The “greatest weakness” interview question is definitely tough to answer, and unfortunately it’s very common in job interviews.
In this article I’ll show you:
Okay, let’s get started…
I think with this question it makes sense to spend a minute understanding why hiring managers ask. You’ll feel more confident in your answer that way.
Hiring managers ask about your greatest weakness for a few reasons. Primarily they want to see how you assess yourself. Whether you’re self-aware and able to identify a weak spot and be honest about it.
And of course, if you do have a weakness that’s going to hurt your performance in their company, they want to know and avoid hiring you! So I’ll talk about what weaknesses not to share in the next section.
Hiring managers know this isn’t an easy question to answer either, so they want to see how you perform under pressure also. Fortunately you’re going to go into the interview room with a gameplan for this specific question, so you’ll feel a lot less pressure than most candidates!
Turn a strength or something that’s usually seen as positive into a weakness.
If you’ve ever looked for help answering this question in the past, you were probably told to do something like this. Two examples:
This has been going on for YEARS. Hiring managers have heard it so many times and it’s lost its magic. They won’t be thrilled with this answer most likely because it doesn’t really tell them anything, other than the fact that you read a few interview tricks before coming in.
You’re detail oriented and careful? Really? That’s your big weakness?
They want a real weakness. They want to learn something about you and how you see yourself.
But you could still do a lot worse with this question (I’ll talk about how in a bit). And this answer will at least get you through things, so go ahead and keep the “detail oriented” reason in your back pocket in case you need it.
Here’s how to do much better though…
Step 1: Provide a real weakness, but with a few guidelines…
When they ask “what’s your greatest weakness?”, I recommend you be straight-forward and give a candid answer to the hiring manager, they’ll appreciate it IF you do it right…
That means you have to keep a few things in mind and avoid a couple of potential traps.
First, don’t share anything as a weakness that relates to how you work with others or how you get along with management. Trouble taking direction or coaching? trouble communicating? prone to arguments and disagreements? Better pick a different weakness to share!
In fact, to play it even safer I recommend you pick something skill-based, not personality-based. That’ll keep you in the clear.
When you pick something skill-based, you want it to be relevant to your work, but not a primary focus of the job you’re applying for. If you’re looking to become an accountant, don’t say your weakness is working with numbers or being detail oriented.
However, you could say your weakness is a certain type of tool or software, or an entire area of accounting that you haven’t worked particularly closely with recently. Maybe you studied it in school but haven’t had a chance to use it hands-on since then and you’d require some time to brush up.
Again, make sure you’re choosing something that isn’t the main focus of the job though!! If you’re interviewing for an accounting job that uses a particular tool every single day, it’s not a good weakness to name!
Step 2: Talk about what you’re doing to mitigate the effects of this.
After giving a real weakness, you want to show how you’re mitigating this, or how you’re making sure it doesn’t affect your overall productivity. Maybe you’re rapidly improving in the area, maybe you’ve found a way around it with other tools/skills (but still mention that you’re willing to learn in this area too in case it’s required for the job!) etc.
I put a specific example below to illustrate everything above. Here’s one possible response when they ask “what’s your greatest weakness?”
I give the same example in the YouTube video at the start of this post, using software engineering. Anyone should be able to understand this though, it doesn’t matter if you’re a software engineer.
Sample answer: “Hmm.. I guess when I look at my skillset as a whole, one weakness right now would be Java Programming. It’s just not something that I’ve been asked to do since school so I understand the fundamentals but I’m pretty rusty in terms of working hands-on with it. I was planning on brushing up in the next few months to broaden my skillset anyway though. I think it’d help me be more well-rounded and would filter down into other areas that I use more often.”
This is a good answer as long as you’re not interviewing for a job where they expect you to start programming in Java every day from the beginning.
Look at the job description and you’ll get a sense of this before the interview.
I think when hiring managers ask “what is your greatest weakness”, they still expect a personality-based answer. Only because that’s what most people give.
If you do this, just make sure to emphasize Step 2 above and talk about how you’ve mitigated the effects of this weakness and overcome it in your everyday work.
And you can play it even safer by giving a skill-based answer instead of personality-based. Do this by researching the job description and naming a skill that isn’t a primary focus of the position you’re interviewing for.
If you succeed at delivering this type of answer, you’ll build a much better connection with the hiring manager and come across as more impressive than somebody that pulled the old trick of naming a strength and making it sound like a weakness.
Note: If you want 7 more questions and answers in similar format, check out this page.