You’re in an interview and it’s going well. You’re qualified and you’ve impressed them so far. You’re thinking you have this in the bag—until the interviewer asks, “What’s your greatest weakness?” Your mind goes blank, an awkward silence sets in, and you feel yourself begin to sweat. What do you do?!
“What is your greatest weakness?” is one of the most dreaded, yet common, interview questions. Understanding why employers ask this question and being prepared to answer the question are critical to a successful interview.
Why do employers ask this question? Do they really think they will get an honest and insightful answer? Yes, they do. Employers want to know the good and the bad about applicants so they can make the best hiring decision possible. It also provides a prospective employer the opportunity to see how a job applicant responds to a question that intentionally makes them a little uncomfortable. Many times, the employer is just as concerned with HOW you answer this question as they are with WHAT your answer is.
So how do you answer this question? First, you prepare. This question is intended to throw you off your game. But since it is one of the most common interview questions, there is no excuse for letting it stump you. Use this question to help separate you from other candidates by having an insightful, honest, and memorable response. Avoid the most common answers to this question. The clichéd responses include “I am a perfectionist”, “I am too critical of my work”, and “I don’t think I have a weakness”. Even if these clichés are true for you, this is not how you want to respond. EVERYONE has a weakness!
This simple formula will help you conquer this question like a pro:
Declaration + Example + Accomplishment
Declaration: Explain your weakness in an honest, concise form. For example, “I like to help people and it is hard for me to say no sometimes.”
Example: Provide an example that is concise and business related. For example, “Early in my career, when I was working at (Company), I was sitting at my desk one night wrapping up a presentation for a huge sales meeting the next day. I was thinking to myself, why am I still working on this at 9 pm the night before the presentation? That’s when I realized that I had to start telling people no. I had taken on so many special projects that week that I was just overloaded.”
Accomplishment: Turn the weakness into an accomplishment or positive. For example, “I still love being the go-to person who everyone trusts to do whatever is needed to get the job done. And I still do whatever it takes to get the job done. But I have learned that I can only do so much without sacrificing quality or missing deadlines. Now when someone asks if I can take on a special project or just quickly pull together that report they want ASAP, I really think about it before I say yes. And if I don’t have time, I am confident enough to openly discuss my concerns. I used to think saying no was a sign of weakness, but as I have matured in my career, I have learned that not being able to say no is actually the weakness.”
Have at least two responses prepared for this question and practice delivering your response ahead of time. You may feel silly, but it is much better to feel silly practicing your answers alone or with a friend than in person during a real interview.