A Proven Formula for Answering the Question ‘What’s Your Greatest Weakness’

What’s the best way to respond to the hiring manager or recruiter when asked about your greatest weakness in an interview? 

Just like the questions ‘Tell me about yourself” and “Why are you applying for this position,” your response to “What’s your greatest weakness” can immediately determine whether you’re a potential asset or a liability to a prospective employer. Of course, you don’t want your potential employers to have doubts about your capacity to perform the role. But you also don’t want to be perceived as arrogant or dishonest by stating that you don’t have specific weaknesses. 

Fortunately, you can prepare an answer to this dreaded question in advance. To help out, we’ve created a simple technique to frame your response to ‘What’s your greatest weakness?’ There’s a proven method of responding to this question in an honest and genuine way, while still increasing your chances of getting through the next round. 

But first, why do employers really ask this question?

Interviewers know that the majority of applicants don’t answer this question honestly. But why do they still ask this? 

Because they’re trying to assess if you could do the job well or whether you’re a good fit for the organisation or not. By asking this question, interviewers try to dig out things that don’t typically show up on your resume or LinkedIn profile.

If you try to dodge this question or fake your way through, the interviewer will wonder if you have alarming weaknesses that you’re trying to hide. He or she might also assume that you think you’re perfect – either because you lack self-awareness or your standards are quite low. 

What are the different variations of this question?

The meaning of the questions below is basically the same, so each warrants the same response: 

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses? 
  • If I contact your boss, what would he/she say that you need to improve on? 
  • Please tell me about a development goal that you’ve set. 
  • If there’s anything you could change about yourself at work, what would it be? 
  • What do you want to improve in the next year? 

You may also want to prepare for the additional questions below, particularly if your response was quite unclear or not convincing: 

  • How has that weakness negatively affected you at work? 
  • What have you done to overcome this weakness? 
  • Can you provide another weakness or development area? 
  • If you are hired for this role, how can we be sure this weakness won’t work against us?

Common mistakes in responding to this question

Spinning your weakness to make it positive 

Most articles would advise you to turn your weakness into a positive by mentioning a ‘supposed’ weakness that seems to be a good quality in an employee. For instance, being ‘too perfectionist,’ ‘extremely detail-oriented,’ or ‘too aggressive.’ 

But this approach has already become an old trick. The interviewer will see right through it as he/she has already seen numerous applicants try the very same method. In fact, this approach will more likely make the interviewer think you’re trying to hide something. 

Being in denial or dodging this question altogether 

Some applicants will affirm that they don’t have a specific weakness. Most probably, this is because they haven’t prepared for this question or are just afraid to say the wrong thing. Giving this kind of response will also make you look like you’re trying to hide something.

Being too honest

Another mistake is being too straightforward and revealing a weakness that might become an obstacle for you to excel in the new role. For example, disclosing that you’re not too detail-oriented when you’re trying to land a data entry job will not impress a potential employer. 

Answering the question with a joke

When you respond to this question with a joke (example: “My greatest weakness is…Kryptonite. And ice cream.”), you’re coming across as disrespectful or someone who doesn’t take the position seriously enough to warrant being hired.

The proven method in answering the question ‘What’s your greatest weakness’ 

A good response to this question consists of two parts:

  1. The reveal– where you will have to briefly describe a real weakness that wouldn’t debilitate your ability to perform the role; and
  2. The redemption -how you’ve managed your weakness to minimise its impact to work; your efforts to improve; or the plan that you have to address this weakness.

How to select your ‘good’ weakness 

Pick an ‘irrelevant’ weakness

Before going to the job interview, familiarise yourself with the key job requirements. Avoid citing weaknesses that are directly relevant to any of the required skills or attributes. For example, if you’re applying for a sales or customer service role, don’t talk about being introverted and too reserved. 

Choose a weakness that is relatively minor (or can be fixed easily) 

You can mention ‘hard skill’ weaknesses, such as understanding how to use specific computer software, which could be easily overcome through training. 

Avoid disclosing a weakness that has already become a frequent behaviour and something that’s difficult to change. This includes being unambitious, indecisive, emotional, or disorganised. 

Describe your weakness in a brief manner 

You don’t have to go into great detail when describing your weakness. Be concise, but avoid sounding defensive.

Example of responses that work

Example #1: Delegation Skills (for Junior Employees) 

The reveal: “Sometimes, I’m too perfectionist. I want everything being done right so I tend to own most activities and don’t delegate. I realised this can slow things down at work.” 

The redemption: “Recently, I was given the chance to manage volunteers. I’ve never led people before, so this was a major learning experience for me. This experience taught me how to allocate jobs. I also know I can benefit from additional training in this area, so I signed up for an online delegation skills course.” 

Why it works: For junior staff, delegation skills are not too critical. It’s also a great example as the applicant realised the impact of his/her weakness on the team. The candidate also provided ways to improve, such as taking additional responsibilities to manage people and completing online training. 

Example #2: Difficulty in saying ‘no’ 

The reveal: “Before, I found it hard to say no to requests, so I ended up taking more than I can handle in a given work day. This had led me feeling stressed or burnt out.”

The redemption: “I have started using a project management app called Asana so I can map out my daily work. This has also helped me determine if I can take on more jobs or push back some tasks.”

Why it works: Similar to the earlier example, the candidate was aware of the negative impacts of accepting all requests to the team and to his health. The redemption part is a good example because it showed how the applicant is working to better self-manage his tasks and setting realistic expectations for himself as well as those around him.  

In Summary

Your ultimate goal in answering the question ‘What’s your greatest weakness’ is to present a response that doesn’t affect your chances of securing the potential role. 

If you’re unsure about how to choose a weakness, review the job description and try to put yourself in the employer’s shoes. 

Take the time to practice your response with a partner until you develop the confidence so that you’ll sound authentic and natural in the job interview.

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