‘What’s Your Biggest Weakness?’

You know it’s coming: At some point, a job interviewer will look you in the eye and ask about your biggest weakness.

The interviewer has heard them all before, of course. In a bid to keep things lively, he or she might frame the question in a different way, such as:

  • What skill do you want to improve while in this role, if you’re hired?
  • What’s your second-biggest weakness?
  • What would your previous employer say about your weaknesses?

Yes, the question—in whatever form—is a total cliché, but you’d be surprised at how many people end up caught off-guard by it. They rack their brains, trying to figure out a response that won’t reveal too big of a character flaw. They get tongue-tied, and resort to the clichéd answers:

  • I’m a perfectionist.
  • I’m too detail-oriented.
  • I’m a workaholic.
  • I’m bad at public speaking.

For every clichéd answer, there’s also the candidate who decides to go for brutal honesty, and offers something that takes them utterly out of the running for the position. Pro tip: If you’re applying for a developer job, don’t suggest to the interviewer that coding has never been your strongest suit.

So how should you answer the question? Stick to professional weaknesses that won’t deep-six your job chances. If you have basic skills in a particular language or platform, say you want to become an expert but haven’t yet had the time to learn. If you’re aiming for a managerial role, focus on how you want to improve your ability to delegate.

The interviewer really wants to know if you’re self-aware of your flaws, and if you’re doing something proactive to adjust for them. If you are, it demonstrates that you can improve and adapt to circumstances—exactly the type of person who most companies want working for them.

And whatever you do, make sure to say you have a flaw of some sort. Everybody knows that nobody’s perfect.

Comments

5 Responses to “‘What’s Your Biggest Weakness?’”

June 30, 2015 at 9:33 am, Michael said:

Best answer I can offer anyone is simply this: I see every opportunity as an opportunity to learn and to grow, no matter the circumstance, whether good, bad, indifferent.

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June 30, 2015 at 10:25 am, Fred Jones said:

For the candidate that already has a job, I recommend that he use this question as a litmus test and decide not to work for a company who would ask it.

I guess he would say: I don’t focus on my weaknesses, but would be happy to discuss my strengths and goals. If they asked again, I would recommend answering the same. If they asked again, I would ask to leave.

If the candidate is desperate then try to gauge if the interviewer is serious or looking for candidates who can dance and respond that way, but realize that you are going to work for a weak boss.

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June 30, 2015 at 11:08 am, Michael said:

Good point re: litmus tests. Whatever you choose to answer, I completely agree: the focus ought never to be on weaknesses, but rather strengths, accomplishments. And if they’re really looking for weaknesses, it is best to know who you’re working for.

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June 30, 2015 at 11:17 am, steve said:

You walk out of the interview, you are dealing with morons. This question is gamed, and the fact that its even discussed how to answer it, should disqualify it. If you are an interviewer and ask this, what value do you think you will really get from this question, that even remotely is quantifiable? Please stop wasting people’s time with this nonsense. If I am sitting in front of you to interview, that should be good enough, do you think I would waste my time if I was not serious?

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July 06, 2015 at 3:40 pm, Cara said:

I think you should counter with a strength, such as knowing when to delegate something to a more skilled person than yourself, making the task a team building effort.

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