CAREER MONDAYS: How to answer “what is your greatest weakness?” with examples
This single question has the power to determine in one swift blow whether you are a potential asset or a liability to a prospective employer. Why? Because the way you answer a question about your weaknesses is very telling. You may not even realise what you are communicating when you answer this question.
Luckily, there is a solution – prepare in advance for this dreaded question, and you will tame the monster!
Here are some of the mistake people do.
You’ll find many books and articles that advise you to “turn a negative into a positive” by sharing a supposed weakness that is actually a desirable quality in an employee. A few examples:
- I am too much of a perfectionist.
- I work too hard sometimes.
- I care too much about my work.
- The worst “I have no weakness”
Clever idea. At this point, though, it’s an old trick and the interviewer sees right through. She has seen many candidates try the same song and dance. In fact, this approach will likely make her think you are hiding something.
Another mistake is to be too candid and confess to a weakness that would hinder your ability to excel in the role. I once had a coaching client answer, “I have trouble getting up in the morning and getting to work on time.” His real weakness was that he was way too honest.
How to Answer “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?”
A good weakness answer has two important parts:
Part 1) Your weakness
Briefly describe a real weakness that wouldn’t be a major handicap on the job (Read on for how to choose a “good” weakness)
Part 2) How you are already working on it
Part 2 is the critical component. Discuss your proactive efforts to improve. This shows that you are self-aware, have a drive to be your best, and that the weakness will not slow you down.
Part 1: How to Choose a “Good” Weakness
- Be authentic
Don’t select a weakness just because it sounds good. You will make a better impression with sincerity. That doesn’t mean you have to share a weakness that makes you look bad. If you’re like most of us, you have several weaknesses and at least one of them will be interview-friendly as defined by the additional guidelines below.
- Pick a weakness that is acceptable for the job at hand
Be aware of the job requirements and don’t cite a weakness related to any of the required skills or desired qualities.
If you’re an accountant, don’t talk about hating math or lack of attention to detail. If you’re in sales, don’t confess to being too reserved or lacking persistence.
- Select a weakness that is relatively minor and “fixable”
By fixable, I mean it’s something you can improve through work and motivation.
Fixable: “I get nervous when speaking in front of large groups.”
(You can get better through practice and learning new skills — and this is a common development area.)
Harder to fix: “I am very shy and often have trouble speaking up in meetings.”
(While there’s nothing wrong with being shy, an interviewer could assume that the candidate would have trouble collaborating in a team environment. This is a preference or personality quality that would be more difficult to change.)
- Describe your weakness in a concise, neutral way.
Don’t feel like you have to go into great detail. Be brief and, most importantly, avoid sounding defensive or overly negative.
Read on to the last section for examples of good weaknesses to describe in job interviews.
Part 2: How to Demonstrate That You Are Working on Your Weakness
In the second part of your answer, you need to describe how you have already taken steps to improve in your area of weakness. Here’s why:
1) A great candidate is always looking for ways to learn and grow
2) A fabulous candidate then takes the initiative to improve
Use your answer to demonstrate your motivation to be the best at what you do. This is how to truly emphasize the positive when talking about your weakness.
Examples of Strong Answers to “What Is Your Greatest Weakness?”
Example 1: Delegation
“I think one area I could work on is my delegation skills. I am always so concerned about everything being done right and on time that I can get stuck in that mentality of “If you want it done right, do it yourself.” Unfortunately, that’s not always possible and I’ve realized that I can slow things down if I am too controlling.
I learned this recently when given the opportunity to manage the department’s summer interns. I had never managed direct reports before, so this was a hugely educational experience in many different ways. It definitely taught me how to delegate and my manager noticed the difference in my management style at the end of the summer. I know that I can benefit from additional development in this area, so I signed up for a management skills training course and am always looking for opportunities to manage projects for our group.”
Why It Works: This is a great example for a junior-level employee in a role in which delegation abilities are not critical. Please note that the last sentence in the first paragraph is important because it acknowledges how the weakness can be a problem and why it’s worth working on.
The weakness is acknowledged and described, but the emphasis is more on how the candidate has sought out ways to improve.
Keep in mind that this is not such a terrific answer if you’re applying for a job that requires you to manage people.
Example 2: Too Direct
“Sometimes I can be a bit too honest when I provide feedback to coworkers. My personality is naturally very straightforward and to the point, and most of my colleagues really value that, but I have learned that there are times on the job when more diplomacy is required.
I took a training class on conflict management and it really opened my eyes to the need to communicate differently with different people. So now I am much better at providing constructive feedback, even if it doesn’t always come naturally.”
Why It Works: This weakness is described well. The candidate notes how directness has been a weakness while also making it clear that he is not a raging jerk to his coworkers.
In the second part, he talks about concrete steps that he has taken and how he has improved.
Example 3: Public Speaking
“Honestly, I would say that public speaking is an area that I could work on. I tend to get nervous when asked to present to a large group of people. In small team meetings, I’m the first one to stand up and present. But put me in front of a big group and I can get flustered.
I actually spoke to my manager about this and we set it as one of my development goals for this year. I took an internal presentation skills class and attended some meetings of Toastmasters, a networking group for people who want to practice public speaking. With some practice, I started to feel more comfortable. Last month, I even volunteered to represent our team at a division-wide town hall. I only had to present for 10 minutes, but I did it and got great feedback! It was actually kind of fun, so I plan on continuing to seek out opportunities to improve in this area.”
Why It Works: Fear of public speaking is a common fear. In this sample answer, the candidate makes it clear that she has no trouble communicating in general (which could be a red flag). It’s just getting up in front of a big group that scares her.
She goes on to describe how she identified the weakness, spoke with her manager about it, and then took proactive steps to improve. She even has a little triumph at the end.
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