How To Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”: Job Interview Question

By Hunter Joyner - Sep. 29, 2021
Articles In Guide

Find a Job You Really Want In

Nobody enjoys discussing their shortcomings, but when an interviewer asks “what’s your greatest weakness,” you don’t really have a choice.

It’s a tricky question to answer. You don’t want to tank your chances by admitting to a major deficiency in your skill set. At the same time, you don’t want to give a generic non-answer or an eye-roll-inducing “my weakness is actually a strength” type answer.

To get our heads around this question, we’ll first look at exactly what interviewers are looking for in a response. Then we’ll move into the best strategies for discussing your greatest weakness, common mistakes to avoid, and real sample answers that show precisely what a winning answer looks like.

Why Interviewers Ask “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

Interviewers ask about your greatest weakness to learn how self-aware you are and how committed you are to self-improvement. An employee who’s able to identify their own shortcomings may also be an asset in figuring out issues in their team’s processes or plans.

Additionally, hiring managers hope to learn about your resiliency and how you respond to your flaws. It pays to come across as a person who doesn’t become easily frustrated by their weakness, but looks for other solutions instead.

That could be delegating tasks you don’t excel in (if you’re applying for a supervisory role), collaborating with peers to cover each others’ weaknesses, practicing self-study to improve, or something else. The important thing interviewers want to know is that you have a plan for your weakness; the plan itself is less important.

How to Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

To answer “what is your greatest weakness,” directly identify your weakness and expand on it by providing relevant context. Here’s a step-by-step guide for answering this common interview question:

  1. Choose a (somewhat) irrelevant weakness. Your answer should certainly touch on professional weaknesses rather than personal ones, but try to select a weakness that isn’t a huge part of your job. For example, an accountant shouldn’t say that they’re weak in Excel.

    Instead, think of a weakness that sort of relates to the job or the field in general. For instance, a graphic designer could touch on being weak with certain software (that’s not required knowledge for the job). That shows that you’re thinking about growth and development, and that you’re curious enough to learn beyond the necessities of your job.

  2. Make it a real weakness. While it shouldn’t be disqualifying, your weakness also shouldn’t be a veiled strength (like perfectionism). Consider areas of your professional life where you could improve.

    It could even be something you regularly avoid because you feel you’re not good at it. Just be sure it’s a genuine flaw that has a (minor) impact on your professional capabilities.

  3. Include an example. Providing context goes a long way with questions like this (and most interview questions). Instead of just saying that you focus too much on details, tell a story about how you missed a deadline because you were editing a document for the fifth time.

    Think of it this way: it’s better to describe your weakness in terms of behaviors than adjectives. Your interviewer has preconceived notions about what a “shy” employee is like, but when you describe how you have a tough time expressing your opinion to supervisors, that sounds much more understandable and manageable. Most importantly, it doesn’t leave room for (mis)interpretation.

  4. Close with improvement. No matter what weakness you decide on, make sure to close your answer with a commitment to improvement. That could mean that it’s something you’ve already fixed, are in the process of working on, or have made definitive plans to improve.

    Again, a story helps here. Something like “I’ve started taking online courses to cover gaps in my HTML knowledge” sounds better than “I plan to improve my skills.”

Example Answers to “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

Here are a few example answers to “what is your greatest weakness?”

  1. “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?” Example Answer

    I sometimes have trouble asking for help when I’m stuck. When I started at my last job, I wanted to seem self-sufficient and smart, so I didn’t go to my supervisor for advice. While the results weren’t disastrous, it was embarassing to find out that my first week’s of reports were missing a lot of key data and were stylistically off. I learned that, while independence can be an asset, taking a second to check in on a project’s specifications can save a lot of long-term hassle.

    Now I keep a pre-project checklist to ensure that I have a full understanding of the requirements. I still struggle with asking for help in the middle of a project, but I’ve been getting better at that as well.

  2. “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?” Example Answer

    My biggest weakness is a tendency to get lost in the weeds of a project. I’ll start off with a big picture in mind and end up in a rabbit hole of bug fixes and UX micro-optimizations. While this mindset can be an asset for certain tasks, it’s often too time-consuming for more deadline-driven clients and projects.

    I recently read a book about time management that’s really helped with this. I now write down two to four major tasks that need to get accomplished during the day. These act as my guiding stars. I also set a timer to go off every 30 minutes — if it goes off and I’ve caught myself on a sidetrack, I immediately pivot back to more important and urgent tasks.

  3. “What Is Your Greatest 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 chili 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.

Common Mistakes to Avoid When Answering “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

“What is your greatest weakness” is one of the most common job interview questions. Unfortunately, that means there’s a lot of bad advice out there. To be clear, avoid these mistakes when answering this question:

  • Using “perfectionism”. “Perfectionism” is just about the worst answer you can possibly give to this question. Hiring managers and recruiters see right through this cliched answer.

