Your interview is going superbly well, you think you’ve hit it out of the park and are getting along well with the interviewer.
But then, seemingly out of nowhere, comes the dreaded question:
“What is your biggest weakness?”
This is a popular question to try and trip up prospects during the interview process.
Answering with “I’m a perfectionist” is not the best answer.
When an interviewer asks this question, they want to know whether you have a level of self-awareness and can be open and honest about your shortcomings.
They don’t want to hear that you never make mistakes because that means you are not very realistic.
They also don’t want to hear that you have no weaknesses because that means you are not taking criticism well and are not open to growth.
So, how do you answer this question in a way that shows your self-awareness and honesty, but also shows your ability to learn from mistakes, grow, and develop?
3 Approaches To Answering The Question
You should generally avoid directly answering the question, opting instead to discuss an area of improvement that you’re actively working on. This will show your interviewer that you’re committed to self-improvement and professional growth. It will also help give you time to think about what you want to say.
There are three popular approaches you could take:
1) Focus on an area where you’re currently working on improving yourself. For example, “I sometimes have a hard time adjusting my schedule when I’m working on multiple projects.”
2) Focus on a weakness that isn’t going to negatively impact the performance of the job you’re applying to. For example, “Sometimes, I’m too busy focusing on my work that I forget to take breaks.”
3) An even better option is to focus on a weakness that you have already successfully overcome. For example, “I used to have a hard time managing my time in college, but I learned to manage my time better by taking a time management course online and was able to successfully improve my grades and fit in extra time for extracurricular activities.” By explaining your weakness in this way, you show your growth and development as a person, while also showing your ability to admit your weaknesses.
Exercise To Practice
Here is an exercise you can practice at home prior to your interview so that you can be well-prepared for this type of question.
Sit at a desk or table in your home, and imagine the interviewer sitting on the other side (or ask a friend or family member to actually sit across the table from you so that you can realistically visualize and practice). Ask the question out loud yourself, or if you have a real person across from you, have them ask the question to you.
After the interviewer has asked this question, pause for a moment to collect your thoughts.
Once you’ve collected your thoughts, take a deep breath and share the following:
- A personal shortcoming that you see as a weakness (for example, “I’m too trusting of others at times”)
- A specific example of how this weakness has affected you or others around you (for example, “I was taken advantage of at work by a co-worker who had been here longer than me”)
- A personal or professional goal that you are working towards in order to address the issue (for example, “I’m currently taking a class in negotiation skills in order to better protect myself at work”)
Here is an example of how this could play out:
Interviewer: What is your greatest weakness?
Candidate: I would say that my greatest weakness is that I am too trusting of others at times. For example, I was taken advantage of at work by a colleague who had been here longer than me. After that experience, I decided to take a negotiating skills class in order to better protect myself in the future.
Interviewer: Can you tell me more about that?
Candidate: Absolutely. At my last job, I felt like my performance was being overlooked and I wasn’t getting the credit I deserved for some of the work I had done. When a colleague approached me with an opportunity to take on additional responsibilities, I accepted the offer without fully thinking through the consequences. My colleague ended up doing most of the work and simply passed along what he had done to me. Once I found out, I was understandably upset. After that experience, I decided to take a course in negotiation skills so that if a similar situation ever came up again, I would know how to handle it differently.
Interviewer: Can you tell me more about this negotiation class?
Candidate: Sure! The class focuses on helping participants identify their own goals and priorities, as well as those of their counterparts. We also discuss different negotiation techniques and strategies for achieving our goals in any given scenario. For example, we talk about how to recognize when we are undervaluing our own time or our own work product and how we can ask for more money or more time as compensation. The class is taught over six weeks and involves some homework each week. It’s been really helpful so far and has really helped me communicate with my colleagues more effectively.
See? That wasn’t so difficult, right?
Remember, there is no perfect answer. Have an answer you can practice and recite with confidence. Have a few backup answers too in case they ask you something unexpected. If you practice ahead of time and go into the interview prepared, you’ll have a better chance of answering this tough question with an elegant, believable, honest and professional response.