In this article, we will be discussing one of the most common and aggravating interview questions: “What is your greatest weakness?”
Most candidates dislike this question and some may even consider it pointless. After all, no one is about to candidly confess to their biggest flaws in the middle of a job interview. Nonetheless, interviewers love this question, even though it’s considered cliche.
Why? Because the way you answer a question about your weaknesses in a job interview is very telling. Answering “What is your greatest weakness” is tricky, and there is a good chance that you’re doing it wrong. Don’t worry though, you are not alone.
How to Answer “What is Your Greatness Weakness?”
When asked about your weaknesses, a good answer has two important parts:
- Briefly describe a real weakness that wouldn’t be a major handicap for the job.
- Explain how you’re striving to improve on your weakness. This shows that you are self-aware, have the drive to be your best and that your weakness will not slow you down.
How to choose a good weakness (h3)
- Be authentic
Try not to feel singled out when you have to share a weakness during an interview. We all have our flaws, and that’s okay. You just have to choose the one that’s most interview-friendly.
- Picking an interview-friendly weakness
Be aware of the job requirements and don’t cite a weakness related to any of the required skills or desired qualities. For example, if you are an accountant, don’t talk about hating math or lack of attention to detail. If you are in sales, don’t confess to being too reserved or lacking persistence.
- Select a weakness that is relatively minor and “fixable”
By fixable, we mean it’s something you can improve through work and motivation. For example:
Fixable: “I get nervous when speaking in front of large groups.”
(You can get better through practice and learning new skills — and this is a common development area.)
Harder to fix: “I am very shy and often have trouble speaking up in meetings.”
(While there’s nothing wrong with being shy, an interviewer could assume that the candidate would have trouble collaborating in a team environment. This is a preference or personality quality that would be more difficult to change.)
- Describe your weakness in a concise, neutral way.
Don’t feel like you have to go into great detail. Be brief and, most importantly, avoid sounding defensive or overly negative.
How to demonstrate that you are working on your weakness (h3)
Now that you’ve chosen an interview-friendly weakness it’s time to describe how you have already taken steps to improve in your area of weakness. Here’s why:
- A great candidate is always looking for ways to learn and grow
- A fabulous candidate then takes the initiative to improve
Use your answer to demonstrate your motivation to be the best at what you do. This is how to truly emphasize the positive when talking about your weakness.
“What Is Your Greatest Weakness?” Answer Samples
We’ve prepared some excellent written samples of how to answer the greatest weakness question and we’ve created a video with some helpful information and advice on the proper pace of speech, body language, and authenticity.
Example 1: Delegation
“I think one area I could work on is my delegation skills. I am always so concerned about everything being done right and on time that I can get stuck in the mentality of “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” Unfortunately, that’s not always possible and I’ve realized that I can actually end up slowing things down if I am too controlling.
I learned this recently when given the opportunity to manage the department’s summer interns. I had never managed direct reports before, so this was a hugely educational experience in many different ways. It definitely taught me how to delegate and my manager noticed the difference in my management style at the end of the summer. I know that I can benefit from additional development in this area, so I signed up for a management skills training course and am always looking for opportunities to manage projects for our group.”
Why This Works:
This is a great example of a junior-level employee in a role in which delegation abilities are not critical. Please note that the last sentence in the first paragraph is important because it acknowledges how the weakness can be a problem and why it’s worth working on.
The weakness is acknowledged and described, but the emphasis is more on how the candidate has sought out ways to improve.
Keep in mind that this is not such a terrific answer if you’re applying for a job that requires you to manage people.
Example 2: Too Direct
“Sometimes I can be a bit too honest when I provide feedback to coworkers. My personality is naturally very straightforward and to the point, and most of my colleagues really value that, but I have learned that there are times on the job when more diplomacy is required.
I took a training class on conflict management and it really opened my eyes to the need to communicate differently with different people. So now I am much better at providing constructive feedback, even if it doesn’t always come naturally.”
Why This Works:
This weakness is described well. The candidate notes how directness has been a weakness while also making it clear that he is not a raging jerk to his coworkers.
In the second part, he talks about concrete steps that he has taken and how he has improved.
Example 3: Public Speaking
“Honestly, I would say that public speaking is an area that I could work on. I tend to get nervous when asked to present to a large group of people. In small team meetings, I’m the first one to stand up and present. But put me in front of a big group and I can get flustered.
I actually spoke to my manager about this and we set it as one of my development goals for this year. I took an internal presentation skills class and attended some meetings of Toastmasters, a networking group for people who want to practice public speaking. With some practice, I started to feel more comfortable. Last month, I even volunteered to represent our team at a division-wide town hall. I only had to present for 10 minutes, but I did it and got great feedback! It was actually kind of fun, so I plan on continuing to seek out opportunities to improve in this area.”
Why This Works:
Fear of public speaking is a common fear. In this sample answer, the candidate makes it clear that she has no trouble communicating in general (which could be a red flag). It’s just getting up in front of a big group that scares her.
