How to answer the interview question – What is your weakness?

A common question asked at interviews is

“What is your strength and what is your weakness?”

I have heard a number of methods for answering this question and thought I would focus onthe second part of this question as usually people are quite good about talking about a particular area that they excel in.

The whole purpose on an interview is to sell yourself and show that you are the right candidate for the job.  But this is what makes this question interesting because it is deliberately asking the candidate to say something negative about themselves.  Here I talk through some potential answers to this question.interview-weakness

The jokey non-serious approach

I have seen advice that suggests saying jokey and non-work related  things as a weakness.

I don’t like this because you have spent the interview talking about your work skills and then when it gets to your weakness you give some lame response like

“chocolate!!!”

Ha, ha, no one laughs.  Why would you bring something personal like that up at a job interview anyway?

I hate this response so much that the book I read this advice in, I shut straight away as I couldn’t take anything the person said seriously anymore

The reason I hate this response so much is that the person is showing that they are unable to reflect on themselves – everyone has room for improvement

I think if I heard a person give such a response I would be wondering if they were a borderline psychopath.

 

The negative that actually sounds like a positive approach

Another approach is the weakness that actually makes the person sound really good.  Such as saying

“I just don’t know when to quit on a task – I like to get the job done!”

or

“My weakness is that I work more than my contracted hours” (Who doesn’t?)

In theory this sounds good because it sounds like the person is a saint-like, workaholic who completes everything.

I used this as my go-to response to this question, until I actually realised how cliched and fake the answer sounded.  Although I don’t think it is a bad answer, I think the person saying it needs to sound very genuine for it to work.

 

Being honest about a weakness and then addressing what you have been doing about it

And this is my favourite.  This is the best approach – to be honest and just say where you think you have been weak at work and then follow that up how you have been trying to address it.

For example, one of my weaknesses is that:

“I have been that eager to impress that in the past I rushed my work – trying to get through it as quick as possible to show how efficient I am.  Unfortunately this resulted in me producing a number of errors in my work”

So far, so good – but I don’t want the interviewer to think that if they appointed me I would make a lot of errors.  I then clarify what I have been doing to sort myself out:

“I realised that I needed to improve.  So I took a step back to reflect on why I was making a lot of errors – I needed to slow down the pace that I produced work and dedicate time to quality checking my outputs.  I also talked to a colleague who had a lot of experience doing a role to similiar to mine, they were able to advise me on being able to manage the demands of the workload, while maintaining high quality work”

Finally qualify that you are/have changed:

“As a result the quality of my work has improved and no one has complained about me making any errors in the last year”

The benefit of this is that it illustrates that:

  1. You actually aren’t perfect
  2. You are open to talk about your weaknesses
  3. You are open to working on your weaknesses and implementing a plan to improve yourself
  4. Illustrates other skills used to address your weakness (such as seeking feedback from colleagues or finding a course)

Being honest with action is my preferred approach to answering the question “What is my weakness?”

The problem with the answer I have given is that I have become so self-aware of my weakness that I don’t think it is an issue anymore and could do with some fresh material for my next interview!

Do you have a preferred approach to that question?  How would you answer it?

Reference: How to answer: “What is your greatest weakness”

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6 thoughts on “How to answer the interview question – What is your weakness?

  1. Hi James, Thanks for this useful interview answer and analysis of the question and suggested responses. I do like what you shared, it about recognizing a weakness, and how to improve it and the courage to improve it. Very useful post. thanks have a great day. Regards Bella

  2. James, this is the perfect way to respond to this question, and what employers are in fact looking for. Like you, it took me a lot of thought to devise an honest answer that shows how I overcame my weaknesses. Employers want to see potential and follow-through in who they hire. Honesty is also a plus.

    Great post!

    • Thanks very much! I enjoyed writing this and probably will do some more at some point. I don’t know why but I struggled with how to answer this question for so many years, and yet it seemed so simple.

      • It’s simple, but I think all of us have been given bad advice on how to answer it.

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