What Are Your Greatest Weaknesses? How to Ace This Tough Interview Question

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What are your greatest weaknesses?

If you’re job searching, you know that sooner or later you’ll be asked this dreaded question. It’s a common job interview question that causes stress for almost everyone.

Happily, with a little planning, it doesn’t have to be tough to answer effectively.

If you’re well-prepared, you’ll be able ace the interview weakness question. You can turn it into an opportunity to show employers you are a responsible, proactive problem solver.

To create good answers to any interview questions, it helps to have a little background.

By the time you get through this article you will have:

  • a simple formula for answering the interview weaknesses question
  • an example answer to this tough question
  • and a printable worksheet you can use to work through the formula and generate your own unique and effective answer

But first, you need a little background to help you answer this tough interview question more effectively.

If you understand what employers are really trying to learn about you when they ask certain questions, you’ll be able to formulate much better answers.

Why do employers ask about your greatest weaknesses?

  • They want to determine if there are any issues or problem areas that might prevent you from doing a good job.
  • They want to know if you have a good understanding of yourself and are able to deal with problems as they arise.

The first reason employers ask this question – to look for any key problem areas – is fairly straightforward. Employers want to see if you will mention any professional weaknesses that would rule you out from consideration for the job. We’ll look at how to avoid that pitfall in just a moment.

The second reason employers ask the interview weaknesses question – to see how well you know yourself and how you deal with problems – is a more complex and hidden motive behind the question.

If you understand this hidden question behind the question, you can formulate an answer that shows employers you have a realistic awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses, and when you see a weakness in yourself, you do something about it. I’ll explain exactly how to do that after we look at big mistakes you need to avoid when you’re asked about your weaknesses in a job interview.

Two things you should never say when employers ask, “What’s your greatest weakness?”

  1. Never say, “I have no weaknesses.”
  2. Never say, “I’m a perfectionist.”

1. Never say, “I have no weaknesses.”

When asked about professional weaknesses, a lot of job seekers answer by saying something like, they have no weaknesses that would prevent them from doing a great job.

On the surface, that may seem like a reasonable answer. You certainly don’t want to give the employer any reason to think you shouldn’t be hired, and an answer like that allow you to avoid listing any shortcomings. But you’re not providing the employer with any new and useful information, which is one of the most common mistakes job seekers make in interviews.

2. Never say, “I’m a perfectionist.”

It’s true that some people are perfectionists. It’s also true that perfectionism can be a weakness.

In spite of that, “I’m a perfectionist.” is never a good answer to interview questions about weaknesses.

Why shouldn’t you tell an interviewer that you’re a perfectionist?

“I’m a perfectionist.” is a completely overused, clichéd answer to this question.

Don’t share a long list of your weaknesses

One bigger mistake job seekers make when asked about their weaknesses is that they provide a long, detailed list of all of their weaknesses.

When you’re asked about your weaknesses, only provide one example of a single weakness. Do not give the employer a long list of all of your shortcomings.

Even if the employer uses the plural, “What are your greatest weaknesses?” in the question, you only need to name one weakness.

Perhaps an extremely rare employer might push for you to mention a second weakness, but it is very unlikely. Among the 2000 clients I worked with when I ran job search workshops, no one ever told me of an instance when an employer didn’t accept a single, good answer to the interview weaknesses question.

There’s nothing wrong with admitting to an employer that you had a weakness as long as you show that you did something to improve upon that weakness.

That kind of answer shows an employer:

  • You have a good awareness of your own professional strengths and weaknesses.
  • And when you recognize a weakness in yourself, you make an effort to do something about it.

It allows you to demonstrate that you are good at problem solving and committed to ongoing learning and development.

What Are Your Weaknesses? Example Answer

Let’s take that formula and turn it into an actual answer. For this example, we’ll go back to our bookkeeper who had difficulty presenting information at large meetings due to a fear of public speaking.

1. Start with a real weakness.

“I used to be very nervous about public speaking. I was fine speaking in small groups, but getting up to speak in front of larger groups was difficult for me.”

2. Describe what you did to improve upon the weakness.

“So I decided to join the local Toastmasters club, where I was able to improve my public speaking significantly.”

3. Explain how the work you did to improve made you a more valuable employee.

“Soon after I joined Toastmasters, my supervisor asked me to work on a new project that involved staff training and required a lot of public speaking. I practiced, and I consulted with a co-worker who was very good at public speaking, and I was able to give several presentations that were very well received at work.

I still get a bit nervous before I speak in front of a group, but I’m far more effective and confident than I once was.”

Remember, employers invite you to job interviews to get to know you. That means your answer to this, and all other job interview questions must be honest and sincere.

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