What If You Are Asked: What Is Your Greatest Weakness?

Elizabeth Enck

What If You Are Asked: What Is Your Greatest Weakness?

Although it is impossible to predict exactly which questions you will be asked in an interview, there are a number of commonly asked questions. Out of these possible questions there are a few that most people dread having to answer. One of these questions that often brings panic and dread is “What is your greatest weakness?”.

It can be hard to think about how to answer this question in a way that won’t affect you getting the job. Here is some advice to help you prepare an answer for a hard to answer question.

The “What Is Your Greatest Weakness” Question

The first thing to keep in mind is why an employer would ask this question. Employers are not asking you this question to make you squirm or to make you reveal your deepest darkest secrets. The truth is, employers want to hire someone who is self-aware.

Part of being self-aware is being able to identify your own strengths and weaknesses so it is likely you would be asked to talk about both in relation to the job. If someone says they have no weaknesses in an interview then the interviewer is going to think they are:

  • a) unaware that they have any weaknesses or
  • b) even more likely – lying.

Everyone has an area they can work on. Employers want to see how you overcome these challenges.

Be honest but…

You always want to be honest when answering interview questions. Just because someone wants to know about your weaknesses, it does not mean they want to hear about your actual greatest life weakness. There are certain things that should remain private. You really should focus your answer to this question on something that applies to your work. While you may not be a great cook, unless you are applying for a position that involves cooking, that wouldn’t be a weakness that fits the interview.

If you are applying for a position cooking and you feel that is your weakness you should probably rethink that job!

It is important to know what area of the job is most important. You should make sure your answer to the weakness question does not involve that most important part as it could cost you the job. If you are applying for jobs where attention to detail is very important, you should never say that your weakness is that you have trouble with details. Other things you want to avoid saying for any kind of job are characteristics no one would want in an employee (I’m lazy, I don’t like authority, I’m usually late for things, etc.).

Avoid Cliches

You also want to avoid using cliches when answering this question. There are a few answers that many people use that are guaranteed to make your interviewer want to roll their eyes. An example of one of these is “I’m a perfectionist.” When someone uses that answer it appears that they do not want to provide an actual weakness so they are just saying something that doesn’t seem so bad. If this is a true weakness of yours, I always advise avoiding the word perfectionist and just describing what you mean.

That way, it comes across as actually being genuine. You may have also heard the advice that you should pick a weakness that you can turn into a positive. While I agree that you want to focus on positive things throughout your interview, if you use this strategy it can appear that you are trying to avoid answering the question. Answers such as “I put too much into my work” or “I care too much” just sound like you are saying what you want them to hear. Employers do not want to hear these kinds of answers.

Your Weakness

So how do you choose a “good” weakness? Remember, you want to always be honest. If it helps, instead of thinking of your greatest “weakness” think about what things are challenging for you. These could be things about your personality (are you an introvert who doesn’t talk much at meetings?) or about work style (have you learned strategies over time to help you stay more organized?). Again, do not choose something crucial to the job you are applying for.

Once you have thought of a weakness, the next thing you want to come up with is a description of how you are working on your weakness. Just as it is important to be able to identify areas where you could improve, it is important to be able to show what you are doing to overcome this weakness and to show the employer that it will not be something that gets in the way of your job. Another strategy is to pick something that you have overcome that is in the past.

That way, it is clear that you were able to work on that and you can show improvement. While you have to answer the question with a weakness, it is helpful to be able to then shift the focus of your answer to overcoming and working on that weakness.

Interview Prepare and Practice

While most of us keep our fingers crossed that we will be asked this question in an interview, we know there is a good chance that it will come up. By knowing this, you can prepare ahead of time. There is nothing worse than being asked this question and then having to sit and come up with an answer on the spot.

The good news is that you can think ahead of time about what your weakness is and how you are going to answer the question. You may also want to think of one or two other weaknesses because you could be asked for more than one. Just be careful not to completely script out your answer to this question or any interview questions.

You want to sound genuine and not too rehearsed or robotic. Although you will likely still dread having to answer this question in an interview, by preparing you will feel more comfortable and confident with your answer.

About The Author

Elizabeth Enck

Elizabeth Enck was a career counselor at The University Of Tennessee for 6 years. She worked with undergraduate, graduate students, and alumni with their career planning and job searching. This included providing assistance with resumes and cover letters, interviewing including conducting practice interviews, and guidance through the job search process. She has a Master's Degree in Counseling with an emphasis on career counseling.

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