Is The Weakness Question The Most Important Interview Question?
HR reps and headhunters don’t always agree, but one thing they are usually in sync on is the most important interview question—what is your greatest weakness.
You might be reading this and think…”They didn’t ask me that in my last interview.” But they probably did, although it could have been framed differently.
- Where do you need to improve the most?
- If we do reference checks with your previous managers, what would they say are the areas you need to improve on?
- If we asked your peers the same question, what would they say?
- If you could snap your finger and pick one set of skills to improve, what would that be?
It doesn’t matter how the interviewer asks the question, the response has to be the same. The interviewer wants to know what your weakness is, or where you need to improve the most, or where you’re not as strong in technical skills or management experience, or something.
Candidates seem to get more flustered with this question than any other. And for no good reason.
I’m Going To Tell You A Secret
In most cases, the interviewer doesn’t even want to know the answer; they simply want to see how you answer it.
I have listened to hundreds of responses from candidates, and I have discussed this with many clients. I’m convinced there is only one correct answer…
Honesty is an abused virtue these days. It seems as if you only hear of someone being honest after they’ve been caught doing something.
- A politician with his pants down or his hands in the till.
- A comment that slipped out and offended ethnic groups or religions.
- Other general acts of disobedience, like drinking and driving.
The one common ground is that the honesty part only surfaces after the guilty party is exposed. People are forgiving souls though, and if an apology is well written and presented sincerely, all ends well.
But All is Not Forgiven in an Interview
With interviews, you have to get it right the first time. If you mess up an important question like, “What is your greatest weakness,” you don’t get a second shot. It’s important to remember that the company doesn’t expect you to be Superman. You are allowed to have faults.
The crazy thing is that this is not a difficult question. By this point in your life you should know what your weaknesses are. I’m sure that your parents, spouse, coworkers, and others have let you know on more than a few occasions exactly where you need to improve. So if you don’t know your weakness by now, please look up the definition for “self-awareness.”
In most cases, your weakness doesn’t matter. Whatever you tell them will not be a shocker, and they’ve likely heard it before. If you’re applying for a sales job and you’re terrified of meeting new people—you might have a problem. But for the normal, run-of-the-mill problems, just blurt it out. A weakness doesn’t make you look bad—even Superman can be hurt by kryptonite.
Focus on this—you’re being interviewed because the company saw something on your resume, or heard something about you that made them feel you can help. They brought you in because of a strength you have in sales, or customer support, or engineering, or quality…something.
Show them how you can help them with their problems. Convince them that you’re a person they can count on. If you do that, it won’t matter what your weakness is. So…how do you answer the weakness question? Here’s how you don’t do it.
Don’t Try Covering Up
Nothing is worse than trying to cover up your weakness and pass it off as a strength.
What do I mean?
I mean by saying things like:
- I’m a perfectionist
- I’m a workaholic
- I’m too hands on.
I’ve not only seen candidates do this—and fail—but I’ve also seen so called “experts” recommend this as a way to respond. Trust me. This doesn’t work. It will backfire and probably cost you the job.
So how do you answer the question?
I can’t tell you that, but I can show you an example of a good response.
This Person Was Interviewing For a Position as a Major Account Representative
“I have a tendency to be overconfident, which leads to me “winging it” instead of preparing for sales calls. When I first started out, it all came easily, but as the products got more complex and the accounts grew bigger, it caused a few problems. My boss noticed the problem and had a long talk with me. It worked.
“If you look on my calendar, you’ll see reminders a few days before every sales call. The notes are there to remind me to prepare. I research the products, the company, the people I’ll be meeting with, and the competition. When I go to a sales call now, I’m prepared and confident. And the results show this. I started using this method three years ago, and since then I’ve been consistently ranked in the top five reps in the country, averaging 2x quota. “The problem is still there. It’s a part of me. But now I know how to deal with it.”
This is a great response because it’s one that hiring managers can relate to. It’s also great because it shows that the candidate listens to others and works on improvement. And, perhaps most importantly, it shows the candidate isn’t afraid to admit his/her weakness, and that they know how to be honest.
And by the way, that person got the job offer.
How To Prepare
Prior to the interview, you should practice your response so that you’re comfortable discussing it, but don’t make it sound rehearsed. And be prepared for the interviewer to probe deeper. Many interviewers, especially good ones, like to dig to see if there is fluctuation in your answer or if you try to back off when pressed. Be consistent, and make certain that your response is the same for all people who ask the question. They do compare notes.
Be honest. Even if you think your response will hurt your chance for an offer, be honest. Here’s a quick summary:
- State your weakness.
- Let the interviewer know you’re aware of your weakness.
- Show them that you know how to deal with it.
- Show them that what you’re doing worked.
If you answer this question honestly, you’ll have a better than average shot at receiving an offer.