Perhaps the most dreaded of all interview questions; this one never fails to trip up candidates. While many interview questions ask you to focus on the strengths and the positives, this one asks you to look at areas you need to improve.
It can be daunting to share a weakness with the interviewer, after all, you’re sitting there trying to tell them that you’re the perfect person for the role. Switching to the negative can be incredibly scary, but it doesn't need to be. There are simple ways to take a negative and turn it into a positive.
Like any interview question, you'll be able to provide a better answer if you are able to prepare sufficiently. This means having a good understanding of what your weaknesses are, as well as some potential strategies for overcoming them. Remember that there are two parts to the question: what is your weakness, and what steps are you taking to overcome it.
Why do interviewers ask this question?
It's not just to trip you up or make you squirm. There is a very good reason for asking this question. Your potential employer wants to know a few things:
How well do you understand your own strengths and weaknesses?
How honest are you prepared to be about your weaknesses?
What kind of strategies or steps do you have in place for overcoming your weaknesses?
Self-awareness is a powerful trait and it makes people more likely to be able to respond well to constructive criticism. If you aren't willing or able to acknowledge a weakness, your manager will never be able to correct you or set you on the right path.
You might also highlight a weakness that would make you unsuitable for the role. While it might be discouraging to not get the job, it will be for the best in the long term. No one wants to struggle in a role that they are unsuited to. So, why exactly do interviewers ask this question and what are they looking for in an answer?
What makes a good answer to this question?
A good answer to this question should accomplish a few things:
Be honest. Interviewers can see through a lie very easily, so don't be tempted to gloss over the truth to make yourself seem like a better candidate. Often, interviewers want to see a little bit of humility in this answer.
Be specific. Think of an example of a time that this weakness has held you back and then explain steps you've taken to fix it.
Focus on a weakness that is not essential to the job. For example, if you are applying for a client-facing sales role and you say that you're not very good at communicating on the phone, this could rule you out for the role.
Show that you are taking active steps to improve. The answer should always be delivered in two parts, with the second part outlining what steps you are taking to improve. Sometimes simply being aware that you are doing something is enough, but sometimes you need to take steps to improve.
To help you spot a good answer, you first need to understand what makes a bad answer. Let's take a look at a few examples of bad answers.
Bad Answers to "What Is Your Greatest Weakness?"
"I don't really have any weaknesses."
This is a classic case of an answer that is both dishonest and unspecific. Everyone has weaknesses, so by saying that you don't have any, the interviewer will immediately see through you. Furthermore, this answer provides no information about what kind of employee you are or how you might improve.
“I work too hard.”
Again, this answer is both dishonest and unhelpful. Interviewers can tell when someone is trying to dress up a weakness as a strength. In this case, the interviewee is pretending that their attention to detail is a bad thing. This not only shows a lack of self-awareness but also indicates that they are unable to take constructive criticism.
"I am a perfectionist."
This is a common answer, and there is nothing wrong with it. However, it is important to elaborate on what this means for you and how you deal with it. Do you tend to obsess over details? Do you find it difficult to delegate tasks? Are you constantly seeking approval from others? If this is really your weakness, you need to show that you are taking steps to correct this.
With that in mind, let's look at some great answers to the question "what is your greatest weakness?"
1. "I have a tendency to get absorbed in my work and sometimes I neglect my personal life."
This is a great answer, as it shows that you are committed to your job, but make sure you follow up with a comment about how you are addressing this. Every employer wants someone who will go above and beyond, but not if it means they will eventually burn out from stress.
2. "I find it difficult to say no to people who need help."
Another excellent answer, as this shows that you are a team player. However, you also need to mention that you are working to put better boundaries in place so that your own work doesn't suffer.
3. "I sometimes work too independently and don't ask for help when I need it."
This is a great answer, provided the role doesn't require you to work as part of a wider team. If the role is a collaborative one, you might want to avoid this.
4. "I can be a perfectionist and expect too much from myself and others."
This answer shows that you are aware of your flaw and are working on it. It also suggests that you are able to take constructive feedback from managers. You could share an example of a situation where you have had to let go of a project before you would have liked to and discovered that the outcome was perfectly fine.
5. "I get easily stressed out by deadlines and pressure."
Provided the job isn't a high-pressured and deadline-driven role, this could be. a great answer to give. You should then outline the steps you are taking to ensure that the pressure doesn't get to you. For example, you could say that you like to make sure you are prepared and organised so that tasks don't pile up.
6. "I have trouble delegating tasks and often end up doing everything myself."
If you're going for a role where teamwork is essential, it might be better to avoid this one. This one shows that you are very independent and like to make sure the job gets done. However, you might want to highlight steps you are taking to get better at delegating work.
7. "I'm not always the best at communicating my needs and wants."
This is an excellent answer as it shows incredible self-awareness. You can turn this into a positive by saying that you regularly seek out feedback from your manager so that you can highlight any issues you might be having in a non-intimidating way.
8. "I can be resistant to change and new ideas."
For a role where you would be expected to learn new systems and processes, this might not be a great answer. But some industries are proud of their traditions and many people will admit to being set in their ways. You can turn this into a positive by highlighting the steps you have taken to learn new things.
9. "I sometimes have difficulty balancing my workload."
This can be a great answer if you are quick to show that you are aware that this can be problematic and that you are taking steps to ensure you don't struggle with this anymore. You could say that you have developed new time management techniques that help you to keep on top of your workload and make sure that nothing slips between the cracks.
10. "I can be a bit of a control freak and need to learn to let go."
This is another great answer, as it again shows excellent self-awareness. You can use this to your advantage by showing that you know how to spot the signs that this is happening and intervene on your own behalf. For example, you might say that you have developed a technique whereby you ask yourself certain questions whenever you start to feel like you are getting too controlling.
While there are some great answers on this list, there is no one-size-fits-all response to this question. It is far better to spend a little bit of time reflecting on your own strengths and weaknesses and come up with something unique and original. Be honest, be positive and be prepared to back up your answer with examples.
Just remember to scan the job description before you choose a weakness and make sure it isn’t one of the key competencies required for the role.