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How to Handle the Interview Question, ‘What’s Your Biggest Weakness?’

Topics: Career Advice
“Tell me about your biggest weakness as an employee.”
biggest weakness
BAMCorp/Flickr

It’s the double-edged sword of interview questions: one of your best opportunities to shine, and also the scariest question to answer without incriminating yourself.

Sometimes phrased as, “Tell me about a time when you failed,” the weakness question is an interviewer’s opportunity to do a few things:

  • See if you’re secure enough to give yourself an honest performance review
  • See how inflated your own ego actually is as a professional
  • Get a sense for where you might need some help (if they’re lucky enough to get you to open up and be honest)

And as uncomfortable as it might feel to be telling an interviewer about your weaknesses while you’re gunning for a job, there’s also the possibility answering the question gracefully might actually get you hired. The next time you’re asked this question in an interview (and let’s be honest — it usually comes up), channel these tips to answer confidently and openly.

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1. Think Before You Speak.

Before jumping into your answer, take a few deliberate moments to gather your thoughts. The silence might feel a little strange, but taking time to think shows the interviewer that you’re being thoughtful and honest with your answers, and that you really want to help them understand whether or not you’d be a good fit.

2. Be Honest.

You know that saying, “perfect is boring?” Turns out it holds true for employees, too. Truth be told, many interviewers make the mistake of over-selling in an interview. More often than not, an employer wants to know that they’re hiring a real person — flaws and all. If it’s a good fit, they’ll appreciate your honesty. Plus, it’ll give them a better sense of the things you’re trying to work on while growing into in your new position.

More often than not, an employer wants to know that they’re hiring a real person — flaws and all.Click To Tweet

3. Provide Context and End on a High Note.

When discussing your weaknesses with the interviewer, recognize that you’re leading this part of the conversation. Respond to the question in a way that positions it more as what your previous employer would say about you, in general. Then structure your answer to bounce back and forth between pros and cons.

For example, you might respond with something like, “I think they’d say I had a hard time letting go of the work, but at the same time, I think they’d also say that they really appreciated the passion I brought to the table,” or, “At times I found it difficult to say ‘no’ to tasks, but I always wanted to be sure I was pulling my weight on the team.”

Try to couple your weaknesses with rationale and optimism, and frame your answers with helpful and relevant context. And if you can, always end on a positive note.

4. Speak From Your Own Experience.

When addressing a question about your weaknesses, keep the focus on you. The Telegraph reports that interviewees who used “self-verifying language,” (e.g., words like “think,” “feel,” and “sense,”) while answering the weakness question sent a message that they have a deep sense of self-awareness, and thus might be better equipped to recognize their own strengths, weaknesses, and limitations in the workplace. For employees, this translates to an inclination to recognize your most valuable assets as an employee, and know when to pull back.

5. Ask the Interviewer.

This might be an unpopular suggestion, and you’ll need to feel out whether or not it’s appropriate in your interview. But, if your answer to the weakness question lands well and the conversation feels comfortable, you might follow up your answer by volleying the question back to the interviewer. Perhaps something to the effect of, “What about you? Have you ever experienced any of those struggles?” or even, “What would you say is the organization’s biggest weakness?” I’m a big fan of using every opportunity to treat an interview like a conversation rather than a session in the hot seat, and finding common ground with your interviewer is a great way to do that.

Tell Us What You Think

What’s your least favorite interview question — and how do you deal with it? We want to hear from you. Tell us your thoughts in the comments or join the conversation on Twitter.

Megan Shepherd
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