The Best Way to Answer the ‘What’s Your Greatest Weakness?’ Interview Question
“What is your greatest weakness?” is one of the most dreaded questions of a job interview. Unlike other questions, this is not one of those things that you can answer on the fly.
When responding to the “What is your greatest weakness?” interview question, you don’t want to bring something up that would make a hiring manager doubt your ability to perform the job. On the other hand, you also don’t want to come across as arrogant or cocky by saying nothing at all.
To prepare you for the next time someone asks you “What is your greatest weakness?”, this guide will cover:
Variations of the “What is your greatest weakness?” interview question
The purpose of this job interview question
The best strategies to answer confidently
15 real responses for the “What is your greatest weakness?” interview question
6 ‘What’s Your Greatest Weakness?’Variations
During an interview, hiring managers don’t always ask ‘What is your greatest weakness?’. There are many different variations of this question, each requiring a slightly different response. A hiring manager might ask:
‘What Is Your Greatest Weakness?’
This is simple and straight forward. A hiring manager wants to know your top weakness. You only need to answer with one response.
‘Tell Me About Your Strengths and Weaknesses’
The hiring managers is looking for your strengths and weaknesses in one response. It is best to start with your strengths, then talk about your weaknesses, and then wrap it up by talking about how you turn your weaknesses into strengths.
‘What Are Some of Your Weaknesses?’
For this question, the hiring manager is looking for multiple responses. Pick your top two or three weaknesses and discuss.
‘What Are Some of Your Areas of Improvement?’
Many hiring managers don’t like to call things weaknesses, but rather areas of improvement. All weaknesses can and should be improved, so make sure you respond by using ‘areas of improvement’ in your response.
‘What is Something You Are Trying To Work On?’
Similar to the last one, this question emphasizes how you are trying to improve upon certain traits or characteristics.
‘If You Could Change One Thing About Yourself, What Would It Be?’
This is a more creative way of asking the same question. The ideal response is to give a weakness and the steps you are taking to improve upon it. When asking this, the hiring managers want to make sure that you take action on the things you want and desire.
The Purpose of the ‘What is Your Greatest Weakness?’ Question
The ‘What is Your Greatest Weakness?’ interview question, or some variation of it, is asked in 90%+ of interviews. Obviously, hiring managers don’t expect you to share your deepest darkest secrets. So what exactly are they looking for?
Gauging Your Self-Awareness & Honesty
During an interview, hiring managers are assessing your soft skills just as much as your hard skills and self-awareness and honesty are two traits all employers look for.
It is important that employees are self-aware of their positive and negative weaknesses, instead of being unaware until they receive performance reviews or feedback.
Making Sure That You Know How To Improve
The most important thing hiring managers are looking for when asking this question is to see if you know how to make self-improvements.
No one is perfect and there will undoubtedly be things that you aren’t an expert at on the job. Having the tools and awareness to know how to improve on your weaknesses is critical. No one wants a stagnant employee whose skills and level of expertise never improve.
By asking this question, hiring managers are looking for you to show awareness of your weaknesses and that you know how to take it upon yourself to take the steps to improve.
Instead of asking, ‘What are you terrible at doing?’, hiring managers really want to know ‘Are you aware of your weaknesses and do you know how to improve?’
The Best Strategies To Answer This Question
Turn A Strength Into A Weakness
This is the route most people take. Choose a weakness that could also be looked at as a strength. For example, being a perfectionist or being competitive. In detail-oriented roles, being a perfectionist isn’t such a bad thing. In positions like sales or recruiting, competitiveness is a positive trait.
When using this strategy, explain how you have recognized this weakness and then talk about how that trait helps you be the perfect fit for their role.
Respond With A Weakness That is Unrelated To The Position
Never respond with a weakness that would make a hiring manager doubt your ability to perform a role. For example, if you are in sales, never say that you dislike working with people or that you are not goal-oriented.
Instead, choose a weakness that is unrelated to the position. If you are in sales, you primarily work independently, so an unrelated weakness could be that you aren’t good at delegating work.
