What Is Your Greatest Weakness?

job interview The Question

One of my favorite oxymorons: "greatest weakness." When in an interview, your job is to present all your strengths, why you're a great fit for the job, and how you could make an immediate impact to the company's success. But often during the discussion, you're asked about your faults, your skills lacking, your downside.


Some advice

The first advice you often hear on this subject is to use a strength, but to an extreme. The most (tired) popular answer: I'm a perfectionist. Another: I work too hard. Many interviewers disregard this type of answer and ask for another one. And by the way, sometimes being a perfectionist is a true weakness. Sometimes, close to perfect is good enough when in a hurry.

Others will advise you to use humor. Making fun of yourself shows humility. For example, you could say, "My spouse tells me that I am horrible at reading maps." I suppose as long as you are not driving around town for your job, they won't care. However, since this isn't an occupational weakness, the interviewer might ask for another one. You'll have to abandon the humor aspect and give a more serious answer.

One other approach interviewers take is to simply say they don't have any weaknesses. This, of course, is nearly impossible. So in essence, you are practically lying in your interview -- always a bad thing.

The interviewer wants to know that you recognize you have faults and where you might miss the target as an ideal candidate. They know well-prepped interviewees will not provide any reason to be dropped as a viable candidate. So in essence, it's more of test to see how well you present your case.


The answer

So what should you say? Pick a real weakness from your occupational tool set that you know has no bearing on the job you are interviewing for. The interviewer will acknowledge that you were honest with them, and will likely consider your "greatest weakness" to be meaningless to him. You should also mention that you are studying or taking a class to improve in this area. For example, a computer programmer might say that she wishes to improve her public speaking skills and is attending Toastmasters for training. By including your plan for overcoming this "weakness," you have actually turned your answer into a pseudo-strength: You recognize your faults and set a plan for self-improvement. A very good quality.

A similar approach would be to discuss a weakness that you have recently overcome. Be sure to be able to talk about how you identified it, how you overcame it, and what you learned from the experience.

Yes, there is a bit of a "song and dance" when it comes to interviewing. It can seem tedious. But until the tune changes, you should know the right steps so you don't trip.


Jeff Lipschultz

Jeff Lipschultz

Editor

Jeff Lipschultz is a founding partner of A-List Solutions, a premier recruiting firm in Dallas-Fort Worth. Jeff shares his views on employment trends and quirky observations of society at http://jefflipschultz.wordpress.com. Jeff has worked in start-ups to Fortune 500 companies and has interviewed thousands of candidates. When not recruiting great talent or writing about the challenges of the candidate search process from all perspectives, you’ll find Jeff cycling around Texas or Colorado or wherever there’s a hill to climb.

In an effort to help job seekers, Jeff offers a concise, easy-to-read guide on interviewing through his company’s web site (www.alistsolutions.com).

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64 Comments

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Intellect

I think your answer should be different according to the audience.

If it is someone who knows more about your field of expertise, then the answer has to reflect the experience.

If the question is from someone who knows little about your field, then your answer could be related to your personality.

But, I agree, if you tell them that your plan of improvement in the area of weakness, that would impress the interviewer.

In my opinion identifying ones weakness is part of daily contiual improvement process, and healthy.

A weakness could be somebody talks fast, but I have been trying to use pauses and rephrasing of questions in my conversation to make my communication more effective, and invite feedback & build comort level.

For somebody who is more skilled in the knowledge area, the answer could be weakness in the secoondary area like Java script for some in IT administration, and that the candidate coudl say he or she has been reading more about about Object oreiented languages & databases to better understand the complaints from users & what developers talk in the meetings.

July 15 2011 at 1:06 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
rosholtb

I'm going to have a phone interview in a couple of days, I have never been interviewed on the phone. What should I expect? Do you have any good advice.

May 17 2011 at 11:41 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
danielsala

This is very good advice I will save this. Thank You

April 24 2011 at 12:47 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Liz

This is a great article because the process used to answer this question can be used to answer about any question. I can't sing or dance but this will help me do a better job of dancing to the interviewer's tune. Thanks, Jeff!

January 14 2011 at 5:39 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Mary Ellen Gazay

I recently was asked this question on interview. I did say that it was working to hard and gave the current example that I was working full time and going to school. My new goal was to not work so much. Any feed back?

January 14 2011 at 1:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Mary Ellen Gazay's comment
TechieMan

No offense, but saying not to work so much doesn't actually count for a weakness. I would suggest to take sometime to think about it and analyze situation where you lose your cool :(. The only weakness you can say for sure is your soft skill you can think of . No one wants to hear weakness you have for the major work area you are being interview for.

April 28 2012 at 1:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
peapers

A good answer would be to say, "I usually don't get enough exercise because of my past work schedules and the time I'm spending in my current job search." Then I would say, "but I am altering my expectations about the level of exercise I need and that I am working harder at getting in a work-out whenever I can instead of skipping it altogether." This would show that my work is most important to me, but that I realize that my health, and other aspects of my life, are important too. It shows that I am disciplined in work and that I am trying to discipline myself in other areas too.

January 14 2011 at 1:29 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Edward Jeffries

They say persistance pays off.If this is true then I have not failed I go forward each day. I dont give up and cry. I look forward everyday for better
things, just a smile inspires me beyond belief. Yet I have not acconplished
the one thing that I set out over two years ago to do. Back in 2008 I had a dream to get a portion of a C-141 aircraft to be set up as a memorial to all
who flew and maintained them. I am still trying to raise the funds to make this happen. I am 83 years old and to my dying day I will not give up. Keep up the faith.Thanks ED

January 14 2011 at 1:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
muck55

That's what she said.

January 14 2011 at 1:24 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Marie

WoW! I just found this article as I'm on my way out the door to an interview. Too bad the author didn't give a better example. I already listed public speaking on my resume as an example of my communication skills. Oh well. Maybe the question won't come up? LOL

January 14 2011 at 1:12 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
GreatBirdUSA

Weaknesses? - Bratwursts, beer and women – not necessarily in that order!
Followed by sleeping late and finding fault in most company decisions and policies.
Also, I have been known to fudge a little on my time card.
Other than that I have no weakness.

January 14 2011 at 1:10 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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