“What is your greatest weakness?”
This is arguably the trickiest interview question that can be asked in a job interview. It is tricky because it seems like the interviewer is asking you to be honest about your flaws and in the same vein, if you mention a flaw that they feel they can handle, it jeopardises your chances of landing the job.
Before going to how to and how not to answer this question, why exactly do interviewers ask this question?
The tough answer is that they are trying to shake you up a little. The truth is that even if you have prepared to answer this question, the best of us will still prefer not to be asked this question. And really, nobody can blame you; you want to be interviewed to put your best foot forward and not your worst foot.
However, interviewers want to see beneath the prim and proper appearance you have definitely prepared for the interview. They want to know the human beneath because at the end of it all, no matter how skilful or talented you are; they will have to deal with the human. You will be working with people and in working with people, your flaws are bound to come out, whether you like it or not.
So, basically, it can be said that they are simply trying to prepare themselves for it.
But more importantly, the interviewer wants to know that you are self-aware; that you know yourself; good bad and ugly. Being self-aware is the first step to self-improvement.
You might say why bother when they won’t even get the 100% honest answer? The truth is that they know you will not tell them if you are troublesome or a rumour monger. However, the way you answer the question will also give them a glimpse into who you are.
Many candidates, unfortunately, trip over this question or take the wrong approach to answer it.
What are the wrong approaches to take in answering this question?
- Taking a positive approach: You might be tempted to want to take the clichéd “I am a perfectionist” route. But interviewers have heard this so many times and therefore, will likely not fall for it. It gives off the impression that you are not self-aware or you are lying. So, as clever as it is, taking this route will probably be counterproductive.
- Saying you don't have a weakness: The fact that this is a very wrong approach cannot be overemphasised; it definitely makes you come off as phoney because really, who doesn’t have a weakness?
- Not having an answer: This just shows unpreparedness. If you have no answer to provide, it just communicates that you are not prepared or not quick on your feet; either way, it is not a good look.
- Mention the wrong weakness: While the interviewer expects honesty, the last thing you want to do is over-share or over-confess. You shouldn’t mention a weakness that will affect your efficiency on the job; it will definitely ruin your chances of getting the job. For instance, no interviewer will employ you if you confess to being lazy or tardy.
Having said that, what are the right ways to answer the question?
The Right Way to Answer The Interview Question: What is Your Great Weakness:
- Be honest: Honesty will always go along way; it might seem like the idea is to be dishonest but you are likely to buy the interviewer over to your side if they can see sincerity. Don't go making up a weakness that you don't have because it sounds good. It is important that you make a list of actual weaknesses that you have before you go for the interview because while some recruiters will be comfortable with you mentioning one, some might pluralise their question or prompt you to mention more.
- Mention a weakness that has nothing to do with the job: While honesty is important, you will be a making a mistake if you mention a weakness that will affect your job. After you have made a list of all your weaknesses (you definitely have more than one), stick to the ones on your list that will not impact your job. If you are not very sure, check the vacancy details for job description and requirements, so you know what and what not to mention. For instance, you cannot be applying for a technical position and say you have issues with numbers or be applying for a nursing position and say you don't like people around. There are certain weaknesses that will obviously affect the job and shouldn’t be mentioned.
- Mention how you are working on it: The interviewer wants to know that you are self-aware but they also want to know that you are improving. So, make sure that you conclude on a positive note, describing the steps you are taking to improve on yourself. You could mention taking a class, joining a group, reading certain books or just going the extra mile by challenging yourself.
Next time when you are in a job interview and you are asked this tricky interview questions, remember the tips I shared in this article on how to answer the question "What is your greatest weakness". Another popular interview question you should be aware of is the interview question, tell me about yourself. You can learn how to answer the tell me about yourself interview question here
Now over to you, what tricky interview questions have you been asked during a job interview and how did you answer it?