Tackling The ‘Your Greatest Weakness’ Interview Question

I’ll be honest. The ‘what’s your greatest weakness?’ question is one of the top ten asked during job interviews. I’ll also be honest about something else – in my experience, it’s the one that’s most likely to throw candidates off. It seems intuitive that talking about your greatest weakness can only hurt your application, but here’s what I want you to remember: your interviewer is not trying to make you look bad.

So, why do they ask it? Because being honest about your greatest weakness is how you can show the hiring manager that you’re self-aware. A self-aware employee is one who is more likely to be mature, competent, and in control of their emotions. In other words, employers really do want to hear about your greatest weakness because it will give them more insight into who you are.

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First things first, lets get the bad answers out of the way. Here are four things you shouldn’t use as your greatest weakness:

  • “I’m too much of a perfectionist.”
  • “I try too hard.”
  • “I’m not good at working with teams.”
  • “I don’t have great time management skills.”

Let’s break it down. The first two answers, as you can probably guess, are both too generic. The hiring manager will be expecting some variation of these, and saying either will only make the manager roll his or her eyes internally because it’s clear to them that you’re not self-aware or, worse, that you’re arrogant. The last two questions are poor choices because they deal with the two top skills that employers look for in the workplace. Though they demonstrate self-awareness, they also jeopardize your chance of landing the job. Here are three ways to structure a compelling answer to the challenging greatest weakness question:

1. Identify a strength of yours that’s relevant to the job description.

A great way to deliver an awesome answer to this question is to first consider your top strength. Then, think about ways that it could also be considered a weakness. In this way, you get to use this answer to add value to your application while showing that you’re self-aware. For example, my greatest strength is that I’m a maximizer – I always strive for excellence. On the flip side, if I’m working on an important project, this can make me come off as too intense and I could make my team feel as if I’m setting impossible standards.

2. State how you’ve attempted to minimize your weakness.

Being self-aware isn’t only about recognizing your weaknesses, but also addressing and mitigating them so that the hiring manager feels comfortable with you as a candidate. In my case, I would say that in order to avoid making my team feel as if they’re not good enough, I make a point of consistently checking in with them during complex projects to make sure they have everything they need to succeed and that my expectations aren’t too high.

3. Back your answer up with an example of how you successfully minimized your weakness in the past.

By proving that your weakness is not an issue, you go above and beyond the expectations around this question. If I were the interviewee, I would talk about a turning point in my professional career when I clued in that my expectations were too high and my team was feeling the pressure. I realized this and began having individual, weekly meetings with each member to adjust timelines and make sure that I was providing adequate support. In the end, the project was implemented on time, on budget, and my team won a company-wide award for best annual project. Remember, always state the result of your actions so that the hiring manager can clue into the value you’ve created in your career. What’s your greatest weakness? How have you handled this question in the past? Let me know in the comments section!

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