Career Advice and Interview Coaching #2: What's Your Greatest Weakness?

Practical graduate career coaching advice on how to answer this devilish question
Career advice and interview coaching

If we were to conduct a poll, we at GRIT Point would place money on this being the most hated interview question of all time. The seemingly innocent query of “What is your greatest weakness?” is such an awkward one to answer. After all, we want to make ourselves appear confident, skilled and assured. We want to project Superman, not Clark Kent. Admitting our limitations seems to fly in the face of everything we’re trying to accomplish. Why would we want to do that?

If you’re struggling with this question or you have done in the past, our career development experts have come together to deliver career advice on how to tackle this frustrating situation.


Why are they asking me this question?

Nobody is perfect, and nobody is laboring under the misapprehension that you are. Your interviewers don’t have their heads in the clouds; even if they were delighted with your resume and experience, they know you have limitations. By asking this question, they want to know if:

1) You have a firm grasp on your strengths and weaknesses. Only by acknowledging our weaknesses are we able to improve upon them.

2) You are open to feedback and have a degree of humility, meaning you won’t be insufferable to work alongside.


How to prepare at home

Take it as a given that this question will be asked. It is, after all, one of the most commonly asked interview questions. Once you accept this as a reality, you can begin to do some research. Spend time reflecting on yourself, your abilities, your downfalls, and instances in the past where you have fallen short of expectations. Be prepared with three weaknesses. This will show you have done your homework.

Come up with specific instances which highlight your relevant weaknesses. It will also impress your interviewers if you can list steps you are currently taking, or plan to take, in order to improve upon your weaknesses. Employers are more inclined to embrace employees who are keen to develop.


General advice before you say anything at all

Don’t panic. This might be a very tense time for you, but you have come to the interview prepared. You know exactly how to address the question, and if you have confidence in yourself, this will attitude will shine through.

Keep a level head, take a deep breath, and discuss the question with your interviewers. Don’t make your response sound like a rehearsed line; you will end up sounding rigid and uncomfortable. Remember, your interview is a discussion, and your interviewers want you to be at ease. They just want to get to know you, and they want an accurate reflection of how you will perform with their team.


What to say to impress and stand out

While delivering your answer, admit your current flaws, but emphasize that you don’t let these weaknesses get in the way. You don’t get frustrated at yourself for not being perfect. Instead, you tend to focus on your strengths.

Remember: this question is designed to throw you off your game and to separate those who have prepared from those who have clearly not. For this reason, your interviewers will be paying close attention to not only what you say, but how you say it.


How not to answer this question

Whatever you say, don’t trot out the old favorite of “I’m a perfectionist”. Your interviewer will see through this and regard it as lazy, unimaginative, and untruthful. Even worse, your interviewer might be knowledgeable of real perfectionism, which is a problem for business.

Don't say you have a tendency to work too hard. Employers aren't looking to hire someone who doesn't know their limits. That will only lead to burnout, which will result in absenteeism, disengagement, and high turnover. Don’t claim you don’t have a weakness. As mentioned, this will simply demonstrate that you have limited self-awareness, or no inclination to improve upon your existing skills.

Finally, remember not to give away too much. You want to impress in this job interview, so don't reveal weaknesses that raise red flags the interviewers can't ignore. For example, if you have trouble getting up in the morning and making it to work on time, don't admit this. Equally, if you tend to panic when a big deadline looms, and you procrastinate as a result, don't share this with the people tasked with hiring you. This is something you should certainly work on, but a responsible recruiter is unlikely to hire someone who is intimidated by pressure.

For the best available graduate career coaching and for help on everything from interviews to career development, get in touch wit GRIT Point today. We’re here to get your career off to the best possible start.