Let’s pretend you’re in an interview and as far as you can tell, everything has been going great so far. You’ve nailed every question that was asked, provided clear examples of how you performed in previous roles, and dodged any mistakes you’ve made in past interviews. But, wait…something terrible happens. The interviewers drop a bomb on you.
Among the possible interview questions, the one related to a candidate’s greatest weakness causes universal dread – everyone shudders at the thought of answering it. Think back to your past interviews and how you felt answering that question – how did it make you feel? If you’re in the fortunate position of having never been asked it, think about what your response might be if someone asked it to you right now. Some of the typical answers candidates are guilty of using include:
- “I work a lot of hours. I’m a bit of workaholic as I love my job, so I have a tendency of taking on too much work.”
- “I have been described as a perfectionist by fellow colleagues. An overachiever who won’t stop until a project has been completed to the best of my ability.”
- “It’s not uncommon for me to sacrifice my evenings and weekends to ensure every deadline has been hit. Some people would say I work too hard, but that’s something I take great pride in.”
Do any of the above answers sound familiar? If we’re being honest with ourselves, we’d hold our hands up to having used all three in the past. Most people will try to convince themselves that these are genuine answers to the greatest weakness interview question, but interviewers won’t fall for them. You’re only fooling yourself here.
WHY DO INTERVIEWERS ASK THIS QUESTION?
It feels like an outdated question that’s designed to catch candidates out, but there’s actually a very important function behind it. The hiring manager doesn’t have a checklist of specific words they’re looking for, but rather, it’s how you answer the question which will identify what type of person you are. And knowing that, this helps you to understand that this seemingly insignificant question is another opportunity to really showcase your personality and skills as the perfect candidate for the job.
When the hiring manager asks you this question mid-interview, they’re trying to determine how well you respond to a question that’s intended to throw you off your game. Up until this point, you have been fed questions that fit within your comfort zone – predetermined answers that feel somewhat like a template of every other interview you have ever attended. This question helps to weed out candidates who can’t think on their feet and those who can’t be honest about their own limitations. If you pause, drop eye contact, change body language and then lie, don’t expect to make it onto the next stage of interviews.
THE WINNING ANSWER
You need to prepare for this question before you get to the interview. It’s a commonly asked question, so don’t run the risk of turning up to an interview without giving it some thought beforehand. You need to set aside time to sit down, honestly ask yourself what your weaknesses are, and be self-critical about how you should approach this answer.
Let’s be honest with ourselves: nobody wants to admit to having weaknesses. We want to portray ourselves as the perfect candidate who can deliver results, get along with fellow colleagues and grow within a company. A great candidate can, however, be honest about their weaknesses and turn them into strengths while still dealing with overcoming those weaknesses. Take a moment to ask yourself:
- Did I learn from past experiences?
- How did they help me to grow as an employee?
- Has anyone ever pointed out a flaw in my personality or behaviour?
- Am I the type of person who holds grudges, quickly judges others or is afraid of change?
- Do I get defensive and find it hard to accept any level of criticism?
If you answer “Yes” to any of the above questions, what are you doing to fix them? Have you taken any actions to become a better person? How did you overcome some of the troubles you’ve had in the past? And more importantly, what have you learnt as a person and what will you do differently when you face moments of weakness? Next, take a closer look at the job you’re applying for to identify whether any of the weaknesses you have outlined can apply to this position. By doing this, you will be able to tailor your answer to what the hiring managers want to hear – rather than giving a template answer that they’ve heard hundreds of times over the years.
Here are a few examples of how you can formulate a strong answer:
- Time management hasn’t always been a strength of mine. In the past, I have missed some deadlines and had to work longer hours than most of my team to achieve a similar level of output. However, in a bit to overcome this, I have begun to implement an effective time management strategy and project management tool (e.g. Trello or Basecamp) which help me to stay up-to-date on every task and complete them on time.
- Speaking up in meetings is something I’ve always found difficult. I have also avoided any public speaking engagements as large groups tend to leave me feeling flustered, a little embarrassed and more likely to stay within my shell. However, in the past couple of months, I have been a regular attendee at the weekly Toastmaster meetings in Dublin to help me develop my presentation skills and become more comfortable in front of people.
- Delegating tasks is something I struggle with as I want to control all aspects of a project. The lack of trust in my team has in the past led to disagreements and the project missing deadlines. Therefore, I have made a conscious decision to take a step back, place more trust in those around me and work as a collective, rather than an individual contributor.
The above answers are just examples of what you can say. Of course, your answers will be different, but they should be authentic and genuine to who you are. Remember, a hiring manager is searching for people who have the self-awareness to recognise that they’re not perfect, can show the initiative needed to keep improving, while also having room for personal growth and change within the role.