By Lexie Brada
When it comes to difficult questions in an interview, this one certainly qualifies. It’s one that many people have flocked to the internet for advice on, and if you’re reading this, chances are you have as well.
If you’ve read the blog on how to answer what your biggest strengths are, you know that talking highly about yourself can be difficult. You don’t want to sound too arrogant, but you also want to be proud of your own skills and achievements!
If you’re asked the above question, the one sure to almost always follow is its opposite: “What are your greatest weaknesses?”
The internal panic that many people have when faced with this question might include wondering if it’s a trick question, worrying that giving your actual weakness will make you seem like an unsuitable candidate, and the stress of having to think about your worst spots right then and there.
If you’ve ever run into this, or you know this is a question that interviewers love to ask, we’ll show you how to answer this question correctly.
Why do employers ask this?
The first thing to get out of the way is to quell the question you might have; why would an employer ask me this? To torture me? To make me feel bad about myself? To weed out applicants?
Here’s the truth; everyone is bad at something. No one is perfect, and interviewers know this. They aren’t assuming you’re walking in having learned literally everything there is to know about everything. They’re under the assumption that you do have flaws, so answering to what your flaws are won’t make you look less of a candidate.
Here’s what this question really is about. Interviewers use this question as a gauge to see if you:
- Can learn new tasks when faced with the realization you don’t know something
- Can handle a challenge and work through it professionally and personally
- Have the ability to be honest
- Are able to self-reflect
- Can take criticism
All of this is to say that you will more than likely face some bumps at any job you are hired at. The people that can recognize when they’ve messed up and not fall into shambles are the sort of people that companies want to hire, so knowing you’ve faced the difficult stuff before is a highly desirable quality in a candidate.
- Make a list
The first thing you should do, before you get any interviews, is make a list of your flaws. Really think. Also, choose real flaws you have. Don’t choose a flaw you don’t have because you think it will make you look good or because you think it’s what a team wants to hear. Playing mind games with interviewers you haven’t even sat down with won’t help you in the long-run.
Make sure you have something to answer. Giving the reply of, “I have no flaws! I’m great at everything” is arguably worse than giving a bad answer to a team.
Repeat with me: nobody's perfect, and that’s okay. If you’re tempted to answer like this, perhaps your flaw is arrogance.
- Reimagine these flaws to be professional flaws
When a hiring team asks you this, they’re not really interested in the fact that you’re a horrible cook (unless this job intersects with food in some way) or that you can’t stay in a relationship for more than a few weeks before getting bored. This isn’t a time to unload your personal life onto the interview team. Rather, make sure all of your weaknesses and flaws are translatable to something that would be a problem at work.
Some might already be able to fit. If you struggle with organization, this may be something that easily translates to an issue at work. If you have a long list of personal flaws, start examining the root of these issues and see if any of these personal weaknesses point to a more work-related answer. For example; if you’re a bad cook, could it be that you have trouble with directions or that you are impatient? Or if you have a string of short relationships, perhaps you tend to get bored with projects quickly and feel like you need adventure or would hate monotonous tasks? What the hiring team is wondering is what weakness you have that may interfere or be a challenge for you in a professional setting.
Here are a list of some common weakness to see if any of these might help you think of your own:
- Time management difficulties
- Spend too much time on small details / don’t spend enough time on small details
- Have trouble asking for help
- Have trouble saying ‘no’
- Lack of patience
- Need more training on certain skills
- Trouble delegating
- Too talkative
- Difficulty setting a good work-life balance
- Lack confidence
- Takes on too many projects at once
- Needs to always be in charge
- Takes too many risks/ doesn’t like taking risks
- Not a social person
- Pick the most strategic answer
Remember when I said to pick weaknesses you actually have? Well, the other side of that is to not pick a weakness that is necessary for the job. You’re allowed to ‘fudge’ your answer a bit to put an answer forward that wouldn’t be the equivalent of shooting yourself in the foot.
For example; if a job is deadline-reliant and you’re really terrible with time-management or finishing things on time, does that seem like something you should really be telling the interview team? If they ask about it directly, you should not lie, but maybe you choose a similar answer along the same track, without outing the fact you’re unable to complete a big part of the job requirements.
This may be a great time to ‘turn a positive trait into a negative trait’, or take something that would commonly be looked at as a good thing, and spin it to be a negative thing. It does take some finessing. The thing to remember with this trick is that anything in excess can be bad. So, if you often finish projects earlier than expected, maybe you show that this can mean that you sometimes rush them or spend too much time at the start, instead of knowing how to spread out the work evenly. You may even learn some insights about how you work that you didn’t previously realize! This can be a good way of showing that you’re the person for this job but still face troubles like anyone else would.
- Show Improvement!
A huge part of this is showing a hiring team that you’re not only able to recognize your downfalls, but to say that you’ve made a plan to work on it! It’s not good enough to say, “Yeah, I guess I tend to get emotional when I’m frustrated. Well, that sucks for me, right?”
Interviewers want to hear that you have made attempts to fix this, or that you have plans to try to curb this problem. They’re not expecting you to have magically fixed yourself overnight, but showing you have the capability to tackle your most difficult parts of yourself is an invaluable skill to have.
- Walk The Line
The last tip is to make sure you’re talking about yourself. You want to walk the line between acting like you have no faults acting like all you are is your weaknesses.
For example, dismissing your weaknesses or scoffing at the idea that you have them doesn’t reflect well. Similarly, please give a weakness, instead of saying you can’t think of any. If you don’t take this question seriously, the interview team may wonder what your ability to handle criticism actually is.
On the other hand, you don’t have to beat yourself up or talk down about yourself in an interview! You have this weakness, it’s fine, you’re working through it. If you make it seem like this weakness is controlling you, instead of you controlling it, you might come across as equally unable to deal with challenges or struggles. Even if you are a person who has difficulty with this, this isn’t the time to let your interviewers know. You can be positive about your negatives, or in other terms, recognize that you have them but that’s not going to stop you from being a great employee!
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