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Most Frequently Asked Interview Question – What’s Your Biggest Weakness

Posted by Nancy Gober

“What’s your biggest weakness?” asks the interviewer.

“Well, um, I guess it would be….” stumbles the interviewee.

What's Your Biggest WeaknessAnd, the rest as they say is history. A history of missed opportunities due to lack of a credible and reasonable response to one of the most frequently asked interview questions: What’s your biggest weakness?

A lot of interviewers ask this not particularly good interview question. They ask it as much to see how you handle this question as to actually hear your response.

Responses to “What’s your biggest weakness?” have ranged from irrelevant to the embarrassing to bordering on the illegal. Some candidates, feeling helpless and without a strategy, provide a foot-in-mouth answer that knocks them out of the competition entirely. Some even respond with a weakness that turns out to be a primary job function. It goes without saying how that turns out!

What’s a cleared job seeker to do

The question feels like a Catch 22. Answer honestly and you may be out of the competition. Answer with “I don’t have any weaknesses!” and that answer comes across as a full-of-yourself type of answer. And it also indicates a lack of self-awareness – neither of which are qualities interviewers are seeking in new employees.

A lot has been written about the way to handle this question. Strategies cleared job seekers have used include:

 A non-response: Some candidates simply say they have “none.”

The problem with this response is that since no one is perfect, the answer is not seen as credible. It can even be as cocky or smart alec-y. Either way it doesn’t enhance your standing in the interviewer’s eyes.

● An opportunity-killing response: Citing a weakness that is considered key to performance of the job.

The problem with this response is obvious – you are telling the interviewer you can not perform the job.

● A cliche response: Responses that cite “strengths” or admirable qualities disguised as a weakness –

1. “I tend to work too hard.”

2. “I drive my employees too hard.”

3. “I’m a workaholic.”

The problem with this type of response is that interviewers are on to you! These answers have become trite and cliche. They’ve been written about, taught in interview training, practiced pre-interviews, and over-delivered. They don’t ring true and savvy interviewers often follow-up by asking the interviewee to cite a second weakness!

In fairness, while some of these strategies listed above may work, and have worked in some circumstances or in rare situations, generally they don’t work and result in a job seeker being eliminated from the competition.

A better way

Below is a strategy to follow that delivers a plausible response in most situations. Here’s a better tack to take:

Step 1. Choose a weakness — or in better terms an area in which you could improve – that is not a key requirement of the job. For instance, if you are applying for a “Communications Director” position, you wouldn’t say “I’m a poor communicator.” In that case you would certainly be out of the running, and quite frankly, deserve to be. A cleared job seeker shouldn’t be applying for a job where they can’t handle the main function!

Step 2. Select a weakness (i.e. areas that are not among your greatest strengths) that is not such a key function that it would prevent you from doing the job. For example, a communications director might choose budgeting.

Step 3. Now, and THIS IS KEY: State that while you are an excellent communications representative in terms of the key functions (name them), budgeting WAS (i.e., past tense) not your strongest area. However, recognizing this, you have taken actions (name them) to improve in that area. And, while you will never be a finance person, YOU ARE COMPETENT in developing your communications budgets.

A triple win

Using the strategy just described above, you score a TRIPLE WIN!

1. You provide an honest response.

2. You show self-awareness.

3. You not only show but “demonstrate” a strength: When you identify a problem, you (1) recognize it and (2) take action.

In summary, effective interviewing is not easy, but it’s not rocket science either! While there are 1000s of interview questions being asked, many are common and frequently asked questions. Do some homework. Learn what these frequently asked questions are, plan credible responses in advance, and sail through your interview!

What is your greatest strength

Let us hear from you. What is the most difficult question you have been asked in interviews? How did you handle these questions? Contact Nancy Gober at [email protected] to share your response. Next time we’ll tackle the flip side of this difficult question. We’ll discuss how to handle the frequently asked interview question: “What is your greatest strength?”

Nancy GoberNancy Gober is a career strategist who has helped thousands of job seekers find employment. She’s also been a popular resume reviewer at our Cleared Job Fairs. You may reach Nancy via email at [email protected]. Follow Nancy on Twitter @AfterJobClub.

This entry was posted on Monday, September 29, 2014 8:50 am

3 thoughts on “Most Frequently Asked Interview Question – What’s Your Biggest Weakness”

  1. Why should I hired you instead of someone else?
    It is hard to know what are the qualifications that make someone else stand out from the crow. Therefore, you are rating yourself against an unknown candidate. Should we just focus in the areas we excel at and hope those are the weaknesses of the rest?

  2. Hi Nancy,
    I enjoyed reading this article. I will be attending the Cleared Job Fair at Westin. Hope to see you there!

  3. Thanks Nancy. I just completed an interview today and this question was asked. I agree that it’s good to have a weakness to speak of and most importantly a fix.

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