Do you know what your greatest weakness is? Does the thought of getting asked this question in the job interview make you uncomfortable just thinking about it?
If the question makes you squirm or just at a loss for what to say, don’t fret. The majority of job seekers get some amount of anxiety trying to prepare for how to answer this question.
When it originally started appearing in interviews, decades ago, the intention behind the what’s your greatest weakness interview question, was to make a job seeker struggle and give the interviewer insights to how you would react in an uncomfortable situation, being put on the spot, having to admit something unpleasant about yourself.
Nowadays, this question has become a bit standard alongside being asked your greatest strength. Some interviewers still want to see how you react, others overlook the question as just something to get past in the interview, while other interviewers, knowing it should be well prepared for and not come as a surprise, look for original responses that give an applicant a chance to stand out.
Put all the information you’ve read about this question in the past aside for a minute, and first remember, that failure and weakness are human characteristics. Everyone has shortcomings, including the interviewer. Take a breath and remember that this is OK.
The important part about recognizing your own weaknesses is whether or not you are able to acknowledge them and learn from them. A person who is oblivious to their weaknesses cannot improve or learn how to use their weakness as an asset. And, don’t ever say that you don’t have any in the interview–no one is perfect.
When you select a personal weakness to discuss, remember that this is a job interview. The interviewer is looking for how you relate to the position and the company. Avoid discussing any flaws or limitations that do not pertain to your work. This only aids in getting the conversation off track and away from assessing if you are a fit for the role.
Pick a weakness that is real to you. Do not pick something just because it sounds great or others have used it as an example that they can use to their advantage, like being a workaholic or a perfectionist (yes, there are exceptions to this.)
One, you come off as being rehearsed and generic if you don’t go into further detail, and two if it’s not true, you could wind up eating your words and lose credibility the first time you make a mistake and forget a small detail in your work.
Stay positive and don’t be afraid or hesitant to state your weakness. Be real and open in your response. Confidence and self-acknowledgement go a long ways in successfully answering this question.
Some interview coaches may tell you to pick something trivial or benign as your response, but that’s what qualities the interviewer will associate with you from those types of responses. This is a challenging question, but that also means that you have the opportunity to show you’re not afraid of a challenge.
Balance your response by finding a way to flip the weakness on its side. Some people will tell you to turn it into a strength, which is fine, but be careful in how you do so (after all, if it’s a strength was it also your response to that interview question?)
By flipping it, we mean turning it from a negative focus to a positive focus. Address how you’ve been able to recognize this weakness and use it to your advantage, what you’ve learned from it, or how you are working to improve yourself.
For example, if you’ve been known to be overly social and talkative, address how you’ve come to understand when the behavior is inappropriate or disruptive to the work environment and how you keep yourself in check, but also have come to utilize this skill to put co-workers at ease in stressful situations or to enhance your negotiation with clients.
By showing you know how to use your weakness to benefit a situation but also are working to develop your awareness of the weakness, you show the interviewer that you have the ability to grow from experience, adapt, be self-reflective, and enhance the work environment.
But, do take time to know your audience and the company culture when selecting your weakness to discuss. Different companies may view different attributes as a strength or weakness depending on your role.
If you’re not very analytical and you’re applying for a finance job or you’re incredibly introverted going to work for a company that’s all about self-expression and collaboration, you might want to think about the weakness you discuss in the larger context of the role (or reconsider why you’re applying for the particular position.)
On the other hand, a company that wants out of the box thinkers might not care that you’re not analytical because you bring a different set of skills to the table that they’re looking to benefit from, or a company with many self-contributors might see introversion as an asset because you focus on what you need to get down without being bogged down by the need for interaction.
Research the company you are applying for and know what qualities make a person successful in the role you are applying for.
Remember to keep your answer brief, above all. The worst thing you could do is to start talking about a weakness and go on a rambling tangent that doesn’t leave the interviewers mind for the rest of the afternoon.
When all is said and done, the real hard part about answering what your greatest weakness is, is to do some self reflection to discover it for yourself. Once you’ve narrowed this down, it’s a matter of addressing how you approach the weakness, practicing your response to be brief and to the point, and taking a breath to realize this is only one small part of the interview that you’re going to ace.
And if you don’t get asked this question in the interview, be thankful, and use what you’ve learned about yourself in the process to apply to your work–there’s always room for growth and always something to be gained from every experience.