Choose A Weakness That You Have Turned Into A Strength
For this strategy, pick a weakness that you have already improved upon. For example, you could say that you biggest weakness has always been public speaking. Although you were too nervous to do anything about it your entire life, last year you joined Toastmasters. Now, after lots of practice, you consider public speaking one of your strengths.
How To Structure Your Response
When answering ‘What is your greatest weakness?’, hiring managers are looking for a two part response.
Part One: Your Weakness
Step one is to explain your weakness. This includes what it is and how it has negatively impacted you in the past.
For example, if your weakness was a fear of public speaking, you could have avoided sales positions because you were too scared to give client presentations.
Part Two: How You Improve
This is the part that most people forget. After you give your weakness, you need to explain how you are working on improving. Remember, the hiring manager is actually asking, ‘Are you aware of your weaknesses and do you know how to improve?’
Your method for improvement needs to contain specific actions that you have, or currently are, taking to improve. It should never be something like ‘I know I need to work on that’.
Methods for improvement could be anything from enrolling in an online time management course (if missing deadlines is your weakness), joining a meetup group (if networking is your weakness), or creating daily to do lists (if your weakness is staying organized).
Common Mistakes When Answering ‘What Is Your Greatest Weakness?’
Knowing how to answer the ‘What is your greatest weakness?’ interview question is walking a fine line between being honest and not hurting your chances of getting the job. To get it right, make sure to avoid these pitfalls.
Talking About A Weakness That Will Affect Your Ability To Perform The Job
When deciding on what weakness to discuss, make sure you look through the job description to ensure that your weakness wouldn’t hinder your ability to perform well in the role.
When in doubt, it is best to pick something that is unrelated to the position. Even if you have improved on the weakness, old tendencies can come back, so never say something that would negatively impact your performance on the job.
For example, if you are a restaurant server, don’t say your weakness is being slow. If you are in sales, don’t say you don’t like waking up early. If you are in landscaping, don’t say you aren’t detail-oriented.
Talking About A Weakness Without An Improvement
Respond with a weakness, but include all the work you are doing to improve your skills and abilities related to the weakness. It’s not enough to say you are self-aware without showing your ability to take actions to improve.
Responding With A Weakness That Shows A Lack Of Work Ethic
Even if it’s true, there are many weaknesses that you should never discuss. The weaknesses to be avoided are anything pertaining to lack of work ethic or innate personality traits. Some examples of weaknesses that should never be discussed are laziness, punctuality, aggression, inability to concentrate, anger, and distraction.
Not Having An Answer
It isn’t helpful for anyone if you tell a hiring manager that you have no weaknesses or areas that need to be improved. Everyone has professional skills or personality traits that could be improved, so employers expect that every candidate will have an answer to this common interview question.
Discussing A Disability Or A Critical Weakness
Responding to this question is not the time to bring up a physical or mental disability or the fact that you have something critically wrong.
It is illegal for employers to make hiring decisions based on a mental or physical disability, so there is no need to disclose this information.
It is also important to not say anything that would make hiring managers nervous to hire you, like volunteering that you have an arrest record or an ongoing family feud.
15 Real Responses To ‘What Is Your Greatest Weakness’
To help you start preparing your response for ‘What is your greatest weakness?’, read over these real-life responses and tweak the ones that make the most sense to you.
‘My greatest weakness is public speaking. Even though I know I would make a great salesman, my fear of public speaking has always held me back because I know I would eventually have to give presentations to clients. To get over my fear, I have enrolled in Toastmasters and have set a goal for myself to do one public speaking engagement each month. I can’t say I am complete over my fear, but I know that I am slowly getting there.’
‘I have always struggled with delegating work to other people because I am always under the impression that they won’t be able to complete assignments up to my high levels of standards. Instead of teaching others, I fall into the mindset that it would just be easier to do it myself. This has caused me to overwork myself and to not give my coworkers the chance to learn things themselves. It has been a struggle, but I now have a goal to delegate three tasks each week.’
Being Too Direct/Blunt
‘I have received feedback in previous jobs that I am too direct and blunt. I have always communicated in a straight-forward manner but realize that some people need things to be sugar coated. To improve on this trait, I recently look a class on communication styles. I can now easily identify the type of communication that works best for certain people and adjust my delivery accordingly.’
