nervous looking woman worried about answering "what is your biggest weakness"

How to answer 'What's your biggest weakness?' in an interview

November 6, 2019
By Sarah Blunt
About

It's the interview question most of us dread being asked, but few prepare adequately for. Don't get caught out by this question at your next interview - read this post and within a few minutes you'll be much closer to feeling confident you know how to answer it effectively.

Why do interviewers ask this question?

Interviewers ask "what's your biggest weakness?" for two main reasons: to assess self-awareness, and to see evidence of a pro-active candidate who wants to improve and develop. In simple terms, recruiters want someone who can successfully identify a weakness, before taking positive steps to address it.

What you shouldn’t say

Interviewers aren’t looking for someone who doesn’t have any weaknesses, so saying something along those lines isn’t going to impress anyone. In fact, this is the last thing you should do as it will only show you’re unprepared and untruthful!

You can’t give a cookie-cutter answer either such as ‘I’m a perfectionist’ or ‘I’m a workaholic’ – interviewers will see straight through this and your answer will come across as an attempt to dodge the question.

Although it’s important to be honest it’s also a big no-no to pick a weakness that’s crucial for the role. For example, you don’t want to say you’re bad at prioritising tasks if the role will involve you simultaneously managing multiple projects. Let’s face it, if your biggest weakness is in an area that is important for the job you probably aren’t suited for it anyway!

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Picking a weakness

Before you go into your interview you need to identify a weakness. The key is to pick something you genuinely struggle with that isn’t crucial for the role you’re interviewing for. Obviously this will depend on the role and your own skills and personality but some good examples might be one of the following:

  • conflict situations
  • public speaking
  • taking criticism
  • procrastination
  • hyper-detail oriented

How to answer “What’s your biggest weakness?” successfully

1. Introduce your weakness

The best way to introduce your weakness to your interviewers is to start your by saying:

“Something I’ve struggled slightly with in the past has been…’’

By using the words ‘slightly’ and ‘in the past’ you’re showing that even though it's your biggest weakness, it isn’t a major issue and you’ve been consciously working on it. You’re framing the weakness as something that will be resolved.

You could also say:

One thing I think I could work on is…”

 By starting with ‘one thing’ you’re being specific and answering the question directly. Using ‘work on’ is also quite clever, as it suggests you’re not ‘bad’ or inadequate in this area, just that you could improve.

2. Explain the steps you’re taking to address it

After stating what your biggest weakness is you then need to explain what steps you’ve taken to address it. This should be fairly detailed as you’re revealing what you’ve been doing to improve in this area and it will give you a chance to highlight your personal strengths or areas that you do excel at:

“One thing I’ve struggled with slightly in the past has been speaking in front of large groups of people. However, I am very strong at building rapport and engaging with smaller groups and in one-to-one situations, so I’ve been working on ways to transfer this ability to larger group settings. I have been getting more confident in public speaking by practicing with colleagues, reading books on the topic and a few months ago I went on a public speaking course which has really helped.”

3. Finish with a positive story

If you really want to impress the interviewer tell them a nice story to demonstrate how far you’ve come and your improvement in this area. It’s a great way to finish on a high whilst also acknowledging that you’re still working on it:

“Recently I delivered a presentation to a large group of people and although I was really nervous, feedback from my manager who was in the audience showed this didn’t come across and she gave me positive feedback about my content and delivery. I plan to say ‘yes’ to more public speaking opportunities in the future to grow my confidence, and I definitely think I’m on the right track.”

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Putting it all together

By following all the steps above you will be able to give a great answer to answer the question “What’s your biggest weakness”. Here’s the complete example answer:

“One thing I’ve struggled with slightly in the past has been speaking in front of large groups of people. However, I am very strong at building rapport and engaging with smaller groups and in one-to-one situations, so I’ve been working on ways to transfer this ability to larger group settings. I have been getting more confident in public speaking by practicing with colleagues, reading books on the topic and a few months ago I went on a public speaking course which has really helped. Recently I delivered a presentation to a large group of people and although I was really nervous, feedback from my manager who was in the audience showed this didn’t come across and she commented on how good my content and delivery was. I plan to say ‘yes’ to more public speaking opportunities in the future to grow my confidence, and I definitely think I’m on the right track.”

Bonus example

To help you think about your own answer to this question, here’s another example answer using a different weakness.

“Something I’ve struggled slightly with in the past has been working with people who have a different approach to their work than me. I prefer to plan far in advance as I find it allows me to feel on top of tasks and organise my time. However, I’ve found it difficult working with colleagues who don’t share this approach and prefer to do things last-minute. Over the last few months I have been working with a colleague who has this approach and although at first I found it really difficult, I’ve learnt to adapt a lot more and can see the benefits of not planning so far ahead of a deadline. When things change at the last minute or obstacles come up, it can actually be quite useful to be adaptable. It’s taught me to relax a little with my planning and be more open to changing things if necessary.’’

So there you have it – an easy structure to use when you’re asked ‘What’s your biggest weakness?’ Just remember to focus on the positives and what you’ve done to overcome the weakness!

If you want help preparing for your next interview check out my Skype interview coaching service.

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