She goes on to describe how she identified the weakness, spoke with her manager about it, and then took proactive steps to improve. She even has a little triumph at the end.
Example 4: Indecisive
“It’s hard for me at times to make a split-second decision for fear of messing something up, especially if I don’t receive clear instructions. I usually relied on the higher-ups to make important choices because I’ve always felt like I didn’t have the proper authority to do so.
However, I’ve recently attended some leadership seminars where I’ve had to make decisions on the spot as an exercise. Now, I’m confident that I can make my own choices and I can be proactive when it comes to decision-making.”
Why This Works:
Indecisiveness mars many people’s careers but the candidate demonstrates that he’s taking the necessary steps to overcome his weakness. An interviewer would appreciate this candidate’s candor and conviction.
Example 5: Severe Self-Criticism
“I find that once I finish something I’ve been working on, I tend to dismiss it as shoddy work. Sometimes this tendency spirals out of control and I start thinking that maybe everything I’ve worked on in the past is subpar, even though the results of my work were satisfactory.
Thankfully, I’m striving to silence my inner critic when its input isn’t needed by taking courses on overcoming “impostor syndrome”. Recently, I’ve been happy with my work and I’m ready to take on new challenges without impairing myself.”
Why This Works:
This is a good weakness because it’s quite fixable. Being a harsh self-critic is a sign that you’re not satisfied with anything but perfection. However, it’s important to know when to stop fidgeting with a task that’s already complete and move on to the next.
Example 6: Too Chatty
“I’m a very social person at work but sometimes I can be a distraction. I love having conversations with my colleagues to the point that I keep them from doing their work. After having talked to my manager, I’ve recently begun to keep my conversations short and redirect my attention to my duties.”
Why This Works:
Being sociable at work is not a bad thing, but being a distraction definitely is. However, this person has acknowledged their weakness and is striving to focus on her work instead of badgering her co-workers with endless conversation.
Example 7: Humor
“In the past, I’ve had problems with jokes in the workplace. I come from a very serious household, and humor has not really been a big part of my life. I used to find jokes unprofessional during work hours. One day, I heard a really good one and I burst out laughing at my desk.
After that, I decided not to take life so seriously all the time and laugh it up with the team every now and then. It’s still a bit of a novelty for my co-workers to hear me start with a joke when I’m presenting during a meeting.”
Why This Works:
A sense of humor is great to have, especially when working with a team. The candidate explains how she developed hers thanks to a good joke she heard at work. She then goes on to say how humor has made it easier to connect with her co-workers and how it’s made her a more likable team member.
Example 8: Disorganized
“I sometimes struggle with keeping my workspace organized. I find that my efficiency is impaired by my cluttered desk and messy inbox. Recently, I’ve been disciplined about uncluttering my digital and physical space by dedicating the last 15 minutes of my day to organizing myself for the next. It’s set me up for success when I start my morning and makes me a much more efficient worker.”
Why This Works:
The organizational skills that this candidate sheds light on do not necessarily impact their performance or ability to do their job, so it doesn’t raise a red flag. They explain that they realized that having a neat workspace gives them the comfort and headspace they need to increase their efficiency, and they explain how exactly they have developed this new habit.
Example 9: Trouble Asking for Help
“I pride myself on being independent and solving problems quickly and efficiently. However, when I need help with a task I find it difficult to ask for it.
I’ve learned to trust in my co-workers’ and superiors’ knowledge and expertise and found that it’s much more beneficial for me and the company to reach out when I don’t understand a task or when I’m feeling overwhelmed by my workload. “
Why This Works:
Employers appreciate a person who can be independent but not to the point that they refuse help from anyone. This candidate states that he’s learned to work in a team and that allowing others to help is a great way to improve efficiency.
Example 10: Incompatibility With Certain Personalities
“Some time ago I really struggled to work with aggressive personalities. It makes sense to me that diverse personalities strengthen a business but I tend to quiet down and refrain from verbalizing my ideas and opinions if someone’s louder than me.
To fix this, I’ve spent more time with co-workers who are better at expressing their thoughts, learned more about them, and found ways to equally contribute my skills and strengths.”
As a result, many coworkers have utilized my ideas and feedback, even those who are usually aggressive and loud with their opinions. I am so pleased I was able to work on expressing myself and add value to the team.”
Why This Works:
This answer works because the candidate shows how she’s addressed her weakness by improving on her timidity and learning to work better in a team. As a result, she’s become more expressive and team members are realizing the value of her ideas.
Example 11: Impatience
Now let’s see an example answer in action!
Weakness Interview Question
Here is a list of weakness interview questions that are regularly asked in job interviews:
- What is your greatest weakness?
This is probably the most common phrasing.
- What are some of your weaknesses?
Here you are being asked for more than one. The interviewer knows you have that one weakness interview question answer prepared and wants to push you for more (see also: follow-up questions below)
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
Some interviewers will ask you to sum up both strengths and weaknesses in one answer.
