The ‘what is your greatest weakness?’ question is one we all dread – right up there with ‘so tell me about yourself.’ Frankly “what is your greatest weakness” is a pretty pointless question as it rarely gets an honest response, but nevertheless, it’s a question you are very likely to be asked.
So what do you say? Obviously you don’t want to say anything that hurts your chances of getting the job, but you have to answer.
Faced with this dilemma, many job seekers make the mistake of trying to spin a positive as a negative. They’ll say things like “I guess sometimes I care too much about doing a great job” or “I definitely work too hard.”
Interviewers are ready for these answers, and see them as dishonest (which of course they are). But don’t despair – there is a way to answer that is both honest and effective. Here’s my two-step approach to the weaknesses question
1. Select a weakness that you know isn’t important for this particular job.
Let’s say you are going for a job as a marketing manager. If you say that web analytics is a weakness, you may be mentioning something that the interviewer thinks is very important. Instead choose something that you know won’t be part of your job responsibilities. For example, “I find it quite challenging to speak in front of a big group of people” or “My Excel skills aren’t as strong as I’d like.”
Of course, this mean you’ll need to prepare for this question by reading the job description or job posting through carefully so that you understand what’s important for the role.
2. Immediately follow-up with an example of how you’re working to address this weakness (or how you would like to).
For example, if you actually have done some work to improve, you could say something like: ‘In my last job, I started making presentations to internal groups in order to get better and I definitely feel I improved.’ Or ‘I bought a self-study book on Excel and I’ve been working through it in my spare time. I’ve learned a lot but still have more to go.”
If you haven’t done anything to address the weakness, don’t lie. Instead just say “this is an area I’d like to improve upon and I’d be interested in any opportunities to make presentations so I could build my confidence.” Or “If Excel is important in this role, I’d be more than happy to spend the next few weeks studying from a self-help book. I’m a quick learner.”
This two-step approach really works
By answering in this way, you’ve told potential employers that you have humility and self-awareness along with a willingness to learn and grow. That’s really all the ‘what is your greatest weakness’ question is designed to uncover.