How to answer the “what is your greatest weakness?” interview question

Monday, 18 March 2019

“What is your greatest weakness?” It’s a question that can leave even the strongest interviewers flustered. While not always asked in these exact words, you can be assured that some variation of this question will pop up in your next interview.

The last thing you want to do is divulge your flaws and shortcomings to a prospective employer. So how do you look good while properly answering this dreaded question?

Why do interviewers ask “what is your greatest weakness?”

Approaching negative topics in interviews requires an added sense of consideration and thought. How you approach the question can offer employers an honest insight into who you are as a person – are you self-aware? Arrogant? Proactive? This question – while seen as age-old and pointless to some – can be a powerful test of preparation and mindfulness.

What not to do

Some candidates will hear the dreaded “what is your greatest weakness?” interview question and panic. But with a bit of preparation, you can be ready for the curveball and know how to avoid the most common mistakes.

Refuse to answer the question

Your first instinct when asked “what is your greatest weakness?” may be to lie and say that you have none. After all, who can find fault in a perfect candidate? Unfortunately that won’t work. Refusing to provide a weakness can indicate to an employer that you are over-confident and unable to learn from your mistakes. It is critical to demonstrate that you are mindful and capable of recognising a weakness and working on improving it.

Cast doubt on your skills

On the flipside, it’s important not to be too candid in your response. Be careful not to admit a weakness that might hinder your ability to fulfil the job requirements. Before the interview, thoroughly read the job description and understand which weaknesses may raise a red-flag.

For example, if you are interviewing for a customer service role, it may be detrimental to say that you struggle on the phone.

What to do

The key to divulging your greatest weakness is to be honest and emphasise the positive. Employers often consider how you answer the question more important than the answer itself.

Be genuine

Most interviewers can tell when an answer is fake or over-rehearsed. There are many sincere answers that can offer insight into an honest shortcoming, without jeopardising your chances of scoring the role.

Discuss a non-essential skill

A strong candidate won’t deny that they have a weakness, but rather they will identify a weakness that does not interfere with the position duties. Re-read the job criteria and come up with a shortlist of weaknesses that aren’t essential to the success of the role.

For instance, if you are applying to be an IT Support Technician, it’s fairly safe to assume that there won’t be much public speaking involved. In that instance, it would be safe to say you feel nervous presenting to groups, as this is unlikely to affect your job performance. But be sure to stress that you do have strong communication skills; it’s just the big group settings that stress you out.

Demonstrate how you have improved

No one is perfect. A great candidate recognises this and is always looking for opportunities to grow and improve. Use this question as an opportunity to demonstrate to employers that you are proactive and committed to self-improvement. Discuss the steps you are taking to address your weakness and how you are actively working to better yourself.

For instance, explain how you have previously struggled to juggle your tasks at work, but overcame the issue by using an online task tracking app.

What are some strong “what is your greatest weakness?” answers?

When choosing a weakness, ask yourself the following questions:

  • what do I struggle with?
  • what would I like to improve?
  • what can I do better?
  • what feedback has my supervisor given me?
  • what challenges have I overcome in the past?
  • what areas have I actively improved in?

Some common weaknesses candidates might discuss include:

  • public speaking
  • spelling
  • mathematical skills
  • computer skills
  • unfamiliarity with software
  • organising tasks
  • confidence
  • delegation
  • spontaneity

But always ensure that the weakness only makes up a very small part of the answer. Start by introducing the weakness, explain a specific situation where this has challenged you in the past, and lastly emphasise the constructive steps you are taking to address this weakness.

Example: shy/poor public speaking

I’m very shy. All throughout high school and university, I struggled with public speaking and group assignments. I would avoid speaking up, even when I knew I had a great solution or idea.

Over the past five years, I’ve been working hard to gain more confidence. In the last year of my university degree, I discovered public speaking and leadership workshops, and it has really helped me feel more comfortable in group environments. I’ve gained practical skills in building successful relationships and starting discussions. I really appreciate where I’ve been and how far I’ve grown. I always take the time to start a conversation with quieter team members, because I understand that their input is valuable too.

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the “what is your greatest weakness?” interview question. As always, preparation and thoughtfulness are the key. Take the time to come up with a few answers that work for you.

Your EPIC Assist (EPIC) consultant will work with you to develop your skills and job interview readiness. If you’re not already connected with EPIC, contact us to find out how we can help you.

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