Tag Archives: What Is Your Greatest Weakness

It’s official; “What is your greatest weakness?” is the most difficult question among 4

It’s almost inconceivable that “What is your greatest weakness?” is a question still asked in interviews, but many job seekers I’ve asked say they’re getting the weakness question in one form or another, which means that hiring authorities see some value in it. Mind boggling.

Branding Pro Kevin Turner has interviewed thousands of people during his career in marketing and sales, and he shares the same thought:

“Its uncomfortable to answer because who really wants to admit that they have a real weakness. I hope someday this question goes away but I don’t think it will anytime soon. So we have to be ready to ask it and digest the answers.

I polled LinkedIn members, of which 11,079 have voted at this writing, asking which four questions they think is most difficult. “What is your greatest weakness?” was one of them, and it received the highest number of votes. Here’s the result of the numbers each question has received:

  • What is your greatest weakness? 4,005
  • Tell me about yourself. 2,442
  • Why should we hire you. 2,508
  • Tell us about a time you made a mistake. 2,124

What is your greatest weakness?

Executive Resume Writer Laura Smith-Proulx further bemoans the “weakness question.” As a former recruiter, she writes:

Asking about a candidate’s weakness has always struck me as useless. After all, they’re interviewing to tell you why they’re the RIGHT person for the job and now you’re asking a question to seemingly stop the flow of positive information. (I never asked this of a candidate!) It also forces the job seeker to come up with a positive spin on the question.

Agreed 100%. And what candidate in their right mind would disclose their greatest weakness? Going into the interview they should have determined which weakness is relevant but not too relevant. In other words, it won’t kill their chances of getting the job.

On the other hand, a valid reason for asking this question is to see how candidates react. Will they answer the question calmly, or will they slide under the table? Self-awareness is one key element of emotional intelligence. A candidate who answers honestly will earn points from interviewers.

Tell me about yourself

This question (really a directive) came in as the third most difficult question according to the poll. The problem with this question is how candidates should answer it. Should they talk about their high school years, or how their kids are doing, or list off a ton of platitudes of themselves? No to all.

Recruiter and Job-Search Ally Ed Han finds this question troubling:

As a recruiter and job seeker ally, it often seems to me that while most people say they hate greatest weakness, in actual practice I find “tell me about yourself” generates by far the worst responses.

“Tell me about yourself” is often the trigger for a five-ten minute soliloquy. The interviewer doesn’t want your life story: they want to know your unique value proposition, why are you highly qualified for the position, or at least well positioned to perform the job at a high level.

The directive, “Tell me about yourself” has its merits because it requires the candidate to have their elevator pitch prepared. As well, they need to tailor it to the position’s requirements. Executive Career Coach Sarah Johnston concurs:

The most common question that I see job seekers struggle with is “tell me about yourself” because it can feel very open ended. The trick here though is to selectively tell them a 90-second version of your story as it relates to the pain points of the opportunity.

Ninety seconds is all it should take to tell employers about yourself. Any longer you’ll run the risk of boring the interviewers. I know my capacity for maintaining attention to an interview question is about a minute. As Ed says, don’t deliver a soliloquy.

Why should we hire you?

The question “Why should we hire you?” is a little better in terms of questions. But like the weakness question, it’s a bit of a cliche and one that candidates can formulate their answers going into the interview. Like the tell-me-about-yourself question, there’s a formula. One that Hannah Morgan spells out:

These are all questions job seekers struggle with and for different reasons. But I chose “why should we hire you” because while this seems pretty obvious, job seekers have difficulty connecting the dots in their answer.

You are looking for X and this is what I’ve done and the results
You are looking for Y and this is how I’ve done that and outcomes
Most importantly, based on these things I’ve learned in the interview, this is why I would like to work here.
Not exactly those words, but the idea!

This is all find and good if you know about the company, but what if you haven’t prepared for the interview, you haven’t researched the position and company. Recruiter Raegan Hill writes:

The reason is, this question often asked during the beginning phase of an interview – when the professional still needs more information about the role and company before they are able to thoughtfully and intentionally answer the question in the context in which it is asked.

This sounds like a trap to me. Shame on candidates who don’t know the position and company by heart.

Tell me about a time when you made a mistake

To me, the directive, “Tell me about a time when you made a mistake” is the most challenging of the four questions, as it requires candidates to tell a story and tests their sell-awareness…to a point. Based on the poll, the voters don’t agree.

In my experience, candidates tend to swallow the honest pill when asked about a failure. Why’s this? It might have something to do with be unprepared; they go into an interview thinking that interviewers won’t ask them about times they failed. Good interviewers will.

I chose this question as the most difficult one. Here’s why. Behavioral-based questions throw people for a loop. They’re not familiar with telling a story using the S.T.A.R (situation, task, actions, result) formula. Rather, candidates are used to traditional questions, such as the other three in the poll.

What interviewers hear, even from the higher-level job seekers, are speculative answers and not specifics. This is because candidates haven’t prepared for behavioral-based questions. They haven’t dissected the job ad to determine which are the most important requirements of the position.

Go to the poll to read some other great comments.

4 Experts weigh in on the daunting, “What is Your Greatest Weakness?” question

Job candidates, does the, “What is your greatest weakness?” interview question give you pause? Are you strapped with fear, afraid you’ll answer this question incorrectly? Do you try to avoid answering it with a cute answer like, “Chocolate”? Is there a right answer?

The girl is stressing on interview

I’ve often told my clients that they shouldn’t worry about this question. That the answer is in their pocket; they should know what to say before getting to the interview. No big deal. I tell them interviewers want self-awareness, but to not reveal a weakness that will kill their chances.

