'What is Your Weakness' and Other Tough Interview Questions

interview-questions-weaknessesEvery job seeker hates interview questions like what is your weakness or tell me about a mistake you made. Many believe these questions are designed to make them sweat and there can't possibly be a good answer. Others have heard that the key to answering these tough questions is to spin the response and turn a negative into a positive.

But these responses usually either lack authenticity or are otherwise misguided, since what many people think would be perceived as a strength to the hiring manager is actually considered a liability. Candidates that lack authenticity are easy to spot, and the outcome of the interview is severely compromised when job seekers choose to spin their responses to tough interview questions.

As a matter of fact, in a 2009 Society for Human Resources Management survey, recruiters and hiring managers reported that one of their biggest pet peeves within the context of the interview situation was candidates that responded to difficult interview questions with answers that attempted to spin a tough situation into one with only positive outcomes. Below are a few of the most common interview questions that job seekers try to spin their responses to and some suggested alternative responses.

What is your greatest weakness?

Red flag answer

"I am a perfectionist and I get frustrated when people aren't as committed to the job as I am."


The candidate is answering the question about a weakness by responding with an answer that suggests a strength. Such answers are disingenuous and are not well-received by hiring authorities. The candidate is also assuming that perfection is considered a desirable trait in the organization. Some hiring managers will perceive a perfectionist as someone who gets so caught up in the details that they can't achieve the project's objectives.

Adjusted response

Earlier in my career, when I was a software developer, my strong attention to detail was an asset because I could quickly spot and correct systems errors. But after I was promoted to project manager, this strength became a bit of a liability because I was now responsible for delegating work and overseeing the big picture aspect of the project. I struggled at first because it was my nature to want to fix every error. While I still have that tendency, I now rely on the technical expertise of my team and this allows me to concentrate on delivering projects on time and on budget.

Tell me about a situation where you did not get along with a supervisor.

Red flag answer

"I've been very fortunate, and I've never worked for someone I didn't get along with."


Everyone has had situations where they disagreed with a boss, and by saying you have not forces the interviewer to question your integrity. It also can send out a signal that the candidate is not seasoned enough or hasn't been in situations that require him to develop a tough skin or deal with confrontation.

Adjusted response

"It's natural for people to have differing opinions. When this has occurred in the past, I have presented my reasons for my position and openly listened to my supervisor's opinion as well. Recently my supervisor recommended a change to a report that in my opinion made the reporting more cumbersome and time-consuming. I expressed my concerns but also asked many questions to determine what information my boss needed to capture what was not currently in the report. Once I understood her needs, I was able to offer a suggestion that satisfied her information needs and actually streamlined the existing report and made it easier to use."

Describe a situation where an initiative you were part of failed.

Red flag answer

"I've never had a project that failed; my supervisors have always praised my work."


If you can't discuss a failure or mistake, the interviewer might conclude that you do not possess the depth of experience necessary to do the job. The interviewer is not looking for perfection. They are trying to better understand your level of responsibility, your decision-making process, your ability to recover from a mistake, what you learned from the experience, and if you can take responsibility for your mistakes.

Adjusted response

"Everyone makes mistakes. I'd like to think that I have learned something valuable from every mistake I have made. In my previous role as marketing director, I launched a product and was disappointed in the initial sales results. I realized that we had launched too quickly and needed to do additional market research to determine the needs of multiple demographics within our market. Following the research initiative, the marketing was realigned with a niche demographic and sales doubled within one year."

By developing and practicing responses to difficult interview questions that display honesty, thoughtfulness, good will, and fallibility, you will create a realistic and authentic portrait of your candidacy and develop a strong rapport with the hiring authority. This will help you advance to the next round in the interview process and lead you one step closer to securing the position.

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Sherri Moser

I recently was terminated from a company that I had over 20 years with. It is going through a lot of restructuring and several of the management staff have been terminated for what is being seen as job performance. I am at a loss as to how to answer the question as to why you left you last employer. I have an interview set up and I don't want to take this negative into this interview and lose this chance to join this company. Any suggestions?

July 25 2010 at 7:50 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Sherri Moser's comment

I would say you had the opportunity to work with the organization for the 20 years and have worked under great leadership and it was never communicated to you that their decision was related to your performance.

September 25 2010 at 12:49 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I was on probation for tardiness, and one of the conditions was that I not be late more than three times in the three-month probation period. I was doing very well with my punctuality, but due to traffic, I WAS late three times: 2 minutes one day, 3 minutes on another, and 10 minutes the third time. So, for a total of 15 minutes, I lost my job of 15 years. My manager was well known for her toxic attitude, and everyone else on her team was trying to get out. She was sacked a year later. I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis soon thereafter, and I am now on disability, as I can no longer work or commute to a job.

July 06 2010 at 4:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Everyone has some form of a weakness, if you did not you would be perfect and there would be no need to interview. I always like to say that I sometimes bring my work stresses home with me when I should be focusing more on the joy of my children. Then I add " ...so I generally sit in my car for a couple minutes when I pull into the driveway to transition my mind." It shows you reconize that jobs have stress involved with them yet this weakness will not effect your work preformance. It also shows that you know how to deal/manage stress.

July 06 2010 at 8:34 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have lot's of managerial experience and I am interviewing for a Director position. The problem is, I have no experience in the field that I am interested in. How can I use my managerial strengths as a skill to overcome the lack of specific experience?

July 06 2010 at 8:27 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Al's comment

Stress on your ability and willingness to learn quickly. Then try to find a common ground between the two positions.

July 06 2010 at 9:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I have the same question as the other user. I don't know what my weakness is. Why do they even ask that question? I never know how to answer that one.

June 30 2010 at 10:54 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Vanessa's comment

I believe all assignments should have a set time for completion. However, my determination to succeed. I will stay reasonably focus to engage little extra time on the assignment so that the final product will be the expectation of the supervisor.

September 25 2010 at 3:40 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Thank you letters

Actually I don't know exactly what is my weakness.What should I tell to cover it exactly as they didn't know that iam not lying.

typical job interview questions

June 30 2010 at 1:01 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
2 replies to Thank you letters's comment

A supervisor asks the question: What is your weakness? Is to get a good sense of how familiar you are with yourself, and what areas you will need to work on.
Common answers are: I am often late and I have been working on being on time or early.
I try to agree with and please everyone (you can't please everyone all of the time)
Everyone has a weakness- relationships, being late, dislike of housework, road rage, talking on the phone, staying up too late, ect.

July 06 2010 at 8:33 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I would never say that I am often late. Huge red flag, even if you are working on it.

July 06 2010 at 9:17 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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