The Greatest Weakness Question: How to Nail It

Ah, yes.  The infamous “what is your greatest weakness?” interview question.  Despite thousands of links on the Internet regarding interview preparation, and countless books on the subject, many people still botch this classic employer inquiry.  So we’ll restate the advice from our workbook, which is our belief that candidates should attempt to score lots of authenticity points on this question and provide a very thoughtful and honest answer.  Not sure what weakness to focus on?  Here’s the secret: Just take one of your greatest strengths, flip it around, and discuss how it could be (or has been) used against you and caused you workplace grief in the past.

Here are several representative examples of this technique in action:

— Are you extremely talented at building teams, increasing retention rates, and creating a trusting and empowered work atmosphere?  If so, then you more than likely have trusted too much, on occasion, and had employees abuse your good nature.  Explain how you’ve learned to guard against this tendency and have learned to be fair, but tough, to avoid getting taken advantage of by your subordinates.

— Are you highly analytical and good at seeing problems from all angles?  If so, we’d predict that you’ve been accused of being “resistant to change” or “too slow to make decisions” from time to time.  Talk about the times that this issue has caused friction during your career and how you’ve learned to apply your analytical skills more selectively, or to disengage them completely, when circumstances require it.

— Are you a perfectionist who pays tremendous attention to detail?  If so, we’d bet dollars to doughnuts there have been times when this tendency has slowed you down, alienated your co-workers, or placed you in a martyrship role working many extra unpaid hours.   Should this be the case, explain how you’ve learned to prioritize better and to evaluate when “good” might be “good enough” more effectively.

Once you’ve disclosed your own authentic weakness, and provided some context about how it has gotten in your way on a few occasions, don’t dilly-dally — move on to describe how you’ve learned to compensate for it and guard against it limiting your effectiveness in certain situations!


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