‘My greatest weakness is being impatient. When I want something done, it is hard for me to wait around. That being said, I realize that different people have different priorities and I can’t expect everyone to run by my clock. To improve on my impatience, I have learned to move onto another task and wait patiently for the other person to get the task done. Or if it is something that needs to be done immediately, I have learned to just do it myself.’
Type A Personality
‘My greatest weakness, which can also be a strength, is my type A personality. I am very assertive and direct, but I have learned that my strong energy can sometimes turn off others. To improve on this trait, I have learned to identify situations where it might be better for me to take the back seat rather than take the lead.’
Worrying Too Much
‘My greatest weakness is that I tend to worry, both about things in my life and about others. This has negatively impacted me in the past because I assume the worst will happen, even when things turn out to be not that bad. To help me worry less, I actively work to look at things half full. I know I cannot control everything and worrying only makes things worse. On the days that I can’t help but worry, I have learned to use things like breathing techniques, yoga, and meditation to help me destress.’
‘One of my biggest weaknesses is being too trusting of others. It is my nature to always trust people and at times they end up hurting me because I trusted them too much. To work on my trust, I have taken several online courses that help me identify situational red flags and to learn the appropriate stages of trust. Now, I know to give people a basic level of trust, but to let them earn my confidence before giving them too much.’
‘My greatest weakness is being too critical of myself. Although this has helped me always improve, sometimes my criticism brings me down instead of pushing me to be better. To help me think better about myself, I now end each day by reflecting on three things that I did well. Balancing the positive self-talk with the negative has helped me maintain a balanced level of confidence.’
‘My greatest weakness is that I am an introvert. I used to not be aware of this personality trait and would wonder why I would regularly feel out of energy which would cause me to be standoffish and short with others. Not that I recognize that I am an introvert, I know when it is time for me to take a break from other people. By regularly spending a few hours or a day by myself, I am now able to self-regulate my energy levels.’
‘My greatest weakness is that I am very much a lone wolf. This has been beneficial in roles that allow independence, but I always struggle when I am required to work with others. Knowing that this is an issue, I now make it a point to collaborate with other people, even if it doesn’t come easily. Working with other people is something I am actively working on through practice. For example, I recently volunteered to join my company’s event planning team.’
‘One of my greatest weaknesses is my competitiveness. This has cause disagreements in previous positions where the goal is to work for the benefit of the larger team. Recognizing my competitiveness, I have now moved into sales roles where I can use my competitiveness as a strength. I now love being around others that also enjoy some friendly competition.’
‘My biggest weakness is that I tend to be disorganized, both physically and mentally. A few years ago, my desk had stacks of random papers in every drawer and I would float from one task to the other without being productive. To improve on this weakness, I asked one of the most organized people in my office if they would work with me on a weekly basis to teach me some organizational tricks. I now use to do lists, computer folders, files, and a calendar and am more organized than ever.’
Being A Perfectionist
‘My greatest weakness is being a perfectionist. Triple-checking my work or reading over emails multiple times before sending has cause me to be inefficient with my time. Although being a perfectionist has been a strength in many situations, I have learned to constantly evaluate when thoroughness is needed versus when it is just slowing down my work.’
Working Too Hard
‘My weakness is that I work too hard. In the past, I have put in 60 to 80 hour weeks, leaving me little time for self-care or for my family. Although it has been hard, I have learned to set a hard time for me to leave work every day and to hold myself accountable to leave, even if I have more work to complete.’
Caring Too Much About Work
‘My greatest weakness is that I care too much about work. I am very career-driven and sometimes I worry constantly about the outcome of a project or making sure that my coworkers like me. To help me worry less, I have made it a rule for myself to not think about work after I get home. I have also started doing things like meditation and yoga to help me disconnect.’
Landing An Interview
Before answering the ‘What is your greatest weakness?’ interview question, the first step is to actually land an interview. To do this, you need to make sure your resume and cover letter are up-to-date.
If you’re creating a resume from scratch, or if updating an old resume, try these free and easy-to-use resume builder templates. The ‘blue skies’ and ‘blue tabs’ templates are sure to impress!
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