How To Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

By Hunter Joyner - Jan. 20, 2021
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“So, what is your greatest weakness?”

This common interview question has the ability to instantly freeze you in your seat, preventing you from conjuring any coherent words.

I mean, why would you want to talk about your weaknesses and failures at a job interview? Shouldn’t the interviewer be focused on your qualifications, accomplishments, and career goals? And who says you have any weaknesses?

Okay, you definitely do have a weakness… or seven.

However, a lot of interviewers ask this, so you need to be prepared to answer it.

But, how do you answer this terrible, horrendous question?

What Your Interviewer Wants to Know

Interviewers aren’t asking this question to try to catch out horrible weaknesses that will disqualify you from consideration. They’re looking for three things: honesty, self-awareness, and a commitment to improvement.

  1. Honesty. Interviewers hate obviously self-serving answers. Don’t talk about being a workaholic or a perfectionist. It’s been done before, and it won’t help your chances. Take stock of your weaknesses and choose one you can talk about candidly.

  2. Self-awareness. Employees who can accurately perform self-assessments are more valuable to a company. Your supervisor won’t need to be over your shoulder at all times, because you already know what you need to be improving on.

  3. Self-improvement. This is a big one. Try to incorporate how your self-awareness about your weaknesses has led you to make continuous improvements throughout your career. You’ll be a much more attractive candidate if you can express your desire to always be better.

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  4. How to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

    There’s more than one way to answer this question. While there are no magic bullets in the interview process, the key is to demonstrate self-awareness without making it seem like your weakness will be detrimental to the company if hired. Use the following tips and strategies to start crafting your own winning response to “what is your greatest weakness?”

    1. You are not a perfect human being. No, no, no, no… never say that you’re a perfectionist. If you can’t think of a weakness immediately, you’ve got some questions to ask yourself before you get started.

      You might consider yourself a master of your trade, but at some point in your career, whether it was in college, or post-graduation in the working world, you made a mistake. You had a weakness. You still have a few weaknesses.

      The trick is to spin that past weakness into a current strength.

      Think of a problem someone originally had with your style of management/work and then how you improved on it. So, it was a weakness, but then you addressed it and fixed it.

    2. Use an irrelevant weakness. To use the “irrelevant weakness” method, you need to confess an irrelevant weakness, then show how you worked on and fixed that weakness.

      You’re taking a risk when you use this method because some recruiters or employers might think you’re attempting to dodge the question and in a sense you are.

      You’re playing it safe, but you’re not damaging your chances at getting the job, because the weakness you discuss has nothing to do with your current ability to perform said job.

      You don’t want the employer to think that you’re not taking the question seriously and ask for a more relevant weakness, but you also don’t want to give a weakness that could prevent you from performing the job.

    3. Turn a relevant weakness into a positive. This is always a good method to go with if the interviewer asks for a more relevant weakness. Discuss a weakness in your past that is somehow relevant to the position you’re applying for.

      After that, discuss how you worked to transform that weakness into a positive attribute or characteristic.

    4. One of my weaknesses is actually a strength. This is a chance to showcase that you have a unique strength.

      Using this method allows you to discuss what certain companies and employees might consider a personal weakness, but that you actually consider a personal strength. This demonstrates your self-awareness and unique perspective.

    5. Don’t destroy your chances of getting hired. Yes, expose a weakness, but not one that sinks your whole ship.

      Put some thought into the weakness method you choose, and the answer that you give to the employer. Don’t choose something that will eliminate you from consideration for the job right away.

    6. For example, if you’ve grown tired of that new journalism position, and you just want to go back to being a chef, don’t decide to say something like this in your interview:

      “I gave three thousand school children food poisoning twice in three months. I made sure to never undercook chicken again.”

      No matter how you remedied that weakness, it looks absolutely terrible. It stands a very solid chance of eliminating you from job contention immediately.

      Use some discretion and don’t sink your whole ship with one statement.

