How to Answer the Age-Old “What is Your Greatest Weakness” Question

Kimberly Hoover Frey
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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.

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  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Scott T. thanks for your comment. I think it's awesome that you answer that way. Shows that you are an individual who can think on his feet and not just regurgitate information that you found on the Internet. Did you hear back from the interviewer?

  • SCOTT T.
    SCOTT T.

    I have answered this with a "real answer", i.e. "graphic design." I'm not the best when it comes to picking fonts, page layout, color choices, etc. when I am putting together learning materials. I also atate that I seek out assistance in these areas. Interestingly, interviewers seem disappointed that I do not reply with the usual garbage, e.g "I work too hard; I'm a perfectionist" etc.

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Mark West thanks for your comment. It may be the most unimaginative question but it is asked at some point in most interviews. Walking out is not the answer, though. You could be walking out on that dream job. Instead, why don't you calmly explain how you feel about that question and see if the interviewer doesn't ask a different question. You might be surprised at the results.

  • Mark West
    Mark West

    That question has to be the most unimaginative way to insult somone you should want to impress. If somone is going to ask a question like that, I know I don't want to work for them. I'm worth more than that. So I say I get annoyed by questions like that and walk out.

  • Craig U.
    Craig U.

    Hitler told the Truth. Even though he was insane

  • Craig U.
    Craig U.

    Obama did not. Bush did not

  • Craig U.
    Craig U.

    I always tell the Truth.

  • Aboobacker H.
    Aboobacker H.

    Great comments

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    @Marie Miklas thanks for your comment. I, too, have a problem saying no to some things. When asked for help, take a few minutes to think it through. Tell them you will get back with them shortly. That gives you a chance to look at your work schedule and see if you can help them or not. If not, just go back and say that you have too much on your plate right now and that you will reach out to them when you are able to assist. People appreciate honesty.

  • Marie Miklas
    Marie Miklas

    I definitely recognize that saying NO is very difficult for me , so taking on too much can be overwhelming. I am one who enjoys helping others, but also get a bit anxious if things aren't done correctly.

  • Sheila Y. M.
    Sheila Y. M.

    I have preferred technical positions, however, economics have forced me to customer service positions. It has taken thinking twice before answering as the equipment doesn't talk back, and people do, thus knowing when to speak up and when to keep your peace of mind takes practice.

  • Cecilia O.
    Cecilia O.

    I have been on hiring committees enough to know the cliche answer of 'I'm too much of a perfectionist' 'I'm too organized and detailed oriented'. Trying to post a weakness as a skill...

  • Nancy Anderson
    Nancy Anderson

    Thanks for the great comments. It's truly hard to brag about ourselves just as it is to admit our faults. But 9 times out of 10, you are going to be asked either about your strengths or your weaknesses or both. It's always best to think about these questions prior to the interview. Write down your response and study it. Know what you are going to say before the question is asked. That sure will take away a lot of the stress when it comes to questions like this!

  • Mark H.
    Mark H.

    a lack of humility: I am awesome, friendly, hardworking, diligent, and patient. And, I know it!

    LOL: As Benjamin Franklin, humility: If I ever truly become humble, then I shall be proud of my achievement (paraphrasing, but close)!

  • THOMAS O.
    THOMAS O.

    Tolerate and Overcome

  • Marlene S.
    Marlene S.

    I expect a lot from a fellow employees or employer. I try very hard to do what is expected of myself. Sometimes I am too hard on myself. Every job I have had they highly rated honesty. I do not tollerat any less. We can always over one problems but lying or stealing are not anything I can do.

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