“What is your greatest weakness?” is a tricky interview question in any scenario. It’s certainly one that you should prepare for, otherwise you could risk making any number of mistakes and leaving a bad impression.
A job interview is the last place you want to reveal your weaknesses and the question can break the flow of an otherwise successful conversation. Candidates sometimes deny that they have any flaws at all or try to disguise a strength as a weakness. Both of these tactics are flawed as you risk appearing arrogant or dishonest. Others candidates might panic and reveal too much.
These tips will help you plan an answer that will impress your interviewers.
What are they looking for?
By asking “What is your greatest weakness?”, interviewers can get a sense of several aspects of your character. This question is a great way of putting a little more pressure on candidates and seeing how they cope with it. Do you panic? Or do you deal with the question in a calm and composed manner?
This is also an opportunity to demonstrate how pro-active you are about improving any weaknesses that you have. Interviewers will be looking to see whether you take advantage of this opportunity.
The weakness that you choose to talk about will also reveal how much you understand the job role. Be careful not to highlight something central to the job in question.
Your interviewer will also be looking to see how genuine your answer is. They aren’t likely to be fooled by “I’m too much of a perfectionist”, and will appreciate an honest response.
How to answer “What is your greatest weakness?”
Bearing these things in mind, the first thing you’ll need to do when preparing this answer is to come up with a genuine weakness. Start by putting together a list of possible answers. Think about any mistakes you may have made at work or anything a manager has ever picked out as an area for improvement.
Cross reference this list with the job description and cross off anything that might suggest you don’t possess any of the required skills. Choose a couple of the remaining options and then think about ways that you have addressed these weaknesses. If you made a mistake at work, how did you address it? Have you ever taken any training to try and improve any of your skills?
You should now have identified two or three genuine weaknesses that you can start to build some possible answers around. It’s good to have a couple of extra examples up your sleeve in case you are asked to expand further on any weaknesses.
Prepare some bullet points to help structure your answer. It’s important not to memorise your answer word-for-word. This can sound unnatural and will prevent the interview from flowing as a natural conversation.
A candidate for an engineering role:
“At school the subject I found most difficult was English. Written tasks are still the area that I am least confident with. This means that I have struggled with completing reports in the past. I now make sure that I allocate myself sufficient time to complete my paperwork and over time I’ve grown more confident. My manager has even commented on how much clearer my reports have become.”
Why we like this answer: As the candidate is going for a technical role, writing ability wasn’t one of the requirements on the job description. They have also explained how they have improved this skill to the extent that a superior has noticed and commented on it.
A candidate for a vehicle assembly role:
“I would say that my biggest weakness is that I sometimes struggle to say “no”. This has meant that I have taken on too many tasks in the past and the quality of my work has been affected. This is something that I have been able to improve over time with the help of some task management tools. I am now much more organised and know how much work I’m able to take on.”
Why we like this answer: This response shows some self-awareness and a desire to improve. Organisation is a highly transferable skill, so even though it wasn’t in the job description, the fact that the candidate has learned to stay on top of their task management is a positive sign.
What not to say:
- ‘I don’t have any weaknesses’: This strategy could backfire in several ways. You could appear arrogant, dishonest or unprepared. The interviewer won’t believe you and is likely to push you until you give a genuine answer.
- Focusing on a skill essential to the job: Make sure you don’t choose a weakness that will make your interviewer think that you aren’t capable of doing the job. Always prepare your answers with the job description to hand.
- Going into too much detail: If you can speak at length about your character flaws, interviewers are going to wonder whether you are the right person to employ after all. Instead, speak more about how you are trying to address your weakness and shift the focus of the conversation to this.
- ‘I’m too much of a perfectionist’: The pretending a strength is a weakness strategy has been overused and interviewers are wise to this trick. They are likely to see it as an attempt to avoid giving an honest answer to the question.
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