Sometimes the interview chair really feels like a hot seat. Especially when the interviewer hits you with the “What would you say is your greatest weakness” question. Gulp.
You don’t want to scare the interviewer off by sharing something too extreme, but a “safe” answer doesn’t exactly help you stand out.
Fortunately, when discussed with tact, your greatest weakness can actually be flipped into a strength— without seeming fake or forced.
An employer poses this question to get a glimpse of your character, looking for cues in your answer to see how you handle challenges. Follow this three step process, and you’ll be well on your way to landing the job.
1. Lead by Stating a Weakness, Genuinely
Don’t feel ashamed to admit that you have a weakness. We’re human, and we all have something that doesn’t come naturally.
Luckily, there’s a slim chance you will be interviewing for a role you aren’t good at. More likely, you’ll have a long list of strengths to showcase how well you complement the position— which, if presented well, should be enough to outweigh one small weakness.
Choose a weakness you’re actively working to improve upon— not one you have no intention of changing. We’re going to take this weakness in the next steps and show the interviewer how you’re overcoming it.
By sharing a real insecurity, you’ll demonstrate your ability to be vulnerable and honest. Maybe you’ll even connect authentically with the interviewer, admitting they share your struggle.
Some interviewees dread this question so much, they try to avoid it. But by not answering the question, or choosing a response that’s obviously an attempt to impress the interviewer, you risk coming off as conceited. Deflecting or picking an overused, disingenuous weakness— like “perfectionism”— demonstrates your inability to own your struggles, even worse, ignorance.
2. Share Something you Did to Work on the Weakness
After you state your weakness, it’s time to paint a story. The idea is that you look back to an instance where you looked weakness in the eye and faced it headstrong.
Start by outlining a situation. For example, a writer who spends extra time than average might say:
“Over preparing has been something I’ve struggled with my whole life. I stress over including every detail I can, taking extra time to research the subject and deliver a piece I’m really proud of. Billing my clients by hour is difficult for me, as I always spend longer than I estimate planning before I even start writing, and go over my time restrictions.
My last boss said, ‘you can’t keep going over the time the client paid for: if we billed them for 8 hours of blogging and you took 12, that’s not profitable.’ I told him that 2 hours isn’t a lot of time per article. I had to research, outline, write and finalize within that time frame, and it was unrealistic.”
Now that you’ve plotted the story’s exposition and rising action (remember the plot diagram for English class?), add the climax and show how you problem-solved.
“Still, he pushed back. ‘Other writers could do it in this time,’ he said, ‘why can’t you?’ I really prided myself on my attention to detail and owning my expertise, but I had to face a hard truth: I couldn’t keep eating hours like this. So, I decided to outline a time table, giving myself 30 minutes to research, an hour to write and 30 minutes to review and edit my work. It’s not always a science, but setting a time frame forced me to be conscious of every second I spent learning about the subject and be more mindful of the time I had remaining to actually write. The intervals for each stage still vary now and again, but it’s made me more conscious of the time I spent in each stage of the process. This awareness has given me more flexibility and control of my time and makes me a more efficient writer.”
This ability to recognize a problem and take actionable steps to make improvements shows that you’re resilient, capable of progress and helps the interviewer see if you are a good culture fit. Stubborn interviewees attribute a weakness as a personality trait that can’t be changed. Self-aware interviewees see a weakness as an opportunity for growth.
3. Demonstrate How you Were Acknowledged for your Impact
Lastly, prove what you say is true to build trust. Even if it’s just stating that your boss complimented you a month later on your improvement— defend your claim. Social proof is strong support, but you could also come prepared with data to support the impact of the change.
Don’t be afraid to end on an instance where this “weakness” was actually a good thing— as a cherry on top:
“It’s funny because my over preparedness is one thing that makes me a strong actress and what helped me land my second degree in Theatre Arts— rehearsing, studying lines and deeply understanding my characters. In a lot of ways, it’s been the driving force behind some of my greatest work.”
Let your Personality Shine
The dreaded “greatest weakness” question is definitely a tough conversation to have for those ill prepared. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of scary interview questions— like “what’s your preferred salary?”— that can be intimidating.
But they don’t all have to be! When answered strategically, these questions can be an excellent way to showcase your unique personality and stand out from others.
Don’t you wish there were job boards out there that helped match candidates with the right employers, based on personality? Here at GoGig, we do.
Set up your free GoGig profile and we will help match you with the perfect company so that you can put your interview skills to the test! Sign up, today.