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What’s your biggest weakness?

March 24, 2009

So how do you answer one of the most notorious trick questions in the intervewer’s handbook?

Be completely honest and go, “My brain doesn’t start functioning till 11 am”? Or go for some lame spin like, “I’m an impatient person. When I work, I want the results like yesterday!” :mrgreen:

Before answering this question, its good to understand why interviewers ask it in the first place. Here’s my take

  1. They want to know how witty you are by trying to catch you off guard. How do you admit you’re not perfect after spending the last 20 minutes telling them how good you are and not look stupid in the process. The ambush worked at one time but has become old in my opinion because everyone sees it coming and like good exam cheats, they all come well prepared for it.
  2. They want to know to what extent are you self aware and self critical. One who admits he’s imperfect is more open to being molded than someone who thinks he’s got it all. Again, with enough practice this can be faked and could unfortunately leave false indicators.

Still, because no interviewer can resist asking this question, you might as well prepare for it. When confronted, I recommend a safe middle-path response. Pick a weakness that afflicts every other person you know, like, “I’m not a very good talker but I’m working on it.”

Since everybody has this problem of self expression at some point, including your interviewer, it doesn’t leave much for anyone to take pot shots at. It helps them move on to the next question quickly, unless you’ve applied to be a talk radio host or a salesman or something.

Now being a trick question, what you say can be as important as how you say it so let me stress this: be truthful and sincere. Look at the interviewer in the eye when you say it. Admit the weakness candidly, then quickly explain what you are doing to fix that weakness.

Be aware that by answering this way, you send two messages. One, that you are mindful and as I mentioned, not afraid to be self critical which makes you trainable material. Two, that you care enough about yourself to invest in yourself. That’s an important sign for companies eyeing leadership potential; people who steer their own ships rather than wait for others to steer it for them.

The only way to make your answer believable is to actually believe in what you’re saying. As I said before, be sincere. Seasoned interviewers can spot a fake a mile away.

Finally don’t make the mistake of saying, “Weaknesses? I can’t think of any.” You’ll appreciate how silly that sounds if you sat on the other side of the negotiating table.

Good luck.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2009 1:06 pm

    I just attended an interview on Monday, with a local company. It’s a second interview, and I passed the first round with flying colors. This time round, it was a principal consultant, who is a very technical person. And the interview wasn’t very pleasant. I left the place feeling very demotivated.

    The interviewer was very direct. He asked me about my weaknesses. I said I’m a generalist, which means I can pick up things fast and do it. And he took this opportunity to shoot me, and said I’m not a specialist which should be the way for senior consultants. Bla bla bla bla, he even went on to say my company culture is not good since we do anything, bla bla bla.

    Finally he said, I am not experienced enough to be a senior and for a junior, my salary is not justifiable. Today, they called and rejected me, even though I’ve already decided not to join them.

    It’s good to be honest even though it might give the interviewer opportunity to shoot you to no end. At least, you get to know how your potential boss behaves, and how the company handles people.

    And based on my interview, I can say that the management is quite messy since they never read my CV properly (it’s stated clearly that I’m a generalist), and the interviewer was not very smart in answering my questions (thus accidentally reveal that their company’s turnover is very high).


    It sounds like they had a specific talent in mind and were just trawling to see what they can catch. A chinaman company? 🙂 It also sounds like the first guy who interviewed you wasn’t on the same page as the second interviewer, which tells you how much people understand each other in the organization. Its good that it came out early…

  2. April 20, 2009 1:54 pm

    Thanks for the tips! I wrote two blog posts with my thoughts on the biggest weakness interview question:

    In this short post, I discuss the secret to answering the weakness question.

    In this longer post, I analyze Barack Obama’s response to a variant of the common greatest weakness interview question, drawing inspiration from an interview between Katie Couric and Obama.

    Hi Lewis, thanks for visiting. 🙂 Yup, Obama’s answer was a gem although if I recall, that bit about paper shuffling earned him a few uncomfortable moments in the press. But yeah, saying I have no flaw that would hinder my job as president was brilliant I thought.

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