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Job Interview Question: What’s Your Biggest Weakness?

6 December 2006

This question is one of the most common ones people are asked in interviews – and it’s one of the biggest pains in your rear. There are a lot of ways you can make yourself look horrible answering this question, and not many that you can stand out. Yet you’re going to confront it again and again when you interview for jobs, so if you don’t have a good answer ready, you’re asking for a screw up. With this one I’m going to start with what you shouldn’t do, because that’s most important:

1) Don’t list a strength instead of a weakness. “I’m such a workaholic that I’d probably be at your office working 5 hours of unpaid overtime a day.” “I’m a perfectionist and always do everything right. I just can’t bring myself to make mistakes.” “I tend to get too interested in learning new things and trying to find ways to be efficient on the job.” “I like my bosses too much.” The interviewer will have heard this tack over and over again. It’s an EXTREMELY common kind of answer to this question, and you’re basically refusing to answer the question. You won’t score points by repeating the same canned garbage everyone else does. Plus, what if they call you on it? What are you going to do if they say, “That’s not a weakness, list another.” You’ll sit there and stammer – and it won’t look good.

2) Don’t tell them a major weakness that might actually cost you the job. “I have a drinking problem, and I don’t come to work on time.” “I don’t like working with other people. I spend my days plotting against coworkers.” “I’m a screamer.” If the weakness is one that they aren’t going to want in an employee – honesty is not the best policy. Don’t come out and tell them all your major faults. Everyone has them, but you can’t go blabbing about them in your job interview just because they ask. People who do that don’t get jobs.

3) Don’t claim you don’t have any weaknesses. Are you Superman? Kryptonite. Everyone has something wrong with them. Again, you are just refusing to answer the question – and that doesn’t win you any points and might get you called on it.

What should you do instead? Here are some better approaches to the question:
1) List a weakness you’ve already overcome. The point with this is to show that you’ve got the character to get around your problems and deal with them. One answer I’ve used personally is a fear of public speaking. I don’t have big problems with this and am actually very good at it (with various related stuff on my resume) – but I didn’t start out that way. Doing speech and debate events in school started out being terrifying, and I got nervous to the point of vomiting a few times. So I just worked up an answer about how I kept at it, didn’t do well at first but kept trying until I did, and by practicing a bunch without anyone there eventually got to the point where it wasn’t as big a deal. I pointed out that I still get feel nervous, but it doesn’t interfere with doing it anymore. This answer went over really well, and you may have to think through your background and past to find something like that – but surely you’ve overcome something. Everyone has had some kind of difficulty in life they had to deal with. Try to pick something inherent to you or related to where your resume shines – if you’ve overcome some obstacle on the way to success, point it out. Also try to pick something where you continue working at it, but you’ve basically solved the problem. That way you can at least say it’s a present weakness, just not one that will affect your job.

2) List a weakness that can be eliminated. If you can’t think of a weakness you’ve already dealt with, at a minimum list something that you’ll be able to deal with in the future – and make sure you tell the interviewer a list of steps you’re taking and will take to solve that weakness. If your weakness is that you prefer to work alone rather than on teams – maybe point to instances where you’ve voluntarily tried to be a member of a team to solve that. Talk about how you tried to cultivate working relationships with your coworkers or came together with another person to work on something even when you would have preferred to do it on your own. Your message has to be that you understand your weakness, you minimize it, and it won’t be a problem. Here’s one of mine: I’m unorganized. What do I do about it? Actually, nothing, because I sort of pile papers around my office and know where they are and what I need to do. But I could think of a lot of ways I COULD work on that – maybe point to a computer program I use to enter tasks and have it notify me when to do them. Our work e-mail has that option. Maybe start writing “to-do” lists for each day. It’s a weakness, but if you have that particular weakness as well, you can point out a lot of things that let you get by without being a type-A.

3) Admit something minor that doesn’t really affect your job. This isn’t as good an answer as the first two. But if you can’t think of anything good to say, at the very least you want the question to go away without hurting you. So confess to something that won’t scare them off. You should be able to think of something that you can fix, however, and if you can’t – spend some more time thinking.

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    3 Responses to “Job Interview Question: What’s Your Biggest Weakness?”

  1. Daily itzBig Links 2006-12-6 - The itzBig Blog - Serving the Unserved – Recruiters, Job Seekers, Quiet Working Professionals Says:

    [...] Free the Drones: Job Interview Question: What’s Your Biggest Weakness? “With this one I’m going to start with what you shouldn’t do, because that’s most important: 1) Don’t list a strength instead of a weakness. ‘I’m such a workaholic that I’d probably be at your office working 5 hours of unpaid overtime a day.’… 2) Don’t tell them a major weakness that might actually cost you the job. ‘I have a drinking problem, and I don’t come to work on time.’” Wednesday, December 6th, 2006Comments [...]

  2. Daniel Says:

    First of all, this is a dumb question asked by someone with poor interview skills. Because for one, they will never get an honest response, or two, they will get an honest response that has nothing to do with the job, i.e “I am a poor bowler”

    What the interviewer should ask instead is a series of questions like, “if hired, what aspect about the position do you think you will need to improve on” “What would you need assistance with from fellow employees to get used to this position?” and maybe even, “What kind of obstacles have you encountered in this field and what did you learn from them?”

    If you give them more ways to answer you instead of just flat out, “What makes you bad?” you will have your question answered, and know more about the person.

    If you are asked this question at an interview, beware… you might not want to work for a company that have employees that do an incompetent screening process.

  3. Mohammed Abid Says:

    I am in shipping and logistics field (foreign trade) my experience is 14yrs when qestion asked what is ur weaknesses i could not find riht word to describe please hel pme ti give few tips