“What is your biggest weakness?” is a common interview question, and how you talk about weakness in an interview can make or break your performance. This article will examine three common mistakes job candidates make when answering this question, explain what interviewers are looking for, and give a step-by-step guide to preparing an answer to the “Weakness” question that will help you get the job.
Are you making these mistakes? Examining what not to say is a great way to understand what interviewers are looking for when they ask this question. Let’s look at three common answers that won’t get you the job:
1. The Supreme Confidence answer: “I have no weaknesses”
Why this answer seems like a good idea: The Supreme Confidence answer is sometimes used by military personnel who are transitioning to civilian jobs. Some feel comfortable with this answer because it aligns with their training to “show no weakness”. The Supreme Confidence answer might also be used by someone who has previously been given the feedback that they need to “show more confidence”. This answer might seem like a good way to achieve that.
The problem with this answer: The problem with the Supreme Confidence answer is that when you refuse to admit to any weakness, you are also implying that you are not open to the kind of critical self-assessment that leads to development and growth. How well will you take feedback from a supervisor? If you say that you believe that nothing about your performance needs improving, the interviewer may assume that you will not actively seek ways to get better and develop.
Why this answer hurts your job prospects: The result is that The Supreme Confidence answer is a big red flag to an interviewer. It says “I believe I have nothing to improve, and I am not interested in pursing development and growth”. It also says, “If I am given constructive feedback, I am likely to get defensive rather than take action to improve” and “If a mistake is made, I will accept no blame because I admit no weakness.”
2. The Honest-But-Fatal Flaw answer: “My biggest weakness is (something the job requires to be a strength)
Why this answer seems like a good idea: It’s honest. It may seem like a good idea to admit that you don’t actually have the experience, knowledge, skill, ability or attitude required for the position.
The problem with this answer: It’s fatal to your candidacy. If you are applying for a Sales position and you say your communication skills are your biggest weakness, you do not have the skills required for that position. An Executive Assistant handles scheduling and organization – if you admit that you struggle with time management, that is a definite deal-breaker.
Why this answer hurts your job prospects: If your “weakness” is something that the job requires, you may score honesty points, but you won’t get the job.
3. The Spin answer: “My biggest weakness is a positive trait (i.e. I am too perfectionist/too hard-working/over-think things/take on too much/don’t like to delegate, etc.)”
Why this answer seems like a good idea: This answer takes what is usually considered a good trait or ability, and presents it as a weakness. At first glance, this answer seems like a win, because it doesn’t actually admit anything negative, and highlights a strength.
The problem with this answer: There are three big reasons why this too-common answer is a loser:
The first problem is that the Spin answer, like the Supreme Confidence answer, refuses to admit an actual weakness. Presenting a trait that most would consider a strength as your only weakness shows an unwillingness to conduct the honest self-assessment that employers are looking for. Like the Supreme Confidence answer, the Spin answer implies that you will not welcome feedback from a supervisor, accept blame for a mistake, or pursue growth and development.
Another reason to avoid the Spin answer is that it lands as completely inauthentic. Do you really believe that your biggest weakness is your inability to delegate? Interviewers see right through this “my weakness is I can’t trust anyone else to be as great as me” answer. Trying to dupe them into believing that a strength is actually a weakness will not score you any likability points. Your biggest weakness is that you are “too hard-working”? It’s insulting to the interviewer that you would expect them to believe that.
Finally, if the interviewer takes you at your word that your answer is truly a weakness, it could be a very serious and potentially fatal issue for your candidacy. For example, if the interviewer takes at face value that “delegating” is a serious and authentic problem for you, you are indicating that you cannot work effectively as a leader. Is “overthinking things” really an obstacle to success for you in the workplace? “Overthinking” – or making careful decisions and being detail-oriented – would be considered problematic if it is so extreme that it is causing you to miss deadlines, frustrating your team or causing you to be unable to make a decision. Is that what you want to imply?
Why this answer hurts your job prospects: The Spin answer is the most damaging answer you can give. It is inauthentic, unlikable and implies either an unwillingness to improve, or a potentially serious issue.
What are interviewers looking for? Let’s keep in mind a few things that interviewers look for in an answer to this question:
- An willingness for honest self-assessment.
- An eagerness for feedback that leads to development and growth.
- A track record of taking action when an area for improvement is identified.
You want your answer to “What is your weakness” to demonstrate these three qualities.
So what should I say? Here are two approaches to crafting a winning answer to “What is your biggest weakness?”
1. Tell them an area you have been working on improving. An impressive answer will be one that admits a honest – but not fatal – area for improvement, and specifies the ways in which the candidate has already begun to try to improve. A great answer would indicate that the candidate has identified an area for improvement, has taken a few concrete steps towards improvement, has already achieved some measurable improvement, and – importantly – is still working on achieving their goal.
- Admit an honest (but not fatal for the position) area for improvement
- Tell them the steps you have already taken to improve in the area
- Tell them the measurable progress you have already made
- Tell them what you are currently doing to ensure that you continue to make progress towards your goal
Example answer: “I’ve been working on improving my presentational skills. Last summer, I took a public speaking course, and I’ve read a number of books about giving effective presentations. Last month, I volunteered to present a proposal to our management team, and afterwards I asked my supervisor for feedback. Because of everything I’ve been doing, I feel much less nervous when I’m presenting in front of big groups, and I’m more confident in my ability to give an engaging presentation. But I am not where I want to be yet so this is something I will keep working on”
2. Address a flaw. Your “What is your weakness?” answer is an opportunity to get out in front of a weak aspect of your candidacy. If you know that you don’t have exactly what they are looking for, craft an answer that makes the case for why they should hire you despite what appears to be your non-competitive edge. Admit the “weakness” that they can clearly see on your resume, and tell them why you are the right person for the job anyway.
- Admit the missing experience, lack of knowledge or apparent flaw.
- Tell them three reasons why they do not need to be concerned and why you are still a top candidate.
“Example answer: One thing that might seem to be a weakness for this position is that I don’t have experience with the software your company uses. I do, however, have experience with three very similar kinds of software, and I was a trainer on the team for one of them. I am very computer-savvy and I adapt to new software easily. I have no doubt that, if hired, I can be fluent in the necessary software before my first day.”
Example answer: “One thing that I realize may be of concern is that there is a large recent gap in my resume. I took this past year off to care for an elderly parent. During that time I was committed to keeping my skills honed and staying current with developments in the field. I completed an online course to continue to build my skills, I wrote 4 research articles that were published on industry websites, and I met every month with a mentor in my field to ensure that I was staying current with industry trends. I am eager to get back to work and I am ready to hit the ground running on day one.”
Take time to think through your answer to the “What is your weakness?” question, and stay away from giving answers that will hurt your prospects. Prepare an answer that demonstrates that you are the kind of employee who is always looking to improve, who takes concrete action steps to develop and grow. Address concerns that you know your interviewers will have about your candidacy. With thought and preparation, how you discuss weakness in an interview can be your biggest strength.
Need interview preparation help? For more information about how to effectively prepare for that big interview, check out more of my free tips: Impressive Interviewing Tips