How to Answer: What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
Some interview questions seem custom-made to trip you up. They interrupt your flow, feel invasive, or don’t speak toward your skills and abilities. Some of these questions are illegal, but this isn’t one of those. “What is your greatest weakness?” is just…awkward.
You’re trying to explain why you’d make a valuable employee, and suddenly the recruiter wants you to discuss an undesirable quality. Can you respond to such a question without injuring your chances? Yes, if you follow a few simple principles.
Why ask for your greatest weakness?
Don’t let the wording throw you. The recruiter isn’t digging for preemployment gossip, nor does she expect you to share your greatest weakness. It’s doubtful many would volunteer that information anyway.
Instead, she wants to determine if you have the qualifications and work ethic for the position. Are you self-aware? Do you value honesty? Will you pursue improvement opportunities? In asking about your weaknesses, she hopes you’ll provide an answer that demonstrates all three qualities.
Turning the tables in your favor
If your answer is too honest, you may lose the position. If it’s not honest enough, you may lose credibility. The key is striking a balance and using the opportunity to highlight a positive characteristic.
Start your response by acknowledging a weakness. Don’t dwell on the details or try to make excuses. Just get it out there. Then comes the reveal. Despite your flaws, this weakness actually displays a positive skill, personality trait, or area of improvement.
You may mention you’re a naturally disorganized person. However, your penchant for disorder has forced you to develop an email filing system that preemptively impedes clutter. You’re now adapting that system for all your digital files.
It can be difficult to think of a weakness and then how to flip it to show a positive quality, so you’ll want to consider an answer beforehand. Here are a couple ideas to get you started:
A nonessential skill. Mention a skill or ability the job doesn’t require. Bad at cold calling? Discuss how a previous cold-calling position pushed you develop the skills to build meaningful, long-lasting client relationships.
A hard or soft skill. Skills are a good option because they can improve with practice. You could mention how you're continuing your education to refine a skill or subject you’ve always found challenging.
Behavioral weakness. Like skills, behaviors can be improved through effort. If the job requires a lot of solo work, you can safely mention your introverted nature and your efforts to be more social.
A minor, relatable flaw. Pick a relatable flaw. For example, many people fear speaking in front of large groups. Mentioning your plan to improve can make you more personable and build rapport.
Answers to avoid
Never respond, “I don’t have any weaknesses that spring to mind.” Answers in this vein come off as dishonest at best, narcissistic at worst. Everybody has a weakness, but only the self-aware can use their weaknesses as the impetus for improvement.
Avoid answers like “I’m a perfectionist” or “I’m a workaholic,” too. They’re overused and tired, and the recruiter has heard them time and again from interviewees who are neither. He is unlikely to consider such answers seriously, and even if you are a perfectionist, the above examples will prove more captivating.
Above all, don’t mention a weakness that would disqualify you. If the job posting listed a skill, qualification, or personality trait as required, your answer should not suggest you’re lacking in this area.
Turning a weakness into a strong answer
“What is your greatest weakness?” is an oddly worded question, but once we translate the recruiter’s intention, it becomes manageable. The recruiter wants to see you’re honest, thoughtful, and willing to improve. Discussing your weaknesses in this light is much easier, as these are qualities we should all foster and be proud of. Using the above suggestions, you can craft an answer that helps you demonstrate your potential worth as an employee.