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a different perspective on human capital

How To (Honestly) Answer the Interview Question, “What’s Your Biggest Weakness?”

What's Your Biggest Weakness?

The idea that “everyone has a weakness” has been woven into mythology, literature, and pop culture for thousands of years, from the legend of Achilles’ Heel to John Kreese’s spine-chilling speech in the recently released Cobra Kai series. It’s a theme that’s resonated with audiences around the globe since the dawn of mankind because to put it simply, it’s true.

Nowadays, the topic of weakness is most often used in the context of our skills. If you’ve had a job interview in the last 50 years, it’s a safe bet to assume that, at some point, an interviewer has asked you to talk about your greatest weakness or weaknesses. We’ve interviewed thousands of candidates over the years, and we’ve received quite an interesting array of answers to this question, but one of the most common responses we get is the classic strength-disguised-as-a-weakness: “I’m a perfectionist,” “I’m a workaholic,” and so on.

To be fair, these are indeed traits that may induce stress. Agonizing over minutiae and spending long hours at the office with little to no personal time can absolutely be detrimental to your mental and physical health. There’s also a lot of information out there that specifically instructs candidates to use the old strength-disguised-as-a-weakness method when the question arises. However, it’s highly unlikely that being a perfectionist or working too hard is your only weakness – and trust us, the interviewer knows it. The weakness question isn’t designed to weed out “weak” candidates from the process; it’s an opportunity to assess candidates’ self-awareness, humility, and willingness to improve. Treat it as an opportunity to show the interviewer what you’re made of!

So what’s a better way to frame your response to the weakness question? We’re not suggesting you wax poetic about all of your biggest flaws here, but there is a better way to give an honest answer about where you struggle and reframe it in a positive light. During your interview prep, think about challenges you’ve faced in previous roles. Perhaps you’re an accountant who dreads giving presentations. Maybe you’re a creative who can’t stand compiling and analyzing data, or a salesperson who loves face-to-face meetings but struggles with written communication. 

Whatever the case, the things you’ve found challenging can often be considered “weaknesses,” and chances are you’ve figured out a way to overcome them. Talk about it! Did you join a networking group to help with your public speaking skills? Did you take an Excel class to help you learn the magic of spreadsheets? Did you install Grammarly on your laptop and phone to help catch spelling and grammatical errors? 

Being truthful about the areas where you’ve had to work to develop a new skill or gain confidence comes across as up-front and humble in an interview setting (and is more likely to impress the interviewer than humble-bragging about how you work too hard, however true that might be). Businesses want employees who have triumphed over their insecurities and emerged, personally and professionally, better than before. The weakness question is the perfect place to demonstrate your agility, perseverance, and open-book attitude to the hiring manager.

Here are a couple of examples to give you a better idea of what we’re talking about:

Example 1:

“As an Operations Manager, being organized and efficient is crucial to my success – but funnily enough, I don’t have that hard-core instinct for organization that some people do. In my first-ever operations role, I was really struggling to keep track of everything and kept making little mistakes. I have a knack for quickly picking up new technology, and in an effort to keep myself on task, I started looking into project and task management software. Once I found a platform that worked for me, the mistakes plummeted. It’s worked so well for me over the years that I’ve successfully implemented it for the Operations departments at both of the last two companies I’ve worked for.”

Example 2:

“Like a lot of my peers who work in copy editing, I have a preference for written communication over verbal. I’m very comfortable speaking with my supervisors or peers in a casual setting, but when it comes to meetings and presentations, I tend to experience a bit of stage fright and struggle to present my ideas. A good friend of mine joined the local chapter of Toastmasters and when I mentioned my public speaking woes, she suggested I do the same. I was skeptical but I gave it a shot, and it’s dramatically transformed my approach to speaking before an audience. I still get butterflies in my stomach, but with a few mental exercises beforehand I’m able to relax and communicate in a clear, concise, and engaging way.” 

The weakness question has gotten a bad rap over the years because talking about the areas where we struggle is scary, but take it from us: As interviewers, we’re going to be impressed – not dubious or suddenly uninterested – if you provide an honest answer about where your weaknesses lie and how you’ve turned those struggles into opportunities for growth – much more so than if you tell us you work too hard and care too much. We’ll leave you with a final warning: Whatever you do, don’t say your biggest weakness is chocolate. Trust us.