You know it’s coming. You just don’t know at what point the interview will suddenly flip from questions about your experience to the dreaded, “What is your greatest weakness?” Before you break a sweat and transition into full panic mode, it’s helpful to understand that this type of question is a standard component of Behavioral Interviewing—the idea “that past behavior is the best predictor of future performance in similar situations”. This question may very well be the most significant question you will be asked during any interview, so you must prepare for it. Below are a few guidelines to help you along this journey of self-reflection.
- Identify the culprit. Choose a skill (intellectual, emotional, social, or some combination thereof) that you find yourself consistently second-guessing and that you either know or suspect is getting in your way. Before your interview, think through the circumstances that often lead you to demonstrate this weakness. For example, you identify your weakness as having a hard time saying “no” to requests for your time, even though you are already fully occupied with your designated workload. You then realize that you also struggle a bit with delegating to others. Taken together, these two weaknesses have, in the past, created for you the perfect storm of missed deadlines, feeling overworked and undervalued, and incomplete tasks and projects which may negatively impact your entire business. Though you would not provide such detail during an actual interview—particularly not fessing up to missed deadlines and the resulting impact on the business—you now have a clear idea of your greatest weakness: having a hard time saying “no” to work overload. You can move forward with taking responsibility for and correcting it.
- Own it. Take complete responsibility for your weakness and frame it as an area for growth. This goes without saying, but don’t throw anyone under the bus during your self-discovery mission. This question pertains to you and only you. Also, while this is universally-acknowledged, it bears repeating: no one is perfect—not even the polished executives who will interview you. Repeat that five times and remind yourself that identifying and owning your weakness form the foundation of all positive change and self-improvement.
- Map your journey to recovery. Provide details of how you’re actively working to strengthen this weakness and show that you are humble enough to know that it may be more of a marathon than a sprint. For the situation of accepting too many requests for your time and not delegating enough, perhaps part of your solution is establishing a more open line of communication with your manager about expectations for your workload. Additionally, you’re now making a greater effort to establish and maintain healthy work relationships with your colleagues so that you feel more comfortable politely declining extra work that you can’t accept and delegating to your colleagues when the tasks are more appropriately handled by one of them. A solid example of how you’re working to establish and maintain these relationships is taking time to engage with your colleagues when you don’t need something from them. Take time to grab a coffee or lunch together. When you ask how they are, actually listen and provide thoughtful, genuine responses. Help your colleagues celebrate their successes and cope with their setbacks.
Engaging in this type of self-reflection is helpful in all aspects of life, not just while job hunting. It is a worthwhile exercise that will hopefully reveal to you some stellar strengths you didn’t previously see in yourself. Let us know your greatest weakness and how you are overcoming it.