We’ve all been there. We all know it’s coming. And we all fear it. It is that dreaded interview question, “What is your greatest weakness?”
How do we answer that question honestly but in a way that won’t hurt us? Knowing that we are painting our own self-portrait by what we say and do during our job interview, what can we say that will not tarnish that image?
Here are a couple of ideas that may be helpful. Oftentimes, that question is paired with its opposite, “What is your greatest strength?” If that happens during your interview, one option is to leverage that pairing in your answer.
Interview Answer Example
For example, you could say something like, “One of my greatest strengths is my attention to detail. However, I find when I overuse that strength, it can actually become a weakness. If I focus too much on the detail, I tend to put excessive effort into completing the task.”
In this way, the weakness you shared, although it may be true, is not too damaging to your self-portrait, is tied closely to your strength, and can be balanced by your strength to an extent. Sometimes your interviewer may even welcome that kind of weakness (an employee who puts tremendous effort into completing tasks).
Interview Answer Example
Alternatively, if you choose not couple a strength and weakness when answering this question, you can try to share a weakness that is that is expected and undamaging. It is usually best for this kind of weakness to be more professional than personal in nature.
For example, if you are applying for a summer internship during college and you do not yet have any relevant work experience, you can offer up the weakness of “inexperience,” since that is true and expected in this situation. This is less harmful than offering up something more personal like “procrastination,” which would not be expected or welcomed, and which could create concern about your character.
In summary, it is understandable that this question may cause dread. Speaking negatively about anyone, including yourself, during your job interview can be harmful to your candidacy. Using strategies like the ones listed above will help you avoid that trap while still allowing you to be honest in answering your interviewer’s question.
Further information on how to answer interview questions well and other critical job interview tips can be found in my book The Interview Answer: 10 Essential Tips for Acing Your Job Interview.
Copyright © 2016 Patricia A. Flaherty