What is your greatest weakness?

Does anyone else hate that question or is it just me? It seems like such a counter intuitive question to be asked in an interview. It’s basically saying, “Tell me the worst thing about yourself in a way that will convince me that it’s not so bad”.

The purpose of the question is really to get a sense for whether you have the ability to self-reflect and take charge of your professional development. Keep that in mind in answering the question – identifying a weakness is not the main point. Proving that you are capable of addressing problems and bettering yourself is more important.

I think a much more valid question should be framing it around what your current focus is on areas of improvement. What are the things that you are working on right now? When you do get asked that dreaded question, try and think about your answer from that perspective. 

False negatives

One of my pet hates is when people try and frame a strength as a weakness. It comes across really ingenuine to me. Things like, “I’m a perfectionist” or “I work too much overtime”. That sounds to me like you couldn’t think of anything that you really want to work on getting better at.

One of the best things to be in an interview is open and transparent. Ultimately you want the interviewer to trust you and find you likeable, and being honest is the best way to achieve that. Be honest about the things you are working on, and don’t try to sneak past the question.

Use examples

A good way of talking about areas of improvement is by talking about an example where you have identified something you’d like to work on, and how you have implemented an action plan to address it. For example you could talk about how you haven’t had much experience talking to executive level stakeholders, but worked with your manager to shadow your colleagues in these types of meetings.

Always round out the discussion by talking about the way you have addressed the weakness. Otherwise it can sound like you have identified a weakness but you’re not doing anything to fix it. 

I can’t think of anything!

If you’re really struggling to come up with a way of explaining an area of improvement, you can talk about wanting more experience. Lots of people who are early in their careers will be in this boat. 

When you haven’t been in the industry as long as others competing for the same role, it’s good to recognise that you don’t have as much experience, but that it’s something you are interested in improving. In fact one of the reasons you might be chasing a particular role is because you want to gain that experience.

The biggest piece of advice I can give you on this question is to think about the answer to it before you go into the interview! That way you won’t have that awkward moment when you sit and stare at the interviewer blankly trying to come up with something that doesn’t make you look bad. And to interviewers, can we please change this question to something like, “What is an area of improvement you’re working on right now?” 

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