How to Answer: What Is Your Greatest Weakness?

How to Answer: What Is Your Greatest Weakness?
Rachelle Enns on June 28th, 2021

In this guide, MockQuestions walks you through answering one of the most common interview questions, What is your greatest weakness? We break down a simple method to frame your answer, discuss what to avoid, give you tips for responding, and provide a few answer examples, too!

The Purpose Behind the Question

When an interviewer asks, What is your greatest weakness? they are looking for evidence that you are aware of your shortcomings. They also want to know that you embrace opportunities to grow and improve.

The interviewer also wants to see that:

Before any job interview, be ready to discuss your weakness (or weaknesses) honestly and authentically. Every person has weaknesses that show up in their professional life. Even your interviewer! This question is not meant to place focus on the ways you are weak or unskilled.

The purpose of the question is for the interviewer to see if you are:

Most interviewers ask the question, What is your greatest weakness? (singular) and some will ask, What are your greatest weaknesses? (plural). While these are the most straightforward ways to ask this common question, your interviewer might also phrase the question as:

Different Types of Weaknesses

With a broad question like What is your greatest weakness? it's challenging to know what the interviewer wants you to focus on when responding. You don't want to offer a laundry list of flaws. At the same time, you want to respond in a way that shows you have put genuine thought into this question.

There are different types of weaknesses, including:

4-Step Approach to Prepare

STEP 1: Take the time to have an honest internal look at yourself. Consider the times you haven't performed at your best, or you've fallen short of meeting expectations.

STEP 2: Make a list of the personal weaknesses and shortcomings you feel contributed to those times where you fell short of succeeding. Consider how these past experiences would have worked out differently if they had not been impacted by your shortcomings.

STEP 3: Think about what you have done, or plan to do very soon to fix those weaknesses and improve your performance. Remember that it's entirely okay to talk about a weakness that you are still working on improving.

STEP 4: After doing this reflective work, choose 1-3 weaknesses that stand out the most. Think about how these weaknesses and your improvement plan will resonate with the hiring company.

Note: This approach often takes deep introspection. The first three steps may bruise your ego just a little bit, and that's normal! However, by the end, this framework allows you to turn your weaknesses into a positive example of self-discovery and actionable change.

After doing the deeper personal work, you should able to confidently communicate your weaknesses without embarrassment. You should also be able to clearly demonstrate how the lessons you learned and the effort you've put into improving will add value to the company that hires you.

Mistakes to Avoid When Responding

Giving too many weaknesses. Stick to one primary point if the question is asked in singular form (What is your greatest weakness?). Give 2-3 weaknesses if the question is asked in plural form (What are your greatest weaknesses?).

Giving a Cliche or Overused Response. Cliché and overused responses include phrases like:

These replies come across as self-serving because they are 'false' weaknesses. Yes, you should flip weakness-based questions into a positive response, but there is a more effective way of doing so.

Giving an Answer That is Self-Serving. Often, candidates are tempted to say that they don't have any significant weaknesses. They give this answer because they don't want to look bad to the interviewer; however, this approach generates the opposite result.

Take a humble and transparent approach. Admit that you aren't good at something. Then, talk to the interviewer about the steps you are taking to improve on this weakness. The interviewer will appreciate your honesty. By showing that you are human (just like everyone else!), you will build trust with the hiring authority.

Giving an Answer That Raises Red Flags. Choose a weakness that is not a core skill for the position. For instance, if you are interviewing for an Administrator role, your greatest weakness should not be your Excel skills.

Giving an Answer That is Too Vague. A vague response will not teach the interviewer anything about you. A generic reply will not help draw the interviewer closer to the conclusion that you are the right candidate for the position.

Giving an Answer That is Too Personal. This question should not be used as an opportunity to talk about your personal life. Maybe one of your weaknesses is being too trusting of others. This does not mean that you should dive into a story of how your best friend stole money from you, and now you are working on attracting better friendships. Keep your answer work-related and create boundaries around the information and details that you share with the interviewer.

Giving an Answer That is Not Tailored to the Hiring Company. Remember to think about your weakness, outline what you are doing to improve, and make a connection between your improvement efforts and the benefit to the hiring company. Ask yourself - what knowledge, skills, characteristics, or abilities are you growing that will add value to the hiring company?

Things to Consider When Building Your Answer

Your Answer Should be Supported By Evidence. After stating your greatest weakness, remember to speak in detail about your improvement efforts. Perhaps you are watching YouTube tutorials to gain skills in a particular area. Maybe you are taking an online workshop to bridge a skills gap. By including details like these, you offer evidence that you have the desire to continually improve.

Your Answer Should be Targeted Specifically to the Job. Share a weakness that is related to the job you are trying to land. When you share a flaw that has nothing to do with the position, the interviewer cannot use the information to help them in their hiring decision. Remember - every answer you provide in an interview should lead the decision-maker closer to a 'Yes - you're hired!'