      Sample Answers to “What Is Your Greatest Weakness

      Okay, so you’re with us in theory. Now let’s show you what these strategies look like when you’re interviewing with a hiring manager.

      1. Irrelevant Weakness Example Answer

        “In the past, working as a chef in multiple restaurants, I tended to use a variety of spices to enrich my meals. I often made very spicy dishes, using Aleppo pepper, chilli powder, and a wide variety of peppers. This created very spicy dishes, which some people loved. But, it turned away a lot of customers at Pantanas Kitchen when I was the head chef. They didn’t want every dish to be spicy. I wasn’t thinking about my entire customer base.”

        I quickly realized my mistake and realized the food I was serving was much too spicy for a lot of the customers after receiving a few complaints. I started only making one spicy dish a week, cutting back on the chilli powder and other spices I was using. This satisfied both customers; the spicy food lovers, and those that didn’t like the hotness of my dishes. The restaurant began to attract more people, because my dishes were appealing to a wider audience.”

        Why It’s A Good Answer
        You just confessed a weakness and a problem you encountered in the past.

        This weakness is fairly irrelevant, because the journalist position you’re applying for has nothing to do with your abilities as a chef.

        Now, you need to discuss how you fixed that weakness.

        This irrelevant weakness doesn’t hurt your consideration for the job, or show that you can’t perform as a journalist. It simply shows that you can recognize and overcome problems in the workplace.

        The employer could ask for a more relevant weakness if they feel that you’re dodging the question. Be prepared to use the next method of “turning a relevant weakness into a positive”, after using the “irrelevant” method, however.

      2. Turned A Weakness Into A Positive Example Answer

        “In college, I was a successful business major. I succeeded in all of my mathematics, statistics, and marketing courses, but I struggled with the computer science courses.

        I specifically struggled to learn how to use Microsoft Excel. I failed a computer science course once because I couldn’t complete the Excel projects. I didn’t understand it.

        I realized this was a weakness of mine and immediately sought to remedy it. I chose to hire a tutor when I took the computer science course a second time. He was actually my roommate and helped me after class each day. I also buckled down and took the time to study Excel, as well as the rest of Microsoft Office, every morning and every night by myself.

        I passed the course with flying colors the second time. I’m now extremely experienced with Microsoft Excel, as well as with Business Process Models, and Microsoft Visio.”

        Why It’s A Good Answer
        You were just brutally honest about a weakness you had in the past. It doesn’t make you look like a good candidate for the job, I know.

        But, the next step shows how you turned that weakness into a strength.

        You kept your weakness relevant to the position you’re applying for, and you showed how you used that failure as fuel to buckle down and turn it into a positive characteristic.

        The story you told also allowed you to mention other positive attributes you have as a potential candidate, including your knowledge of Business Process Models and Microsoft Visio.

      3. Weakness Was Always A Positive Example Answer

        “Some companies might consider my lack of professional experience in this field a weakness. I’ve just graduated from college, and I don’t know exactly what to expect.

        Just because I’m new to this field doesn’t mean that I’m not capable.

        In fact, it’s the opposite. I don’t bring any preconceived notions into the workplace on how you expect the administrative assistant to perform.

        I will be entirely open to learning new things about this position every day, and I will do my best to perform this job exactly how the company sees fit. I will be hungry to improve my skills, and I will bring a fresh, ready to learn perspective to this job on a daily basis.”

        Why It’s A Good Answer
        So far, this very much looks like a weakness. But, it’s time to change that.

        You just took a potential weakness, discussed it openly, and then discussed how you thought the potential weakness could be viewed as a strength instead.

      Final Thoughts

      You walk into the interview and ace the first three questions.

      The interviewer then asks, “So, what is your greatest weakness?”

      Before, you would be freezing in your chair, determined to make a bolt for the exit. But, now, you’re prepared.

      Before you know it, you’ve answered all of the questions brilliantly and the interviewer (who is extremely impressed with how you handled the question of doom) is ready to hire you on the spot.

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Hunter Joyner

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Hunter Joyner

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