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How to Answer the Question, ‘What’s Your Greatest Weakness?’

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After you’ve experienced even just a few job interviews, you have a basic idea of what to expect when you sit down across from a potential employer. You’ll have a few minutes of small talk, then they’ll ask you some questions about your experience and how it applies to the job you’re interviewing for. And, at some point in the process, they’ll hit you with some version of the familiar question: “What’s your greatest weakness?”

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(Photo Credit: Sergey Nivens/Shutterstock)

It may not be particularly original, but there’s a good reason this interview question has become an old standard: It tells the interviewer a lot about their subject. When it comes down to it, the answer you give to this question could make or break your chance of landing the job.

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Here are a few possible responses to the question:

  • You say: “I don’t really have any major weaknesses. I’m pretty satisfied with my job performance overall.”
    They hear: “I’m cocky, delusional, and I don’t have a firm grasp on my abilities.”
  • You say: “My greatest weakness is that I’m too good at my job, and sometimes that intimidates my superiors.”
    They hear: “I’m trying to spin this into a positive, but failing miserably and being insulting in the process.” 
  • You say: “I’m actually really terrible at working with other people. I don’t get along with most of my co-workers, and I don’t like being micromanaged by my superiors.”
    They hear: “I’m being totally honest with you, even though I really shouldn’t be. You probably shouldn’t hire me.”

Don’t make the mistake of mishandling this important interview question. Prepare for it carefully, and you’ll impress your interviewer with your clever, concise response. Here’s how to do it.

Be Honest 

Sure, there are a few answers that could work for just about anyone. “I’m a perfectionist” or “I’m a workaholic” are so popular they almost sound like canned responses — and that’s just the trouble. As many times as your interviewer has asked this question, they’ve heard those unoriginal replies, so try to make an impact by offering something unique. To do that, spend some time reflecting on your past and the times when you felt challenged. Then decide what’s actually safe to share, and what to keep to yourself. Which leads us to our next point…

Don’t Be Too Honest

This isn’t a tell-all therapy session. It’s a job interview. Be smart about how you represent yourself, and censor your answer accordingly. Do you struggle to concentrate when you’re on deadline? You may want to deal with that weakness on your own time, and keep it to yourself. Are you frequently late to work because you’re not great at time-management? Again, that little detail isn’t going to make any employer more likely to hire you.

Go for a Spin

Ideally there should be a positive side to any negative you share. In other words, you want to be able to put a good spin onto any weakness you admit to. Your weakness may be that you don’t have a lot of experience in the field, for example, but it’s offset by the fact that you have been taking night classes to supplement your knowledge and bring you up to speed. Demonstrating that you’re working on improving or resolving your weaknesses shows that you have self-awareness and initiative.

Keep It Relevant

You may think you’ve figured out the perfect weakness to share in every future job interview, but what works for one situation may be all wrong for another. Think about the job at hand before deciding which weaknesses to share, asking yourself if an admission could in fact be a deal-breaker. You might admit a fear of public speaking in a job where that would never be an issue, but if you’re interviewing for a position where public speaking is a major requirement, try to find something else to mention (and get thee to a public speaking class!).

Be Prepared for Variations on the Question

The interviewer might not come right out and ask you about your greatest weakness. Instead, they may ask you a variation of the question — don’t let that trip you up. Be prepared for questions like these:

  • “If we called a former employer, would they have anything negative to say about your performance?”
  • “Are there any areas where you hope to improve in your career moving forward?”
  • “If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?”

Make It Manageable

No matter what weakness you choose to address, make sure that it’s ultimately manageable. Minor, fixable challenges are always preferably to major personal problems. By showing that you have already taken action to repair your shortcomings, you’ve already proven that you care deeply about improving your performance.

Tell Us What You Think 

How do you answer this question? Tell us your most effective technique! Leave a comment or join the discussion on Twitter.

Michelle Kruse
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AnonymousAnonymity PreferredKellly TBricabrac SassafrassMelanie Sinclair Recent comment authors
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Melanie Sinclair
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Melanie Sinclair

Well, in my current role, I keep getting blind-sided with changes that are not well communicated. As opposed to saying I don’t handle change well, my moto now has been to not react immediately to an announced change, but rather take a breath, step back and evaluate the new path, and then air any potential, “realistic” concerns once the emotional aspect has left because your voice won’t be heard if you are agitated and you may have legitimate thoughts that should be expressed. Even if your concerns are disregarded, at least you have made them known.

Kellly T
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Kellly T

This question should be made illegal right up there with “how old are you?”. Why would I ever want to TELL an employer what I’m weak at and give them something to focus on to see if I’m still struggling with it? I wish I could answer with something non committal and then say, “While we’re on the topic, what are YOUR weaknesses? What are the weaknesses of the group?”
I mean … good grief.

Anonymous
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Anonymous

My response to that question is always the same. “I am not good at office politics. I prefer to focus on the job, the people and the goals at hand”. The best thing is that it is true. If that company is rift with politics and are looking for a player, then I don’t want to work there.

Anonymity Preferred
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Anonymity Preferred

If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?

My hair (I.m bald)

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Anonymity Preferred

in an interview I was asked …..so name a weakness of yours?

I responded ….Cake!!

Deborah
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Deborah

I believe a professional interviewer can see through the mind after few conversations. There is actually no need to lie or hide some truth. I really think being truthful at one’s weakness as well as saying ways you are trying to make it a strength is better than covering it up with a joke. For example, a person can answer the question by saying – “I procrastinate”, but i try to set fictional deadline for myself. Thereby, getting work done earlier than expected. I prefer that than being late. Another example could be that “I forget things easily”, so I… Read more »

Bricabrac Sassafrass
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Bricabrac Sassafrass

I don’t think there’s a good way to answer this question, and that’s where I allow myself to be honest about it. If I have a good rapport with the interviewer, I might give a joke answer, but either way I would just say “there’s no way I can give you a good answer to that question. If there’s anything specific you’d like to ask me about, by all means.”

Anonymous
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Anonymous

Women are still judged on a different set of beliefs than are men. For example, if a former employer were to state that I, a woman, tended to be impatient when work is below standard, it would sound negative. But, if the same statement were applied to a man, it would likely be interpreted as “he expects high quality work and demands that it be delivered.” Equally, a woman taking time off for a medical appointment is a nuisance, whereas a man taking time off for medical reasons is taking care of himself. I’ve witnessed these and many other discrepancies… Read more »

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Anonymity Preferred

I really like the alternative question “If you could change something about yourself, what would it be?” Even if an interviewer doesn’t phrase the question that way, thinking in terms of what I’d like to change about myself helps me give a more honest answer, and I could also give my response a positive spin. Thanks for the tip.

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