The question “What is your greatest weakness?” is one of the most dreaded interview questions. It often feels like a trap and it can be tough to answer without revealing too much about yourself or sabotaging your chances of getting the job. However, there is a way to approach this question that can help you come across as self-aware and proactive.
The first thing to keep in mind is why the question is being asked. Your interviewer wants to see if you’re self-aware enough to recognize a flaw and motivated enough to fix it. This question is an opportunity to highlight how you've overcome a challenge in the past or are actively working to do so now.
To answer this question, you can use a simple formula. Firstly, clearly describe your weakness, preferably with specific examples. Secondly, give a short example of a time when your weakness affected your work. Lastly, talk about what you’ve done to improve your weakness.
It is essential to choose a weakness that is honest but not a vital piece of the role you’re interviewing for. No one wants to hire an accountant who overlooks the details or a salesperson who gets nervous making cold calls.
To help you with this, here are 25+ example weaknesses that you can use. These weaknesses include attention to all the small details, cold calling, confidence, decision-making, delegation, explanations of complex or technical topics, feedback acceptance, feedback delivery, grammar, judgment of how much the small details matter, math, open-mindedness, organization, overly high standards, patience, perfectionism, phone conversations, public speaking, responses to vague instructions, self-esteem, sense of when to stop tweaking or perfecting something, sense of when to ask more questions, time management, understanding of when and how to say no, verbal, nonverbal, or written communication, workaholism, and writing.
Here are some examples of alternative answers to the weaknesses mentioned above:
Instead of just saying you're a perfectionist, describe how it affects your work. For instance, you might get too caught up in minor details, causing you to miss deadlines. As a junior web designer at Harold’s Hats, you were asked to redesign the size guide, but you spent so long looking for the perfect font that you didn't finish it on time. To manage this, you break projects into smaller tasks with deadlines and move on if you spend too much time on one thing. This helps you be more objective when you return to it later.
2. High Standards at Work.
Instead of saying you have overly high standards, talk about how it can be difficult for you to gauge when your colleagues are overwhelmed or dissatisfied with their workloads. Share an example of a time when this caused issues, such as setting unreasonable deadlines without consulting your team, and explain how you've learned to address it. For instance, you now have weekly check-ins with your team to ensure you're not asking too much or too little from them and to build an open and trusting relationship.
Currently, I am striving to work more intelligently instead of working more hours. To achieve this, I have adopted some new habits such as responding to emails in batches to avoid wasting time scrolling through my inbox, setting three daily goals to stay focused on priorities, and conducting meetings outdoors to get some exercise and fresh air. These changes in productivity have enabled me to accomplish more work in a shorter period, while also producing higher-quality work.
4. Public speaking
Public speaking is becoming increasingly common as a popular answer in interviews. However, to demonstrate honesty to the interviewer, it is essential to provide concrete examples. Personally, I have found presenting my ideas in front of a crowd to be a daunting task, though not to the extent of extreme fear as compared to death, as some studies suggest. In the past, my apprehension towards public speaking posed a challenge in my career. I would often shy away from speaking up during meetings and avoid taking on projects that required me to make presentations to clients, despite knowing that it was crucial for my professional growth.
The key is to come across as authentic and to finish on a positive note, regardless of what you discuss. Practice your response to ensure that you can deliver it smoothly and, above all, succinctly. If you dwell too long on your weaknesses, you may end up creating more harm than good. It's important to move beyond the "weakness" aspect of your answer as quickly as possible and return to what truly matters: highlighting your many strengths.