Nov. 28, 2020

What are your greatest weaknesses?

What are your greatest weaknesses?

In this episode, I show you five steps to answer questions - in a genuine way - about your weaknesses. These questions are usually not asked to find a weak spot to hold against you; rather, they are asked to get to know you better and to understand whether or not you are self-aware and open to improvement. In this episode, you will learn a simple, 5-step approach that can help you formulate an answer that sticks out and creates trust with the interviewer.


Hi everyone, and welcome back. Today, I'm going to talk about how to answer interview questions about your weaknesses. 

Let's start by switching perspectives. Imagine you aren't the candidate; instead, you are the hiring manager conducting the interview. You've received a lot of applications and decided to interview five candidates. You have already read a lot about their achievements and career history, and now you want to get to know them in person. One of the questions you ask is, “Tell me about your greatest weakness.” You ask this question not because you want to find a weak spot that you can hold against them (after all, you want to fill this position without interviewing even more candidates so you can focus on all your other tasks); rather, you ask because you want to understand whether they are self-aware and willing to work to improve themselves. 

Imagine that one of the five candidates hasn't thought about this question, gets nervous, tries to make something up or says something like, "I don't have any weakness." Or candidate tries to navigate away from the question. What would your judgment be? Does this person show self-awareness? Probably not. 

Now imagine that three of the other candidates give very similar answers. They might say, "I'm a perfectionist" or "I can be impatient when I don't see progress." You wouldn't blame them, because they probably just followed someone's advice to choose a generic weakness that can be turned into a strength. But would you be impressed? Would you feel that you could connect to them? Did they build trust? Probably not. 

Now imagine the 5th candidate tells you about a real weakness. It's not one that would make it difficult for them to do the job, but it's still something genuine. And when you ask, the candidate gives you an example of how they took responsibility to solve some problems that were initially caused by their weakness. And they describe what they learned from that situation and how they worked on improving themselves. So, this person gives an honest answer to an uncomfortable question, shows self-awareness and demonstrates self-improvement.

Which candidate would you want to have on your team? Most likely, you would pick the last one, right?

So, if you want to be part of the 20% who stick out when asked this question, my recommendation is to follow these five steps:

  • Step 1:Think about the last three years of your career. If this is the first job you have applied for, think about internships, extracurricular activities or other projects you have engaged in. Write down 5-10 examples of situations where you wish you'd done better.
  • Step 2:Remove all examples where you didn't correct the situation. Remove even those where the negative impact would have been large if you hadn't corrected it. You should always tell the truth in an interview, but you should also choose examples that put you in the best possible light.
  • Step 3:Identify if there are patterns that caused these situations. These could be technical or soft skills that can be improved, a lack of experience or character traits. List these things but skip what isn’t coachable.
  • Step 4:Go through the items on your list of improvement areas and sort them in the order of their lowest potential impact on the job. For example, suppose one of the job responsibilities is representing the company at conventions. In that case, you might not want to have "difficulty talking to new people" high on the list. However, if you applied for a job as an accountant, this probably would be less of an issue. It's all about picking an area that won't be interpreted as a red flag for the job.
  • Step 5:Show that you are working on yourself. Are there any situations where you could have avoided potential problems caused by your weakness because you learned from previous situations? Are there any self-improvement steps you have taken? This could be reading relevant books, blogs and articles, listening to podcasts or taking courses. Or maybe you have asked someone for feedback, coaching, or advice. 

These are the five steps. Additionally, here are two recommendations for formulating your answers:

  1. Use positive words, like "challenge" rather than "problem" and "improvement area" instead of "weakness".
  2. Put more emphasis on your self-awareness and self-improvement than on the actual weakness.

Let me close this episode by giving you a quick example from a candidate who applied for a software developer position. He told me that one of his improvement areas was that he sometimes found it challenging to get to the point, especially when explaining complicated technical topics. He told me that his audience understood him but gave him feedback that his explanations were long-winded. He became more and more aware of this and started observing his colleagues when they explained technical topics. One of his colleagues was particularly good at this, so he asked him for some coaching. He also took a course on presentation techniques and started actively asking people for feedback. He mentioned that he received a lot of positive responses for improving in this area and had an appropriate example to back this up. I thought this was a good and honest answer that showed self-awareness and self-improvement.

That’s all for today. Thank you for listening, and I hope this was helpful to you.