How to (and not to) answer interview question “What is your greatest weakness?”

How to (and not to) answer interview question “What is your greatest weakness?”

It’s the day of the interview. You’ve spent countless hours crafting your answers to the most commonly asked questions. Now you’re in the midst of eloquently stating your familiarity with the respective company you’re interviewing for, your relevant expertise, etc.

But then comes the question that often trips up potential candidates:

“What is your greatest weakness?”

In the hunt for potential employment, we’re so used to talking about what we’re good at that discussing areas where we don’t excel can be tricky.

What does the hiring manager really want to know? Not only are they figuring out whether or not you’re qualified for the job; they’re specifically looking for indicators that show you can learn from new challenges and handle additional tasks.

Being able to objectively reflect on past workplace experiences and demonstrate your ability to grow from them shows self-awareness, confidence and personality – all desirable qualities in a potential employee.

 

Let’s start with “how to respond”:

  1. Authentic – We all want to be seen in the best possible light, particularly when we’re interviewing for a new job. But a hiring manager will see right through anything disingenuous. Being honest and authentic are two of the most important traits to demonstrate.
  2. Unrelated to core job responsibilities – While honesty is important, saying something like “I don’t like to follow up with people all the time” isn’t a great response if you’re interviewing for the position of Project Manager.
  3. Share personal insight – Sharing something personal – a true reflection of your authentic self – is incredibly valuable and often goes a long way in connecting you with your interviewer. That’s never a bad thing.
  4. Specific situation related – Demonstrate self-awareness by citing a situation that challenged you in a specific way. Being able to articulate to the hiring manager precisely what you learned from this and how you incorporated those lessons going forward will put you miles ahead of other interviewees.
  5. Story-telling approach – Our brains are hardwired to listen to stories. Taking the time to craft a tale that illustrates your point brings the hiring manager on an emotional journey with you; and when you’re up against potentially dozens of other candidates, this is a great way to stand out from the pack. The STAR Method is a great tool to utilize, which we discuss here .

 

On the flip side, here’s “how not to respond”:

  1. Saying nothing – This is by far the worst response you can give. Telling the hiring manager “I don’t have any weaknesses” or “I don’t know of any” demonstrates a lack of self-awareness – and perhaps even disinterest – that can easily put your candidacy in jeopardy. We know, a few words can speak volumes.
  2. Giving up your personality flaw – There’s a huge difference between
    a) explaining how you’ve learned from a past experience and
    b) simply listing less than desirable character traits.
    It’s hard to turn “I am very impatient” into something constructive, so best to avoid it altogether.
  3. Previous unpleasant experiences/failures – It can be incredibly tempting to use this time to vent about an argument you had with a manger who rejected your proposal, but we’d recommend restraining yourself. Even if you were 100% in the right, it’s too easy for an answer like this to come off as though you’re holding a grudge.
  4. Attempt to turn a negative into a positive – We’re not saying that you shouldn’t discuss challenges or setbacks. But if you previously got fired for arguing with co-workers, keep it to yourself here. Attempting to shine a positive light on something that was clearly a negative simply comes across an inauthentic.

 
Of course, there are cliched responses that any experienced hiring manager has heard a hundred times before:

  • Perfectionism – “I care too much about my work” or “I am too much of a perfectionist” is the oldest response in the book, and the interviewer will see right through it.
  • Detail-oriented – “I am very detail-oriented, and it often leads me to work extra to meet my deadlines.” Not only can this come across as fake, it can also make it seem as though you’re not able to do your job efficiently.
  • Delegation – Telling the hiring manager that you’re not very good at delegating doesn’t make you sound like a great worker. On the contrary, it’s a clear indication of your inability to assign separate tasks fairly and efficiently.
  • Critical of your own work – Priding yourself on producing excellent work is one thing, but constantly checking and rechecking can be both a waste of time and a sign that you lack the self-confidence necessary for the job.
  • Cannot multi-task – Rarely in a professional workplace will you have the luxury of being able to focus solely on one task at a time.
  • Straightforward – “I am very straightforward and don’t indulge in office politics” simply comes off as holier-than-thou. No good.

 

Sample Responses

“While working on XX project at YY company as a Business Analyst, I was provided a list of all stakeholders. I completed the requirements gathering phase with the stakeholders provided. However, later in the execution phase we learned that there was a key stakeholder we missed. That experience told me that sometimes I rely too greatly on the information provided. I took the lesson to always perform a thorough stakeholder analysis in all subsequent projects.”

 

“In my last assignment, I inherited the project from another developer. We were in the execution phase and timeline estimates were already provided by my predecessor. I did not question that and started to work per plan. Later, I found myself time-pressed to meet the deadline and had conversations with my manager right away. The lesson I learnt is that I should validate the information shared that pertains to my deliverables.”

 
 

Next Steps?

Do you feel confident handling tricky interview questions? ProViso Consulting is here to support your career success! Our expert team can help you prepare properly for common interview questions. View jobs now!

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