None of us are perfect, right? We’ve all got weaknesses worth working on. And there’s no shame in that! But if you’re asked in an interview, “What is your greatest weakness?” you’ll need some finesse to be honest yet impressive.
Even more difficult than answering your greatest strength, discussing your greatest weakness involves self-awareness and understanding the skills needed to excel in your desired roles. We cover how to humbly admit weakness while still positing yourself as the ideal candidate in this breakdown.
Choose a real weakness
This is such a common interview question that hiring managers have heard all the cliches before. So make sure that the weakness you highlight is actually a weakness and not just a strength in disguise.
HBR’s Joel Schwartzberg highlights common cliché examples like perfectionism or working too hard as one to avoid. Not only are these overly common responses but they’re dreadingful obviously not weaknesses. Instead, The Muse’s Aja Frost says to find ways to reframe them in a way that seems more thoughtful and is actually problematic. “Perfectionism” might instead be getting too caught up in small details. “Working too hard” could mean learning the difference between working hard and working productively.
“If you have a weakness related to the job, be open about it. Be honest about what skills, attributes, credentials, accreditations or educational background you lack, and confidently say that you are up for the challenge of learning and growing into the role.” –Jack Kelly, Forbes
Meanwhile, while a bit of levity is fine, using a silly weakness like kryptonite or carbs and leaving it at that is a good way to earn negative marks.
But not a job-defining one
While you want to choose a true weakness, make sure it isn’t one that will make the interviewer think you’re completely disqualified for the role. If public speaking is your weakness for a sales job or using computers for an IT role, you won’t look like a good fit for the role.
Career coach Madeline Mann says to find a weakness that isn’t core to the role at hand. We all have weaknesses and different styles of how we work, so it isn’t uncommon to have an area in which we struggle. Madeline uses the example of someone working better independently than as part of a team. It shows a legitimate area of weakness while actually highlighting another strength, in this case, the ability to work well autonomously.
“If you’re an accountant, you don’t want to talk about being bad at analysing data. But if you’re applying for a copywriter position, not being mathematically gifted is ok.” –Blake Oliver Consulting
Show how you’ve overcome that weakness
You’ve highlighted a real weakness in your toolbelt, which is a great way to sound thoughtful and self-aware. But don’t leave it at just providing that weakness. Make sure your answer shows the way you’re working to overcome that weakness and provide any tangible examples you can.
Blake Oliver Consulting writes that hiring managers are looking for signs that you’re constantly trying to improve and grow. When approaching the NFL draft, hiring managers aren’t looking for a completely finished project. They’re looking for traits to build on and a willingness to become more than that player is now. Good hiring managers think the same way.
Mondo says to mention the specific ways you’ve been working on this weakness. Things like working with a coach, taking a class, or reading a book on the topic show effort on your part. Even small efforts show that you’re truly aware of your weakness and being proactive in growth.
Consider a “weakness” as a “challenge”
You can take your example even further by reframing that weakness as a challenge to be overcome. A weakness might feel permanent, like a fire-type Pokemon being weak to water. A challenge can be overcome, and that weakness can even become a strength down the road. This shows the employer the go-getter attitude they seek and that you’ll be ambitious in the role.
“This removes some of the injurious sting of “weakness” and makes shortcomings seem more fixable because a weakness implies more permanence than a challenge.” –Joel Schwartzberg, HBR
Forbes’ Jack Kelly says you can use this as an opportunity to ask about any company resources that can help in your upskilling efforts. If you’re interested in improving, you’ll get more information about the company and subtly show that you intend to be with that organization for a while.
If done correctly, you can use this common interview question to show self-awareness and a willingness to improve while still positioning yourself as the answer to that organization’s potential problems. A savvy answer will have interviewers focusing on your skills and resilience rather than your kryptonite!