Further, interviewers want to know how they’re correcting their weakness. This is important. To simply state a weakness and not say they’re doing something about it, is to shoot themselves in the foot.

I asked four career development pundits their take on this daunting question, and how they feel it should be answered. These are people who are recruiters or have been recruiters in the past, so they’re the real deal.

Jamie Fischer, CPRW

jamie

The “what’s your greatest weakness?” question, is an important one. I ask this question often, but not to hear cookie cutter answers, or to learn how someone turns a weakness into a strength, because those two response types tell me very little about a person.

I ask this question to see if this person has actively listened to me after I explained details about a specific position and our company, and mostly to see if they are self-aware.

Here’s an example. If I tell a candidate that our plant is largely multi-lingual and they were actively listening, they could use the fact that they may not be multi-lingual as a “weakness.”

An answer to my question could look like this:

“I heard you when you said the majority of the plant is multi-lingual. A weakness in that case is that I am not multi-lingual.

“However, to address your concerns in that regard, I have worked in multi-lingual environments and have been able to relate effectively to my coworkers even without this component.”

When we ask this question, we are hoping candidates will address a concern that we might have regarding job fit. When a candidate does this, the simple act of having listened and showcasing awareness of relevant skills or lack thereof, will help us feel better about that person’s fit.

Who wouldn’t want to work with an active listener who is self-aware? It’s a rarity – maybe one of every twenty-five people I talk to possesses these qualities.

The worst way a candidate can answer this question, in my opinion, is to tell me they do not possess any weaknesses. Unfortunately, this answer is very common. When asked this question, just remember– having a weakness is normal. Being a great listener who knows oneself and can communicate that effectively – that’s the true test.

Brett Lampe

brett

I don’t like this question at all! Instead of asking what someone’s greatest weakness is, I like to focus on what areas of their professional life they’re working to improve currently. I want learn how someone is evolving as a professional and the steps they’re taking to grow.

For example, if I want to know what measures candidates are taking to improve their writing skills, I’ll ask them how they’re going about doing this?

For me the answer would be participating as a writer in articles such as this; creating original written content on LinkedIn or for other social media sites; and, of course, being extra attentive in my day to day e-mail communications with colleagues.

When I ask this question, what I’m hoping to hear is what the individual is specifically doing to improve. If you can’t tell me what you’re doing to improve, then in my mind you’re not doing anything at all!

In my experience the best candidates I’ve worked with are those that are naturally curious and continuously looking for learning opportunities to improve their skills.

So if you’re asked this question or something similar, be mindful of areas you’re making improvements (not necessarily weaknesses) and what you’re doing to make progress!

Sarah Johnston: (BriefCaseCoach.com)

sarah

First: It’s important to know why a hiring manager asks this question in the first place. They are looking for red flags, opportunities where you might need some additional help or coaching, or to test your compatibility with the team.

Talent acquisition has evolved over the last decade. Recruiters are not only responsible for candidate attraction but also assessment.

In fact, I had a boss once who told me (as a recruiter) that if I couldn’t identify at least 3 candidate red flags during an interview, that I wasn’t doing my job.

Don’t give the overused response, “I am a perfectionist and can be too detail oriented and have a hard time doing work less than 100%.” If I was the hiring manager interviewing you for a job and you gave me that response, I would ask you for another weakness.

Also, don’t share anything as a weakness that relates to how you work with others or how you get along with management.

DO: I suggest giving a “real” weakness in a straightforward way. Your weakness should also be non-essential to the job.

For example, if you are interviewing for a position as a major gifts fundraiser, don’t tell the hiring manager that you get intimidated talking to new people. That’s a big part of the job!

Instead, focus on a tool or skill you haven’t used. Using the example of the major gift officer, if you noticed in the job description that they use Boomerang donor management software but you’ve only used Raiser’s Edge then your response to the question could be:

“I noticed you’re company is using Boomerang for donor management. In this role I may have a small learning curve, as I’ve only used Raiser’s Edge. When working for XX I got proficient with Raiser’s Edge and was frequently running reports and search queries. I am optimistic with a little training I should be doing the same with Boomerang.”

Ashley Watkins: (WriteStepResumes.com)

ashley

Among tough interview questions, “What is your greatest weakness?” will never go down without a fight. This question leaves even the best interviewees grasping for straws to find the perfect response.

Tip number one, this is not a trick question. It was never designed to zone in on your shortcomings — but your interviewer’s strategy for uncovering how you acknowledge your areas for improvements and develop corrective actions.

Avoid responding with “I have no weaknesses.” The fear and shame of being judged for saying something wrong are very common, but you don’t have to walk away with your tail between your legs. Instead of claiming perfection, focus on something you’ve struggled with in the past but turned it around for added value.

For example, “Early in my career, I had trouble reaching a stopping point with a task. I would get so committed to completing an assignment that I worked for more hours than necessary to be productive.

“I recognized this behavior and began breaking tasks into digestible parts and allotting a certain amount of time to work on each piece. I still received the satisfaction in knowing I was checking items off my list. Even if I left the remaining components for the next day, my work output/quality was far better than before.”

Discussing weaknesses becomes easier with practice. Start by making a list of things you want to improve and then develop a solution to fix that problem. If your idea saves money, time, and resources, it will be the icing on the cake.


Given the reasons why interviewers ask this question and the kinds of answers they want to hear, our four experts agree on two major points: they want to hear self-awareness and they want to know how candidates are working on correcting their weakness.

If you are preparing for an interview, keep this in mind. Interviewers aren’t out to hurt your chances of getting the position. On the contrary, they want to see you succeed. As Ashley Watkins writes, “Tip number one, this is not a trick question. It was never designed to zone in on your shortcomings.” I know you can trust her on this.

Photo: Flickr, eva sharma