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“What is your greatest weakness?” – What the interviewers like to hear

October 6, 2016

 

What is your greatest weakness?

There are generally three schools of thought when answering this question. The first is to say you don’t have any weaknesses. You’re the universe’s gift to your future employer because you’re perfect. The second is simple, own up to a weakness that is fairly innocuous and easily overlooked. And while being a workaholic or perfectionist may be a weakness, it’s a convenient answer. The third and more effective answer is to be honest. What's most important is that you have a solid plan for how you are combating your weakness.

We, of course, wanted our contributors to lend us their wisdom on this tricky question. They've heard more answers to it they probably care to admit. Here's what they had to say:

Contributor Responses

Ashley from Textron said, “ ‘What’s your biggest weakness?’ is a make or break question. When an interviewer asks you this question, they’re intentionally trying to see how you respond to a question. It can be really tough question if you are not prepared, so make sure to take the time to practice difficult questions such as this one. Make sure you don’t lie or try to gloss over your weaknesses. Ultimately, most employers want a candidate who’s reflective about their skill sets and accurately assesses their skills and abilities.

For example someone’s weakness could be being a self-critic. However, the way to recover from the admittance of that is by stressing the value it brings to you such as being meticulous and careful of your actions, as well as including how you are trying to minimize the negative impact of being a self-critic. It’s important to realize that everyone has weaknesses. During your interview, your ultimate goal is to present a real weakness that does not damage your potential for the position.” Quote from this Q&A

An expert from Caterpillar, Steve, gave this response, “This is a tricky question that often will cross up an interviewee.  Many times the interviewee is overly fearful of giving an example that will make them look bad, so they respond with something innocuous that does not speak to who they really are, and interviewers can usually see right through this. 

What I recommend with this question is one, to be honest and real with your example.  Everyone who will interview you has weaknesses, so it is perfectly normal to identify something that may be yours.  What is most important when answering this question is that you be clear that you know it is a weakness, you are working to address it, and that you are learning and growing from it.  The interviewer will appreciate the honesty and humility as it shows you are someone who can learn and grow as an employee.” Quote from this Q&A

Kate, a hiring expert from ADP, added these thoughts to the conversation, “This is one of the interviewing questions, no one likes to answer. Employers want to see 1) how you handle tough situations 2) Is your weakness something that can be managed or maybe is even irrelevant to the job. Everyone has at least one weakness (most of us have multiple) so the worst answer to this question is "I don't have any weaknesses".

Try explaining that even though you do not have sales experience, you're a fast learner, open-minded and highly trainable. Give a brief explanation of how you've picked up a work-related task quickly that you didn't know before. To answer this question best, present a truthful weakness that does not ruin your potential for the position, but also does not come across as dishonest, unrealistic, or staged.” Quote from this Q&A

Finally, Dan, from Mutual of Omaha gave these insights, “Now this is the question that has the power to determine whether one is a potential asset or a liability to a prospective employer. So when asked this question, you should say yes! At least one weakness because the worst answer to this question is: ‘I don't have any weaknesses.’

The employer is trying to figure out if your weakness will make it hard for you to do a good job or fit into the organization. They are also interested in how you handle a tough question like this one. So time to be honest, at least to a certain degree, hopefully without ruining your chances at the opportunity. Now how to answer is question, would be a two-part answer. First part being the confession of the weakness. Second part being the recovery or how you plan to control and/or overcome your weakness.” Quote from Q

Takeaways

While each of the hiring experts elaborated on specifics ways to answer this question, there were commonalities worth noting.

Think critically about this question before you go to the interview. While you don’t want your response to come across as dishonest, it would be wise to know what your weakness is prior to the interview.

Never say you have no weaknesses. This should be painfully clear after reading through the responses from each of the contributors. But it bears repeating. If you claim to have no weaknesses you’re actually demonstrating a set of weaknesses that won't impress a potential employer.

Have a recovery for any weakness you share. You want to be honest about where you’re weak, but that doesn’t mean your weakness can't have strengths built within it. For instance, you may own up to the fact that you have unattainably high expectations of yourself. And because of those high expectations you have a tendency to disproportionately beat yourself up for small failures. While this is a weakness there is also a strength within it. You have incredibly high standards for your work. Which leads to better personal results and team successes because you don’t let the ‘small’ things slide.

More than likely you will be asked, “What’s your greatest weakness?” in an interview setting. If you think critically about the question prior to the interview, formulate a response, and give an example of how you’re working to improve that weakness or how it leads to one of your strengths you’ll be in good shape. Just don’t be ‘that candidate’ that claims to have no weakness, because that will surely lead to disappointment.

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