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How to answer: what’s your greatest weakness?

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​Picture the scene. Your interview is going well, then the Hiring Manager asks that question. You know, that one. The trickiest of all.

“So tell me, what’s your greatest weakness?”

It all hangs in the balance. If you answer it well, your chances of landing the job increase considerably. If you answer it badly, the interview could suddenly take a nose-dive.

Let us give you the inside scoop on this one. This question is all about seeing how self-aware you are. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses is important for your career development. It’s through this that you find areas to improve and build on, so you can develop your skills. If you can’t identify areas that require improvement, you may not be open to development and this can be a red flag for potential employers. Bear in mind, during a typical interview you will be given a vast amount of time to showcase your strengths, this small question is giving the interview an insight in to the other side of your character. 

There’s no perfect answer to this one. A good way of dealing with it is to pick something you’ve already taken steps to improve, but isn’t a key element to the job you’re interviewing for. For example, if you’re going for a job in an office it would be unwise to say you’re not very good at working with computers. Equally, if you’re trying to get a job on board a vessel, it's best not to tell them you suffer from sea sickness! But if that is the case, I’d question the wisdom of the decision to apply for a job at sea anyway!

Another way to deal with it is by turning a negative into a positive. Talk about something you have identified as a weakness, but you have successfully managed to overcome in previous jobs. This allows you to focus on a positive attribute even when you have been asked about a negative one. Always try and back up your answer with a specific example. Here’s how to do it:

“My weakness is trying to do much. In the past I have struggled to manage my work load and have found myself getting bogged down in to do lists. In my most recent role, I developed a daily time management plan that focused on outcomes. I would write a list of what I wanted to achieve in line with my manager’s expectations and the objectives for the business. This was much more effective and enabled me to focus on the key priorities for the business.”

If you’re going to focus on a specific skill weakness, then try and pick one that’s a nice to have, rather than a must have. Put a time-frame on it so that you can illustrate your not consumed by this weakness and it is a moderate weakness.
Some other examples include:

  1. “I find it hard to delegate tasks sometimes.”

  2. “Occasionally, I can get impatient when I’m waiting for something that affects my ability to do my work.”

  3. “At times, I have found it difficult to speak in public.”

All three answers show self-awareness. As we’ve already said, it’s important to take the next step and explain what you’ve done to overcome your weaknesses. For example:

  1. “I’ve signed up to a leadership course to help tackle my weakness in delegation.”

  2. “I’m learning to be more mindful of when impatience builds. I set clear expectations with my colleagues so that we all know when tasks need to be completed by and no one is waiting around for anyone else.”

  3. “I asked my manager to give 10 minutes in our team meeting each month where I could present on something. After a few months of working through my speaking issues, I can honestly say it’s something I’m starting to enjoy.”

Remember to review the role in full when you’re doing preparing for the interview so that you can plan your answer should this dreaded question arise.

Don’t try to dress your strengths up as weaknesses. It suggests that you don’t see yourself clearly, and that you may be lying. Also, be careful of making this question into a joke, especially if you’re going for a more senior level role in a professional industry.

Here are some answers to avoid using:

  • “I work too much.”

  • “I set myself standards that are too high.”

  • “I can’t think of anything – I’m pretty sure I’m perfect!” 

  • “My greatest weakness? Chocolate.”

These answers just won’t cut it! 

Work with a workforce solutions agency like WRS, they can take care of everything for you from CV advice and preparation, job search, interview coaching, offer and negotiation handling to on boarding with your new company.
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