What to say when an interviewer asks: "what's your biggest weakness?"

This is often one of the most uncomfortable questions graduates are asked at interviews. You’ve spent an hour selling yourself and trying to convince the interviewer of your strengths, and now they’re asking you to bring up something bad about yourself; it feels counter-intuitive.

It’s important to remember that the interviewer isn’t looking to catch you out. Many hiring managers like this question because it allows them to ascertain your level of self-awareness: everyone has professional weaknesses and areas they need to improve upon, but do you know where yours lie and are you open to working on them?

 

 

Conventional advice would be to answer this question by putting forward a weakness that is actually a strength. For example: “if anything I’m too much of a perfectionist”, “I tend to pay too much attention to detail and so it takes me longer to complete tasks,” or, “my friends and family sometimes get annoyed because I dedicate all of my time to work and being in the office”.

But our advice is to avoid answers like this at all costs. They come across disingenuous – even arrogant – and every interviewer has heard them before.

Instead, be honest. Of course, there are caveats to telling the truth. Don’t say, “I hate waking up early in the morning; it’s going to be a struggle to drag myself to work on time,” even if it’s true, because it’ll make you look like an unreliable employee. It’s also best to avoid saying, “I don’t have any weaknesses,” or giving an answer that doesn’t relate to the job at all.

Similarly, you don’t want to say anything that’ll disqualify you from landing the position. So, if you’re applying for a sales role, giving a weakness such as, “I absolutely hate making phone calls, they make me feel really awkward,” is a big mistake. Research every aspect of the role you’ve applied for before your interview so you know key areas you need to be strong in and don’t list them as weaknesses.

A solid way to approach this question with honesty is to have a look at your CV, pick out weaker areas the hiring manager might’ve noticed themselves and use it as an opportunity to address them. If you’re a recent graduate, it’s likely you won’t have a lot of paid experience related to the job you’re applying for - raise this as a weakness, then reassure the interviewer how determined you are to turn that around. By saying, “I’m too much of a perfectionist,” or, “I wish I was better at football,” you're just missing an opportunity and doing yourself an injustice.

Instead, a good way to phrase your answer would be, “I’m aware my CV shows I’m not as experienced at X as I would like to be, but I’m working on it by doing Y and have already achieved Z”. By giving an honest and relevant weakness, but accompanying it with an explanation as to what you’re doing to tackle it and what you hope to achieve in the near future, you show you’re someone who thinks critically about their performance and is keen to develop their skills.  

Importantly, you’ve approached the recruitment process with an awareness of your shortcomings and, instead of trying to hide them, you’ve taken the opportunity to convince the interviewer they won’t affect your success in the role.

 

Remember that interviews are a two-way street. Be honest, confident, and try to have a genuine conversation with the person at the other end of the table. Click here for some more advice, from hiring managers themselves, about what you should and shouldn't do in your next job interview.

 

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