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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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.
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.
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.