Career Advice

The Dreaded "Weakness" Interview Question
Staff posted on December 15, 2010 |
No matter how confident you are in yourself and your abilities, no matter how much time you’ve spent...

No matter how confident you are in yourself and your abilities, no matter how much time you’ve spent researching a company or preparing for an interview, and no matter how well things have gone thus far, there is one question that can derail an entire interview – "What is your greatest weakness?"

Few questions are dreaded more by job seekers than this one, as if can be a tricky question to navigate. You want to come across as being genuine in your answer, but you also want to do your best not to draw attention to your negative quality and risk your chances at this job. So what are you supposed to do?

A weakness can be seen as a deficiency to remedy or an area of unfulfilled potential. As such, there is more than one approach you can take at answering the question. No single one is better than the other. It is more of a case of what works best for you.

Turn Your Weakness into a Strength It’s very cliché, but every cloud does have a silver lining. As is this case, with every negative trait, there is a positive aspect. That being the case, you can always answer the question by putting a positive spin on your negative trait. For example, if you are not a very detailed oriented person, you could say, "I have always been a ‘big picture’ thinker and have to admit that I sometimes miss the smaller details. That is why I always have somebody on my team who is detail-oriented."

By offering both sides of the coin when speaking about weaknesses, you demonstrate how you work to address this issue.

Tell Them How You’ve Improved on Past Weaknesses Another approach to this question is to take the previous method a step further. Rather than demonstrate how you are learning to deal with your weakness, why not share with the employer how you overcame a previous weakness? Did public speaking send chills down your spine in your younger years? Maybe a drama class or a communications class allowed you to overcome your fear of speaking in front of a large number of people.

Whatever the previous weakness you overcame was, it can be a useful tool in answering the dreaded question about weaknesses because it shows self-awareness, how you’ve improved on a less-than-desirable trait, and that you are constantly trying to polish your performance.

Refer to a Weakness of Less Importance All weaknesses are not created equal. Some will go further in determining whether or not you get hired. Even though you are looking to avoid something that is irrelevant to the job, you can still focus on something that is not a core skill set needed for the position. For example, as a computer programmer, your writing skills may not be very important for the position itself. However, admitting that you’ve been working on upgrading your writing skills can be viewed by employers as a sign of self-improvement and can go over very well with them.

Work with What You Have To each his (or her) own. The above methods are suggestions only. The proper approach depends on this situation itself and the individuals involved. Just remember that focusing on what you’ve done to work on your shortcomings will portray you in a positive light. Sometimes employers are looking to see how well a candidate handles stress or how prepared you are.

Even though there is no one right way to answer this question, there are several wrong ways to approach it.

  • Do not provide an answer that is only a strength Answers that present you as a "perfectionist" should be avoided. Employers might assume you are exaggerating to get the job, or that you are simply not self-aware enough and won’t work you improve upon your shortcomings.
  • Do not say you don’t have any weaknesses Nobody is perfect. You know it, and so does the interviewer. They wouldn’t ask this question if they didn’t expect you to answer it.
  • Do not offer an answer that shows a lack of motivation If you state that you are lazy or a procrastinator, red flags will immediately go up to employers.

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