65+ hours to do your job per week? You must be failing at something. This type of answer can really paint a different picture. At all costs, avoid this.
Bad Example 2
I really can’t think of any weakness at this moment. For the most part, I don’t believe I have any weaknesses.
This is a BS answer. This really means that you didn’t take the time to think of an answer and think about some possible areas of improvement. Not a good signal for the recruiter.
Different Wordings of What Is Your Greatest Weakness
This question can come bundled in a series of different ways, but for the most part, they are all asking the same thing. The interviewer may ask for more than one weakness. Normally, interviewers expect you to have one answer up your sleeve, so that is why they will ask for a second weakness. In other situations, interviewers ask what your boss or other manager would say about you. Sometimes people will feel pressured with this wordage, but don’t be.
If you are an entry level candidate, you can say that this is one of your first jobs and the interviewer will understand. If this is your second or third job and you left the last company on good terms, you can ask your former manager what he/she thinks about you and what potential weaknesses you have and why. Do this before starting your job search. If this weakness does not conflict or create a handicap for you at this present job, you can present this weakness.
Questions can appear as:
- What is a weakness of yours?
- What is one of your weaknesses?
- What is your biggest weakness?
- What are some of your weaknesses? (plural)
- What are your strengths and weaknesses? (instead of asking this one by one, this question got clubbed together. For extra help with this question, check out the “What Are Your Greatest Strengths?” article.
- If I called your previous boss or supervisor, what would he/she say are your weaknesses? What would he/she say you need to work on?
- Do you have any professional development goals for this next year? Why?
- In the snap of a finger, what is one thing you would change about yourself? Why?
Common Weaknesses People Mention
- Overly Shy – Not good at public speaking or giving presentations
- Disorganized / too organized
- Too analytical – You tend to overanalyze something and end up not getting it done.
- Cautious or too cautious
- Impatient or too patient
- Overly optimistic / pessimistic
- Quiet, introverted / extroverted
- Worried, concerned
- Focused / not focused
- Unable to delegate tasks
- Risk averse
- Detail oriented / not detail oriented
- Competitive/not competitive
These are just a few options. What you must remember is, if you choose one of these, you must remember to present what you have done to SOLVE this. How did you overcome this weakness? What steps were taken?
Always be ready for further questions after your initial answer. Interviewers like to dig deeper. They might use the 5 Whys to find the root cause or even to call you on your own BS. Be careful here. In most cases, they will know if you are lying. Recruiters want to know if you are really the perfect candidate and the right fit for the company. So, be honest, be prepared, and be ready to provide further info on your answer. It helps to think about potential questions the interviewer might follow up with. I have included some of the main ones.
Potential follow up questions
- What did you do/ have you done/ what have you been doing to overcome this weakness?
- Has this weakness ever affected you negatively? If yes, please tell me how it did.
- How can I be sure you still don’t have this weakness? How can I be sure that this weakness won’t hurt us at the company and affect your productivity in the position?
- Could you share another weakness or an area that you would like to improve?
- I am not convinced of your first weakness, please share a real weakness.
Tips on How To identify Your Own Weaknesses – Activity
- Pick a weakness that is irrelevant to the position that you are interviewing for.
- Focus on how you overcame or how you are overcoming this weakness.
- Pick a few weaknesses and practice in front of friends, colleagues and parents.
- Think about possible questions the interviewer might follow up with.
To help collaborate with the community of job hunters here, please share your weakness answer in the comments section below! I hope you found this article helpful and will be able to put this into practice in your next interview. For more job-hunting and interview tips, check out http://careerprep.me/blog/ and the CareerPrep and EnglishInterviews Youtube channel for tips on job interviews.