"Tell Me Your Greatest Weakness": How to Ace This Interview Question



It has become almost standard fare for interviewers to ask job candidates about their weaknesses. Sure, it's considered one of the tougher interview questions, but you can nail it by being prepared.


Avoid Spinning Your Answer Too Much


The go-to response when asked about weaknesses or failure is often to try to paint a strength as a “weakness.” For example, to weasel your way out of sharing a true weakness, you might say something trite like, “I’m a workaholic and sometimes can’t get myself to leave the office at the end of the day!”


While this kind of response may temporarily get you off the hook with some interviewers, many recruiters and hiring managers are familiar with these types of non-answers and will push you to dig deeper, beyond your intentional subterfuge. Knowing that it probably won’t work to spin your weakness into a strength so transparently, you should prepare instead to share an actual weakness – but one that gives you an opportunity to focus on what you’re doing to grow and improve in this area.


Make It About Self-Improvement


Since a canned response that’s overly positive doesn’t properly answer the weakness question, be prepared to share an actual weakness that you or others have noted about your tendencies in the workplace. Be careful, though, not to pick something that would wave a red flag to the employer – you don’t want to appear dysfunctional, negative or truly problematic in terms of your work style and interactions with others.


That said, once you’ve revealed a weakness, there’s no reason to spend a lot of time focusing on it. Instead, plan your response so that it allows you to quickly move on to what you’ve learned about yourself at work via the deficit. Your goal should be to touch on the weak link, then shift gears to explain how you have improved – or plan to improve – to make up for your lack of strength in that specific area. If answered well, your response will have the hiring team admiring your solutions-oriented mindset and can-do attitude rather than thinking about your weakness.


Choose Your Trouble Spot With Care


Knowing that you’re going to be forthcoming about some type of work-related limitation, it’s important to give some thought prior to the interview about which weakness to reveal. You don’t want to announce something that employers might see as a deal-breaker, like having difficulty making cold calls if you’re applying for a job in sales or having problems managing your temper, for example. There’s a difference between being honest and showing poor judgment by confessing a weakness that could prevent you from excelling in the position. Instead of revealing traits that might make a hiring manager think twice about you, a better approach is to identify a skill that’s legitimately troublesome for you, but minor in that it’s not essential for the job that you want.


To make this work effectively, you’ll need to have a strong comprehension of the types of competencies that the position to which you’re applying requires. Be sure to analyze the details of the job listing carefully before choosing which weakness to highlight. For the sales job above, you might mention that you don’t particularly enjoy highly detail-oriented desk-based work like writing reports, for example, which is why you gravitated toward working directly with people as a sales representative. You might add that while report writing isn’t your favorite part of a job, you also know that it’s necessary in certain situations, and list some steps that you’re taking to try to boost your skills in this area.


Don’t Refuse to Answer the Question or Say It Doesn’t Apply to You


No matter how uncomfortable it may be to talk about areas where you need to improve, it’s a mistake to take a “pass” on job interview questions about your weaknesses. Since everyone has some areas in which they don’t excel, saying that you “don’t have any weaknesses” or that you “can’t think of any” will make you come across as disingenuous or having something to hide.


Whether the hiring team asks about what former colleagues would pinpoint as an area you should work on; what aspect about yourself you would change if you could; or what weakness you most want to improve on the job, you should tackle the question proactively. By planning in advance for how to answer most strategically, you might find that your words leave the interviewer remembering your strengths rather than your shortcomings.