- If I called your current/previous manager, what would he/she say that you need to work on?
This phrasing is tricky. By planting the idea of calling your current/last manager, the interviewer is trying to subconsciously encourage more honesty (Some candidates immediately start thinking, “What if he actually calls her?”)
- Tell me about a development goal that you have set.
This question probes for weakness, but also emphasizes your ability to proactively set development goals.
- If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
Here is another phrasing — again asking for your GREATEST weakness or at least the one that you feel is most limiting.
- What do you most want to improve in the next year?
This phrasing takes a more positive approach, but it is still a question about weaknesses.
Sometimes, an interviewer may not be satisfied with your answer to the “What is your greatest weakness?” question. You should also be prepared for follow-up or probing questions, especially if your answer to the original weaknesses job interview question was vague or unconvincing.
Here is a list of weakness questions you might get as follow-ups:
- But how has that weakness negatively affected you?
You will often hear this follow-up question if you have failed to describe a REAL weakness (see the “turning a negative into a positive” strategy we mentioned above”)
- OK, how about a real weakness?
This is a more pointed follow-up when the interviewer is skeptical about your initial answer.
- Can you share another weakness or area for development?
A tough interviewer may ask more than one weakness interview question, especially if the first one provided sounds false or over-rehearsed. Some interviewers just know that candidates often prepare only one weakness and want to see what they come up with on the spot.
Why Interviewers Ask “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”
So why do interviewers ask about weaknesses when they know that most candidates don’t answer honestly?
They are trying to get past your nice, presentable interview facade and get a sense of what you are really like to work with.
Even if you don’t answer honestly, your answer tells them something about you. If you dodge the question or try to fake your way through it, the interviewer will wonder if:
- You have scary secret weaknesses that you won’t discuss.
- You think you are perfect because you have no self-awareness.
- You think you are perfect because your standards are very low.
- You are a con artist. (This may be okay if you’re in politics or public relations.)
We have seen strong interviewers get tripped up with the “What is your greatest weakness?” interview question. It can be very difficult to talk about your flaws in a stressful situation like a job interview. Negative topics require added diplomacy (See also: Answering behavioral interview questions about failure).
Meanwhile, you’re nervous and thinking about 1,000 other things (Is my hair sticking up? Is my breath okay? Why did he just frown like that? What am I going to say if he asks why I left my last job? How am I going to remember that teamwork example? Can he tell that I’m sweating?)
However, you can answer “What is your greatest weakness” in a way that is honest and authentic and still increases your odds of getting a job offer.
There are plenty of ways to practice answering tough interview questions. Do some research and find out what common interview questions to expect. Either write down your answers and practice them in the mirror or record yourself and analyze the video to identify red flags such as inappropriate body language, overly long pauses, use of too many filler words, and lack of authenticity.
Or you could use a tool like Big Interview and use the Answer Builder to walk you through drafting your own bullet points.
It’s really intuitive and user-friendly. Simply sign in to your Big Interview account, select Practice from the top bar and then choose Answer Builder. You’ll be taken to a separate page where you can start building an awesome answer.
After pressing start, you can choose what type of answer you’d like to build. Let’s start with “Talking about your weaknesses.”
It’s time to name your weakness. Let’s choose something common like fear of public speaking. You could also check out a sample answer before hitting the ‘Continue’ button.
After you’re done writing your weakness, you’ll need to briefly describe it…
… and then explain the steps that you’re taking to improve that weakness.
Now you can review your answers and edit anything you feel might not be what your interviewers want to hear. Read our samples again and try to come up with the best possible answer for any tough interview question!
Common Mistakes When Answering “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”
People often make similar mistakes when answering a weakness interview question. Below are the most common mistakes candidates make (you may be able to relate):
Trying to turn a negative into a positive.
You’ll find many books and articles that advise you to “turn a negative into a positive” by sharing a supposed weakness that is actually a desirable quality in an employee. A few examples:
- I am too much of a perfectionist.
- I work too hard sometimes.
- I care too much about my work.
Clever idea. At this point, though, it’s an old trick and the interviewer sees right through it. They have seen many candidates try the same song and dance. In fact, this approach will likely make them think you are hiding something.
Refusing to answer the question.
Some candidates will assert that they can’t think of a single weakness. This is probably because they don’t prepare for the question properly and freeze up, afraid to say the wrong thing. This answer also makes you look like you are hiding something.
Revealing a weakness that raises red flags.
Another mistake is to be too candid and confess to a weakness that would hinder your ability to excel in the role. Our interview coach expert Pamela once had a coaching client answer, “I have trouble getting up in the morning and getting to work on time.” His real weakness was that he was way too honest.
Answering “What is your greatest weakness?” can be an opportunity for you to show the interviewer that you’re willing to crush any obstacle in your path and succeed in the job you’re applying for. Self-improvement is a never-ending task. You live, you learn, and you change for the better, always. Try to remember that before going to your next interview and pass it successfully using the information in this article.
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