Interview Questions: how to answer "What is your greatest weakness?"

By: Steve Oldroyd

Interviews are meant to be the moment where you get to shine and tell your interviewers why you are their ideal candidate. But interviewers have a way of pulling the rug out from under your feet, throwing in questions that seem designed to make you squirm – unless you’re prepared of course.

So what do you do when you’re faced with discussing your greatest weakness? This type of question goes against any candidate’s natural instinct to keep issues and problems as hidden as possible, but it is quite possible to give an answer that will put you in a positive light. Being confident and unafraid to answer is key, but planning and preparation is essential.

Always ensure there is a ‘but’ in your answer

By all means admit to having had a particular problem in the past – we’re all human and no one is perfect, so you should be honest in your self-assessment. However, don’t just answer with a statement of fact or opinion. Qualify your answer by demonstrating how you tackled that particular weakness, perhaps by going on a training course to learn new skills or adapting your working procedures – make sure you reinforce the message that the weakness no longer exists or is being dealt with.

Discuss a weakness that could also be a strength

There are certain qualities that can go either way in a business environment. Having the ability to pay attention to every last detail could potentially mean you can lose sight of the bigger picture. Being a good team player could mean that taking on a leadership role is a challenge. The important thing with this approach to the question is that you have to show how you counteract the negative aspect of a particular quality whilst also promoting the positive side of that quality. So the need to analyse every detail can therefore mean that you won’t let anything go wrong in achieving a particular goal. Your preference to work as a team has enabled you to be a more compassionate leader when required, with an ability to motivate everyone.

Focus on non-essential skills

By looking carefully at the job specification and identifying the key skills and strengths required, you can then look for examples of weaknesses within your own skill set that won’t compromise your suitability for the position. But make sure that you provide a specific example, talking generically is likely to raise doubts in the minds of your interviewers.

However you choose to answer ‘what is your greatest weakness?’ remember that a weakness doesn’t have to mean you are a failure. Recognising that you have a weakness is essentially accepting that it isn’t a particular strength. Whether it’s something that requires extra preparation time or a project that could have gone better if you’d done things differently, think about how you have developed as a result. Showing a level of self-awareness, the ability to reflect on your performance and a desire to improve yourself is ultimately what prospective employers are looking for when they pose such a challenging question.

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