Your Answer Should be Thoughtful and Truthful.The interviewer wants you to be honest about your weaknesses. At the same time, they want to see that you are proactive and dedicated to professional growth. It's essential to maintain a positive tone, show confidence, and display a desire for improvements.

An Answer Template to Try

"I have spent time reflecting on this question and believe that my biggest weakness is [X]. This weakness has impacted my work by [Speak briefly about how this weakness has impacted your work. Mention why you think it's important that you improve on this weakness]. I show potential in this area by [Lift yourself up a bit by mentioning the ways you have shown potential in this area of weakness]. However, I have room for growth. To improve, I am [Discuss the specific action steps you are taking to improve this weakness]. By [Give a dedicated timeline], I plan to [Mention the goal you wish to reach to improve this weakness]. Improving on this weakness will help me to [Offer specific details of how your improvements in this area will help you to succeed in this new role]."

Answer Examples For 'What is Your Greatest Weakness?'

Administrator Example

"I have spent time reflecting on this question and believe that my biggest weakness is my ability to be concise in my written communication. My lack of brevity sometimes causes people to read through lengthy reports or emails and spend extra time locating the primary points they need to know. As an administrator, my job is to make other people's work feel seamless, and I see that sometimes I don't do that. The executives I currently support often comment positively on my professionalism and thorough nature, so I know that I have a lot of potential. However, I have room for growth in my written communication style. To improve, I have been practicing brevity by writing the first draft and then asking myself which points could be shortened or which words can be removed. I have already seen a marked improvement in my written communication skills. These continued efforts will help me be highly efficient in this Administrative Assistant role with Company ABC."

Sales Example

"I have spent time reflecting on this question and believe that my greatest weakness is a lack of consistency with my CRM documentation. I sometimes get so wrapped up in my cold calling and prospecting efforts that I forget to document my activity in our CRM until the end of the day. Then, it can become difficult to remember some of the details that should be included in my notes. I do have a good memory, so at this point, my work has not suffered; however, I recognize that this is not a positive habit, and it could hurt my success at some point. I've spoken with my sales manager about my desire to improve in this area and asked her to help hold me accountable. We developed a system where I set an alert every 2 hours to spend a 20-minute time block solely on CRM documentation. After blocking this time for the past two weeks, I can see myself forming much better habits already. By improving on this weakness, it will help me to be even more efficient at Company ABC. I will be much more detailed in my notes, and this will improve my sales calls, client follow-ups, and it will free up more time for business development activities."

Manager Example

"When it comes to my professional weaknesses, I struggle with delegating seemingly minor tasks to my team members. If the task is quick and minor, my default is to do it myself because it saves time explaining the task, passing it along, and then following up on the completion. Quite possibly, I do this to accommodate my team members, which isn't a negative quality. Still, I can find other ways to be an accommodating manager. I also realize that this approach inhibits my team members' professional growth. To move away from this tendency, I have spent more time training employees to take a task from A to Z. Rather than jumping in, I have begun coaching them more often. Since changing my approach, the team members have been much more proactive, and our overtime hours have decreased, which is a pleasant surprise. By improving on my ability to delegate, I will be a much better manager for Company ABC. I will come to your organization with a fresh mindset ready to empower others through additional responsibilities and new learning opportunities."

Recent Graduate

"While attending university, I noticed that sometimes during group projects, I had difficulty adjusting to shared tasks. I am certainly willing to collaborate; however, I often felt that it would be easier to take care of all components of a particular task than pass the task back and forth. Once I recognized this habit as a sign of weakness rather than one of strength, I decided it was time to become better at sharing tasks with other group members. I read a few insightful articles about delegation and how the best leaders share tasks because it encourages the growth of others. That knowledge shifted my mindset because I realized that sometimes collaboration isn't just about sharing tasks. It's also about sharing knowledge and learning from others. Since then, I have become better at bringing projects to the finish line alongside my team members. I believe this awareness gives me an advantage as I enter my new career with a mindset focused on a genuine joy for team collaboration."

In Conclusion

Common interview questions such as, What is your greatest weakness? are challenging to answer. Forming a proper response takes research, practice, and a lot of self-awareness.

When discussing your most significant weaknesses, remember to highlight your interest in professional growth. Be sure to maintain a positive tone, show confidence in your ability to improve, and demonstrate a desire for improvement.

When you dedicate time and practice, you will see yourself quickly progress and feel more comfortable with this question. Soon, it will feel natural to re-frame your weaknesses as emerging strengths.

If you want more interview coaching, MockQuestions has various available resources, including our set on the most common (and challenging!) interview questions.

View all of our answer examples for: What is your greatest weakness?

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