Interview Prep: What is Your Greatest Weakness?

Congratulations! You updated your resume, applied for a job, and received a call for an interview.

If you’re like me and immediately break into a nervous sweat at the thought of an inquisition a professional job interview, you will definitely want to practice a few questions beforehand. Also, don’t wear silk. I made that mistake once and there were actual sweat streaks running down the creases in the delicate fabric. I did the entire interview with my arms crossed across my chest in an effort to hide the streaks, and probably came off a bit, shall we say, standoffish? Anyway – no silk for me.

While interviews vary in format, length, and location, the content of an interview is usually fairly predictable. You should expect at least the following questions (or similar) to be asked of you:

    • Why do you want this job?
    • Why are you leaving your present job?
    • What is your greatest strength?  
    • What is your greatest weakness?

The last question is bolded, not to make it more intimidating than it already is, but because it is one of the most challenging yet persistent interview topics. I can think of only 1 interview in which I was not asked a version of this question. How do you handle this? Obviously now is not the time to start listing off all of your faults – I don’t use my turn signal. I procrastinate checking my voicemail. I spill crumbs on my keyboard – even though that is exactly what is being asked of you, which is why no one likes this question.

Okay, so we are clear that you are not going to spill all your nasty little secrets to a prospective boss. I also take issue with the strategy of Turn Strength into a Weakness – I am a perfectionist. I work too hard. I am so focused that I forget to say hi to my co-workers in the morning. Yeah, great. You’re also sounding a bit phony right now.  

I suggest you shift the question just a little bit and talk honestly about a weakness which resulted in a specific challenge you faced. Explain how you addressed the challenge and learned from the experience.  For example:

Q: What is your greatest weakness?

A: Attention to detail. The nature of my work requires a lot of written communication to clients and I spend a great deal of time writing multiple documents – whether emails, reports, master plans – simultaneously to multiple users. This can and does get confusing for me, and I have made mistakes before such as sending the wrong document to the wrong user or missing a glaring typo. To ensure I catch these errors, I set up a system of checks and balances before shipping off a written product. For example, I have a checklist with editing steps listed (including spellcheck, proofread line by line, and co-worker proofread) which I physically check off every time a major document is sent for print. Or, when sending a mass email, I send the final version to only my email first, because I find the finality of this option helps me catch mistakes I missed while in “drafting” mode.

Responding this way does a couple of things:

  1. The interviewee knows that you are sincere, self-aware, and confident in your ability to improve because you just answered that question so honestly.
  2. You actually provided the answer to TWO questions because you not only provided a weakness but also spoke about a specific challenge and your solution to that challenge. Bonus points.
  3. You demonstrated your ability to own a mistake, reflect on the problem, and provide a solution. Everyone has a weakness or 2, or 1,367. Not everyone is willing to admit their weakness and proactively address it.   

Now go put on your best non-silk outfit and rock that interview.

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