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What is your greatest weakness?

23rd January 2020

What is your greatest weakness?

This question has reached an almost legendary status within interviewing. It is hurdle that many candidates struggle on.

How do you describe a weakness without harming your chances? It feels like a trap. When you are trying to present the best version of yourself to your potential employers, you don’t want to talk yourself down.

But that is the beauty of it. That is why it’s so commonly used. It is an effective question that, for many interviewers, separates the weak from the strong.

Why does it get asked?

Interviewers tend to ask this question because it presents an opportunity to test the candidates understanding of their own abilities. Are you self-aware? The employer would have listened to you reeling off your skills and achievements. Now they want to know which area you are not so strong in. And most importantly, they want to know how you manage it.

Hiring managers aren’t that interested in what you say – providing you don’t suddenly inform them that your biggest weakness is a function that is vital for the job role. They care about how you answer it.

They’re testing to see if you can reflect on your abilities, identify a weakness and describe how you are working to improve it.

What should you avoid?

There’s a few things you want to avoid doing here. Most obviously, you don’t want to describe a weakness that shows an ineptitude for the job. For example, if you are applying for a Project Manager role yet time management is your weakness, it’s going to seriously affect your chances of success.

You definitely don’t want to deny you have any weaknesses. This shows a total lack of self-awareness and will only lead to being missing out on the job. Nobody is perfect – we all have weaknesses. Don’t deny it.

You also don’t want to sound too forced. Using phrases like ‘I strive too hard for perfection’ or ‘I work too hard’ are not going to do you any favours. You may well do that, but it comes across as insincere and – in reality – they are not really weaknesses. Avoid them.

How should you answer it?

Your answer needs to show an understand of what your weakness is, why it’s your weakness and what you are doing to improve it. This question is all about how you view your personal development. Are you aware enough to recognise a weakness and understand what you need to do to fix it?

When answering this, make sure you focus on your behaviours or techniques – things that can be adapted and improved. Naming a personality trait is not a good idea. That is who you are naturally and is much more difficult to train.

The ideal answer is split in to two parts. Firstly, you identify the weakness. Ensure it is not something that is required within the job role. Describe what the weakness is and potentially where it has caused you challenges in the past. Then, you need to recover it. What are you doing to improve it? Are you taking a course to learn a new skill? Are you practising it? Can you turn it into a strength?

This is what interviewers are looking for. They want to see what you are doing to develop and improve yourself.

What can you say?

So, what should you use as your weakness? Well that’s hard to say, as everyone’s different. Look at yourself professionally, which areas do you struggle? Is there a skill you would like to learn that you could use? Understanding yourself will not only help in the interview, it will help with your professional development in general. Do some research if you are stuck, there are plenty of resources to help you structure the best answer on the web.

It is also best to have more than one weakness ready to use. Interviewers may decide to really test you by asking for three or five, or your first-choice weakness may be discussed elsewhere in the interview and you may need one to fall back on. Be prepared!

 

 

 

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