“What is your greatest weakness,” together with an implied or follow-up question, “how did you overcome it,” is tricky to answer. The interview question seems to put you in a bind amid your bid to present yourself as a strong candidate for a new job. It’s challenging, and if you are not prepared, it can be a tragic interview.
And this is not because you lack qualifications, skills, or experience that landed you an interview in the first place; it’s just that you might fumble and say the wrong things. Mistakes made during this job interview could be the reason why you weren’t hired despite being qualified. It’s taxing to really think about it, and this is why you really have to prepare.
The best answer to the greatest weakness question has to do with a how. Find out how you can produce a powerful response to one of the most difficult interview questions.
1. Know Why Employers Ask This Question
Through interviews, employers learn more about you to assess whether you’ll fit well into the organisation. Often, the questions are solely to gauge if you are the ideal candidate for the culture they have created. These questions are based on your attitude, personality, and other things they are looking for.
So, when a hiring manager asks you to pinpoint a weakness, describe a difficult situation, or recount a failure, they want to know:
- Challenges, mistakes, or weak points that should not impede you from doing the responsibilities of the job
- Steps that you took or have taken to correct, overcome, or improve in those areas
For your reference, here are other variations of the classic interview question:
- What is your biggest weakness?
- What is your biggest weakness/strength?
- What are your strengths and weaknesses?
- Cite a mistake and what you did to make it right.
Ideally, you can paint them a picture so they can properly visualise your story. So, if you are asked to mention both your strengths and weaknesses, start with the weaknesses. Bringing that up first and then the strengths makes a strong conclusion.
2. Know Yourself and Be Honest
Truthfully, the first step to knowing your weaknesses is to acknowledge that you have them. Nobody is perfect is as cliche as it is true. Being able to recognise that you have flaws is a sign of inner strength.
If you are unsure of your not-so-great qualities or whether they are considered flaws, ask your friends and family. Think of the feedback or criticism you received from your boss and how you turned things around — that could be a great story to share with the interviewer.
3. Come Up with a Weakness List
With the data, you have gathered from your introspection and other people, especially those in the workplace, it’s time to develop a list of weaknesses.
Your shortlisted weaknesses can fall under two broad categories of skills:
- Soft skills, like shyness, being disorganised or paying too much attention to details
- Hard skills, like struggles with Math or written communication
The tricky part in all of these is selecting the “wrong” weakness, which is a skill or trait required by the job you are applying for. Imagine saying that you have poor people skills when you are being interviewed for a public relations post. Unless you can make a success story out of it and prove that it’s no longer an issue, your answer can cast doubts on your ability to do the job properly.
4. Go Back to the Job Description
To avoid putting yourself in that complicated situation above, check the job description (JD). It usually sets out the duties, requirements, and skills that a candidate must possess. Additional research, such as information from employees who hold/held similar roles, can help you understand what is expected from you.
The process of eliminating weaknesses that can be incriminating and going for one or two that are not core requirements of the job thus becomes easier.
5. Answer the Greatest Weakness Question
You’ve come to the most critical yet exciting part of this exercise. Formulating the actual answer involves organising the details in a way that it comes across as sincere and satisfactory.
Consider the following guidelines in crafting your response:
Name your greatest weakness, and explain. You can choose an area for improvement or a goal that you wish to achieve for professional growth.
Relate what you’ve been doing to address the weakness. It can be taking courses, watching video tutorials, adopting new strategies, and so on.
Reveal the actual results of the actions you’ve taken or their projected outcomes. You can also add realisations or takeaways that are positive.
Try not to use overused statements, as well as those that come off as vague. Here are examples:
- My greatest weakness is I am a perfectionist or I’m a workaholic.
- I don’t have weaknesses.
- My weakness is [a strength but veiled as a weakness].
Hiring managers have heard enough of those declarations, and unless you can employ a fresh approach or come up with a compelling narrative, it’s better to respond in your own words.
Also, tailor your answer based on the position and company. Study the job requirements per the JD, and do your research on the organisation.
Secure the Job You Want
By embracing that you are human with weaknesses, you can and will be able to handle the question better. Exposing a weak side doesn’t have to put you in a vulnerable position for as long you have come prepared per the tips above.
Your attitude also plays a role in the success of answering the question. Be honest without sounding like you are confessing. Remember, nothing can beat the truth. Maintain a professional stance when talking about a personal matter. More importantly, face the question so that you can move forward.
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