    If you are a perfectionist, talk about the behaviors you engage in that are weaknesses. For example, maybe you tend to micromanage or you’re slow to delegate when work starts piling up. These are much more engaging and original answers than bland ol’ perfectionism.

  • Only giving adjectives. When you use words like “timid,” “not confident,” or “impatient,” you allow the interviewer to fill in the gaps of what your behaviors will be as an employee. They could be imagining you as the shyest person ever, or an employee who blows up at the slightest delay.

    That’s why it’s much safer to describe the behaviors you see as weaknesses. It doesn’t give the hiring manager a chance to imagine your weakness is something other than what you’re really trying to express.

  • Saying you have none. This is as good as ignoring the question, and it’s clearly dishonest. Achilles was a demigod, and that guy had a weakness — you do too. There’s no shame in having weaknesses. But it shows a real arrogance and/or lack of self awareness to be completely blind to your own shortcomings.

  • Talking too much. There’s no need to get into a ton of detail about your weaknesses. As a rule, these are things you’re trying to minimize as best you can. Give a truthful and thorough answer, but err on the short side for this question.

  • Being too negative. Weaknesses are a negative topic, but your answer should be positive. By that we mean don’t stress about how horribly incapacitating your weakness is. Instead, flip the script and show how you’re a resilient, resourceful individual who’s capable of finding solutions even when something doesn’t come easily to you.

  • Admitting a job-disqualifying weakness. Last but certainly not least, don’t go overboard and completely disqualify yourself for the position. For example, if you’re applying to be a journalist, don’t say you struggle to meet deadlines. If you’re applying to be a teacher, don’t say you’re impatient.

    Some things are just big no-nos for certain jobs. Even if you are weak in an area like this, it’s best not to admit it at this stage (but do make a private, personal commitment to work on it).

Tips for Answering “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

Here are some parting tips on answering this common interview question:

  • Reflect on past performance reviews. Looking back on the specific critiques that supervisors have given you in the past is a good source of material. An especially good tip is to look for areas where your made major improvements. The fact that you’re both aware of the problem and have shown a capacity for improvement makes for a winning combination.

  • Don’t be afraid to lean in to your weakness. There’s a reason companies have lots of different people — because everyone has strengths and weaknesses, and no one person can cover everything. If you’re weak in a relatively minor area of your job, it can be a really efficient move to recognize that and delegate those tasks to someone else.

    If you go this route, though, you might also want to mention that you make yourself a resource for coworkers in a similar way. An answer like this can draw attention to your collaborative mindset, which might be very valuable depending on the position you’re applying for.

  • Keep your example(s) vague. When you’re telling stories about previous accomplishments, it’s fine to get into the more interesting details. But when you’re relating a story about your weakness, keep it to one or two sentences.

    The story exists only to contextualize your weakness. If you describe too many details, you may inadvertently make yourself look worse.

Final Thoughts

“What is your greatest weakness” is the quintessentially scary interview question. Hopefully, it doesn’t feel all that daunting after reading this.

The main thing to remember is that interviewers aren’t looking to trick you or hear the same boring answer they’ve heard a hundred times before. They want to see genuine self-reflection, a commitment to improvement, and an idea of how you compensate for your shortcomings.

Answer with confidence and authenticity, and you’ll stand out to hiring managers and recruiters as a memorable candidate.

How To Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

Kiesha Richardson
Founder, GNL Magazine

One thing job seekers have to remember is the question “What is your greatest weakness” is about an employer trying to assess whether you are self-aware and have the capacity for self-improvement. When asked what’s your greatest weakness, avoid trying to disguise a strength as a weakness. Employers see right through the disingenuous “Well, my greatest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist” type of responses we’ve been trained to give for decades.

Instead, employers are looking for you to be reflective and honest. For example, if you like working independently you may find you have a hard time asking for help. Say that. “I sometimes find it difficult to ask for help.” And talk about what you are doing to overcome that weakness. “I’m learning to reach out to my knowledgeable colleagues when I don’t understand something.”

How To Answer “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”

Sara Plinska Camilo
Founder of Camilo Careers

I help my clients answer this question often. I tell them the following:

-Honesty is a key factor to this question. Anyone who says they have no weaknesses or can’t think of any is lying and will be declined from consideration for this position…and quickly.

-I recommend choosing a weakness that also displays professional growth. In other words, recognize a skill you need to develop, and include what you do/or have done to build that weakness into a strength.

How useful was this post?

Click on a star to rate it!

Average rating / 5. Vote count:

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.

Articles In Guide
Never miss an opportunity that’s right for you.

Author

Hunter Joyner

Related posts