Career Recruitment — 22 November 2012
Interview tip: What is your biggest weakness?

“What is your biggest weakness?”

This is a question you are probably not looking forward to answering. I know this because it is the one question that people ask my advice on the most.

Firstly I would advise not to listen the hundreds of career articles, which tell you to pick a weakness that is also strength. Who really has a weakness that makes them even better? Really? No one is perfect and the person interviewing you will probably see straight through this — I do.

The interviewer would have most likely been the job seeker many times before. They have been asked this question and trust me, they have read the same textbook answers as you and I.

As usual, my advice is to be open and honest. Pick something that you genuinely struggle with, but put your main focus on the way you deliver this to the interviewer.

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Follow these steps to ensure you don’t come across as a ‘fibber’ and you continue to build even more trust and rapport with your interviewer.

1) Start your answer with…

In the past I have struggled slightly with…

By saying this you are positioning this weakness as being in the past from the start. The interviewer now thinks this is something you are already dealing with. You are also saying you struggled ‘slightly’ with. Slightly means this is not a big deal. You are not empowering this weakness when you use language like this.

2) Talk about a strength.

If your weakness is that you feel uncomfortable talking to large groups of people, you may say: ’however, I am really strong at building rapport one on one and with smaller groups’.

Every negative needs to be counteracted with a positive.

3) Tell them what you are doing about it.

The most important thing here is to give a number of practical examples. Maybe you took a course; maybe you spent time with peers who are great at public speaking. Make the interviewer believe that you have given this a lot of thought and focus. Try to use as much ‘past tense’ language as possible, again to reaffirm in the mind of the interviewer that you are dealing with this.

4) Give them a happy story

The best way for me to believe that your weakness is not going to be an issue is if you show me it isn’t going to be an issue. Tell them about a recent time when you overcame your weakness and what the successful outcome was (and felt like!).

You don’t have to be the finished article and you can tell them that you are still ‘dealing with it’, but it would be best to put their mind at ease.

Sticking with the public speaking theme you could say…’recently I had to travel to another office to deliver a message to a large department. I took the advice from the course I attended and I felt confident this time. The messages came across clearly and management said they were really pleased with me. I’m definitely getting there, but I’m still working on it’.

So, follow those steps and try not to sound apologetic in your tone. If you deliver this answer with confidence and sincerity (and don’t say anything too crazy) a good interviewer will credit you for it.

Good luck!

More reading:

Interview tip: “Tell me about your biggest achievement?”
An insightful interview question to put on your radar
Job seekers: 5 interview tips that can lead to a big result
Job seekers: Want the right role? Then ask the right questions
Let’s talk salary (no, let’s not)
Interviewing tips – Part 1: Before the interview
Interview tips – Part 2: The interview
Tips for Talent: Getting the most out of your first interview with a recruiter

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(12) Readers Comments

  1. For what it’s worth, I always refuse to answer that question. You’ve got to rebuff it carefully, so you don’t offend anyone. But this is my take on it…

    Weaknesses are relative. Being able to work under your own initiative vs great team player, for example. Someone who is brilliant at working in a self-contained way might actually be bad for a team that is used to collaborative working. No matter how good that person is at performing the fundamentals of their role, hiring them could be a very big mistake.

    (There are other examples and analogies I use, but I think you get the point.)

    I also say something like, when you ask that question you must know you’ll never get an honest answer. The candidate will always try to think of a weakness they can admit to that won’t put you off them. So, what’s the point of asking?

    If you only ask to see how people cope when asked an unpleasant but staged question, how am I doing?

    But if someone pushes me for an answer, I will usually say pizza…. I have a real weakness for pizza.

    And interviewers who don’t trade in cliches. I have a weakness for them too.

    • I personally don’t ask this question at interview. An interviewer can get the answer to this question by asking other things, in other ways.

      All recruiters/hiring managers are different and many love this question, so it is always going to be asked by some at interview.

      My opinion of the question isn’t going to help anyone get a job, so I’m going to help people answer it instead.

      I also have a weakness for pizza.

  2. I personally don’t ask this question at interview. An interviewer can get the answer to this question by asking other things, in other ways.

    All recruiters/hiring managers are different and many love this question, so it is always going to be asked by some at interview.

    My opinion of the question isn’t going to help anyone get a job, so I’m going to help people answer it instead.

    I also have a weakness for pizza.

  3. Respond

    “Nothing that will impact how I will do this job for you…next question”

  4. Kryptonite

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  7. Last time I was asked this, my answer was “My triceps. Seriously, it’s like they’re painted on.” I got offered the job so upper body strength, clearly not a KPI for that role.

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  10. Hi Aimme

    Frankly saying i usually avoid answering this question but every time i’ve been asked this question in an interview. Since past many days i’ve searching on internet to get a good post on how to deal with this question, believe me your post make sense. Hope next time i’ll be able to answer this question gracefully.

    Regards
    Tauseef Alam

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