How do you answer the tough interview question, “what’s your greatest weakness?” For such a common interview question, the answer was never really clear!
Should you deny you have any weaknesses? Or do you share it all? Neither is the correct answer. You turn the situation to your advantage by framing your weaknesses positively.
What is the purpose of the question?
The purpose of this dreaded question is not to trip you up. When interviewers ask you to identify your greatest weaknesses, they are looking for the following three things:
- Honesty. They want to know if you're honest enough to show your weakness. Keep in mind that if you get hired, your professional weaknesses will come up in one way or another, so being open about them in advance is the best option.
- The interviewer is looking to see if you have the self-awareness to identify a weakness and the ability to address it.
- Willingness to improve. Everyone has weaknesses - even employers themselves. That’s why they don’t expect you to lie about it. What employers do expect, however, is that you’re willing (and trying) to improve.
As everyone has areas that could use improvement, answering this question can be an excellent way to highlight how you have overcome a weakness in the past or that you are actively working to develop. Showing that you are able to acknowledge your weakness and work towards improving it, shows that you are capable and in charge of your professional development.
How to answer “What’s your greatest weakness?”
No matter what, your answer should never be “Weakness? I don’t have any weaknesses.” Everybody has weaknesses, and denying yours only shows you’re not self-aware, which is a red flag for the interviewer.
If you were asked about your greatest strength in a job interview, your first instinct might be to pick a strength that’s essential to the job you’re applying for, and that instinct would be right. However, when choosing a weakness to talk about, you would want to avoid it altogether. While remaining honest, choose a weakness that is not integral to the job you are applying for. No one wants to hire an accountant who struggles with attention to detail or a salesperson who gets nervous making calls.
Frame your weaknesses positively. Don’t disguise a strength as a weakness (“I’m just too detail-oriented”). What we mean by “frame your weaknesses positively” is the following:
- Clearly describe your weakness (preferably with specifics, not vague clichés hiring managers have heard hundreds of times).
- Give a short example of a time your weakness affected your work.
- Talk about what you’ve done or are doing to improve your weaknesses.
Here’s an example.
Say you’re applying for a job as an Office Manager. This is part of the job description:
Most importantly, you wouldn’t want to answer “What’s your greatest weakness?” with any of the following: communication, problem-solving, attention to detail, ability to multi-task or organisational skills.
All these skills are requirements of the job, and mentioning them as weaknesses would do more harm than good. Instead, identify a genuine non-essential weakness, discuss how it has held you back in the past, and highlight how you are managing it.
Here’s how to do that: “My greatest weakness is time management. I have always been very detail-oriented, so it sometimes takes me longer to finish a project than I initially think it will. This is why I have started using time-tracking software. It has made me more conscious of the time a task takes me and helped me never miss a deadline again.”
This is a good answer because:
- It answers with a real weakness, but one that’s not essential to the position.
- It highlights exactly what you’ve done to improve yourself.
This answer also effectively mentions a strength that is essential to the job: attention to detail. If you can also fit one organically into your answer, that’s a huge plus.
Example answers to “What’s your greatest weakness?”
Here are example answers for a few weaknesses and some specific advice. Note how these answers avoid cliché responses and instead are more specific, which makes them sound more authentic.
1. Example answer you could use instead of “perfectionism”
Even if you are a perfectionist, the person interviewing you has heard this answer a million times. You will sound more sincere if you describe how you are a perfectionist, and how you are trying to overcome the weakness. This could be done in this way:
“I sometimes focus too much on the smaller details of a project. I like to produce excellent work, but I’ve learned that over-fixating on making things perfect can lead to missed deadlines. I’ve been working on improving this by taking breaks so that I have a chance to refocus on the big picture. Completing tasks in smaller intervals has helped me look at things objectively.”
2. Example answer when your weakness is “delegation”
Difficulty delegating can be a weakness for many employees, especially as they progress in their careers and have more people to delegate to. But the specific way you struggled, the impact that had, and your current approach will be what sets your answer apart.
Here’s how you can tell the interviewer about this weakness:
“I managed a team of five people and often thought it would take too long to show someone how to do a task, and I would end up doing it myself. When it came to my quarterly review, I realised that I was dropping balls by trying to do it all, and my team was not growing professionally. So, each time I get a new task, I make sure to see if there is someone more suitable on my team to do it, even if that means training someone on a new task. I’ve noticed that it has made me a much better manager.”
3. Example answer when your weakness is “multitasking”
Multitasking is not as great as you think. Yes, our increasingly busy lifestyles can sometimes trick us into thinking multitasking is a strength, especially if you are a mother, but recent studies show multitasking can seriously harm work performance and your health.
In such a case, if you’re asked, “What’s your greatest weakness?” you can answer like this:
“I first noticed it was an issue in my last job - I was too distracted, and tackling two or three tasks at once ruined my productivity. I’ve been minding how I work ever since and I make sure to always define and prioritise all my tasks. Then, instead of juggling three tasks at the same time, I try to go through them one by one.”
4. Example answer when your weakness is “procrastination”
A lot of people struggle with procrastination. As a weakness, procrastination can be a two-edged sword. If you don’t frame it properly, employers might assume you will likely miss deadlines or submit low-quality work.
The key here is to mention exactly how you’ve improved or plan to improve this weakness.
Here’s how to frame your answer:
“Since I was in university, I have struggled with procrastination. Before I started my first job, I didn’t think it was a weakness, because I never missed a deadline. I just had to pull an all-nighter to get the work done. However after I saw how my procrastination on a task affects the productivity of the entire team and the quality of a project’s result, I realised it’s a weakness I have to work on. I changed my work ethic, how I approach tasks, and how I motivate myself to work and have seen considerable improvement. I no longer rely on last-minute panic to complete my work.”
5. Example answer when your weakness is “public speaking”
Studies have shown that around seventy-five percent of the population struggles with public speaking, so you are not alone if this is a weakness.
Here is a way to positively address this weakness:
“I used to struggle with public speaking, but I've been actively addressing this weakness by taking courses and volunteering for opportunities to present in front of groups. While it's still a work in progress, I've made significant strides in improving my confidence and delivery.”
These are just five of the most common weaknesses, there are many others. If you stick to our advice to “frame your weakness positively,” you will be fine. Rehearse your response so that you can give it easily and, more importantly, concisely. You don’t want to spend too much time discussing your weaknesses.
RecruitMyMom understands the value of hiring women, so get past the “weakness” part of your answer as quickly as possible, so you can get back what’s most important: your (many!) strengths.
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