What is your greatest weakness? You’ve got to love this question. At face value, it feels like there is no way out of this question. Do they really want you to tell them a weakness? You’re at this interview to show them how amazing you are, not tell them that punctuality isn’t your strong suit.
The interviewer asks this question to see if you can be honest and self-aware. Typically there are three types of answers to this question.
Response Type #1: Backhanded Weakness
“My biggest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist!” Sound familiar? The thought here is that you can get away with making a strength sound like your “weakness”. This is horribly cliché, and yet, people still use stuff like this. Answers like:
- I’m a workaholic.
- I get frustrated when the job doesn’t get done correctly.
- I just care too much.
This question is almost always asked before or after “tell me about your greatest strength.” That should tell you at least one thing, that they don’t want to hear two strengths. What they really want is to hear is an answer that will let the interviewer know you better and show them that you’re aware of the areas in your career where you have room to grow.
Using these types of answers will probably just end up frustrating the interviewers. I completely understand the urge to make yourself look good in this response, but there’s a better way that we’ll cover soon. For now just recognize that this type of backhanded weakness is completely transparent to the interviewer, so avoid these cliché answers.
Response Type #2: Real Weakness
I completely support being honest in your interview. Being honest is one of the best ways to connect with your interviewer and share who you are in a way that they can’t get simply from reading your resume. Especially with this interview question, where one of the things the interviewer is hoping to find out is how honest you are, being honest and self-aware of your potential weaknesses is going to be one of the best ways to respond.
That honesty however should have limits, because yes, there is such a thing as being too honest. Letting the interviewer know that you often take planned “sick” days or have a tendency to steal office equipment is something that really doesn’t need to make it into your response here. Honesty is important, but let’s not get carried away.
Response Type #3: Real Weakness, But You’re Working On It
We all have weaknesses, nobody’s going to crucify you for not being perfect. The purpose of this question though is to hear how you address those weaknesses in your life. With this answer, we’re going to pick a real weakness we have. Maybe we really do lose track of time easily. We’re not the best multi-taskers. We struggle to speak up in meetings. These are all reasonable weaknesses that you could have.
What we’re going to do with this answer though is be honest (not too honest) about our weaknesses. We’re going to lay out the steps we’ve taken to get better in those areas, and how we’ve managed to put systems in place to ensure these are not weaknesses that will negatively impact our work.
You’ll notice that everything we’ve talked about so far has been in a professional context. The interviewer doesn’t want to hear that your weakness is a lack of willpower when it comes to chocolate cake or your irrational fear of snowmen. It might be tempting to throw out a personal weakness that doesn’t make you look bad at your job, but might technically qualify as an answer to this question; resist this urge.
This doesn’t need to be a scary question! With a good response to this question, you’ll not only show the interviewer that you’re more self-aware than a potato, but that you’re the kind of person who sees challenges as opportunities for success. You’ll show that you can take your weakness and turn it into a strength. So let’s take a look at an example of a good response that will show your interviewer that you’re a well-rounded candidate. A candidate who is self-aware of their weakness and is able to overcome that weakness.
“I would have to say that I really struggle with keeping track of all of the things I have to do. With meetings, calls, and daily and weekly reports, I’m often overwhelmed and can easily lose track of what needs to be done and by when. It’s because of this though that I religiously use my digital calendar and to-do list. I found that trying to remember everything is impossible, and by building the habit of writing down my meetings and tasks right when I get them, I’ve been able to meet all of my deadlines much more reliably. In fact, I’ve also found that by doing this, I really free up my attention so I can focus 100% on what I’m doing, rather than worrying about whether or not I should be working on another project.”
Let’s break down that response because there are a few parts of it that I really want you to take away so that you can apply them to your own examples.
First, notice the example didn’t shy away from the weakness. “I’m not good at remembering all the things I need to do”. That’s a real weakness right there, but again, we all have some kind of weakness like this. Being honest about your weakness is just going to show that you’re self-aware enough to recognize that it’s a real weakness that needs to be addressed. And that’s the key! It’s a problem that needs to be addressed. If the example had stopped right there with the weakness after “I struggle to keep track of my due dates”, this would be a bad answer.
The reason this can be such a powerful response is that you will have used your authentic weakness to set up the fact that you’ve come up with a solution to resolve the weakness. The example mentioned using a calendar and planner to keep track of everything. It also mentioned using this to build up a habit of tracking things as soon as they’re assigned out. That’s really a great habit, whether or not you consider this your weakness.
In the example this was the weakness, however, by putting systems in place to fix it, we’re actually better off than most others at knowing what needs to be done and by when.
That’s the beauty of this answer. You’re not just accounting for your weakness, you’re flipping it on its head. You’re turning our weakness into a strength. In the example, we told our interviewer that we are exceptionally organized and have a daily tracker that we utilize religiously, with the cherry on top that by doing this, we are always more focused on the job at hand, because we don’t have to worry about missing anything.
The great thing is that you can take this approach with nearly any weakness, you just need to show that you’re aware of your weakness and that you have put systems in place to ensure that your weakness can actually end up being a strength. This is what the interviewer wants to hear and is what’s going to win you the most points when answering the interview question “Tell me about your greatest weakness.”
What is your greatest weakness is one of those questions that most people hate to get, but in reality, it can be a fantastic opportunity to show the interviewer your honesty, self-awareness, and ability to turn weaknesses into strengths.
There are several cliche backhanded weaknesses out there that you should avoid using at all costs (think “my biggest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist”. There are also some actual real weaknesses that you shouldn’t bring up in your interview. For example, if your weakness is going to show your incompetence or indifference in an area close to the job you’re applying for, you’re not going to make it past the first interview.
In reality, there’s one best way to answer this question, and that’s by using a real weakness in an area not likely to have a huge impact on your productivity, and showcasing how you’re taking steps to mitigate that weakness. By doing this you’ll impress the interviewers with your honesty and self-awareness, and express to the interviewers that weaknesses are opportunities for growth that you’re excited to take advantage of.