Tough Interview Question - What is your greatest weakness?

What is your greatest weakness?

Similar interview questions:
In what areas are you the weakest?
What are the areas where you need to improve your skills the most?
Are there areas where you need to develop your skills further?
What would your boss say is the area where you need further improvement?

Why the interviewer is asking this question:
The interviewer is exploring three things in this one question: 1) whether you are self-aware; 2) whether you are honest; and 3) whether you seek to improve. This is the question where many interviewees somehow think it is permissible to lie, yet an experienced interviewer can nail someone in their lie pretty quickly. Most interview books say to give a strength, but present it as a weakness, such as: "I work too much. I just work and work and work and don't know when to stop." Here's how a practiced interviewer will pierce through that lie: "So you think working too much is a weakness? So you want to be working less?" There is no good response when you are caught in a lie.

The best approach to answering this question:
Be truthful. That doesn't mean you need to present your greatest life weakness or something personal about you. Keep the interview focused on your education and experience. Choose a true weakness, yet choose one which you are actively working to change and improve.

An example of how to best answer this question for experienced candidates:
"I have had problems in the past with taking on too much work and then not delivering a quality and timely product because I was stretched too thin in too many areas. I know it's a weakness, because it reflects negatively on my end deliverables. I want to deliver quality in everything I do, but I have not always been able to do so when multiple priorities stack up. Part of the difficulty is that work was coming from outside groups and my boss did not have visibility into the requests being made. So I developed a project prioritization spreadsheet that I would review with my boss whenever a new request came in for additional work. My boss would review and approve moving projects up and down in priority based on the new requests. That way it allowed me to focus on completing what is most important to my boss with the highest quality, while moving the less important projects off to the side until time is available for completion. This is still a work in progress for me and I still need to get better at this, but it's an area where I am focused on continuously improving."

An example of how to best answer this question for entry level candidates:
"I have had problems in the past with taking on too many projects and then not delivering quality and, in some cases, not delivering on time. I was simply stretched too thin in too many areas with not enough time to deliver in a quality manner. I think that's the opportunity that is there as a new college student, you want to do everything and be involved in everything. However, I've learned that I'm not at my best when I have too many conflicting priorities. I've had to cut back on some of the less important extracurricular activities to focus on delivering my academic projects with the highest quality. This prioritization of my work has carried over to my work life with my recent internship. I had several key deliverables that were due the same week, so I met with my boss to prioritize the delivery schedule. She helped me focus on both the timing and the quality of the delivery. In the end, all three projects were delivered with high quality results. Would you like me to tell you more about them?"

An example of how you should not answer this question:
"My greatest weakness is that I'm a workaholic. I don't have any balance in my life and tend to stay late at work to complete all of my projects, often until 3 in the morning. I'm usually the first one in and the last one to leave. I know I should probably address my workaholic tendencies, but I know they help me to get everything completed. So I just keep on working, even when I'm not at work. As a result, my personal life has suffered, I'm recently divorced, my kids say they never get to see me, which is true. My life is a train wreck due to working all of these crazy hours. I just keep working and working."

Remember to answer each interview question behaviorally, whether it is a behavioral question or not. The easiest way to do this is to use an example from your background and experience. Then use the S-T-A-R approach to make the answer a STAR: talk about a Situation or Task (S-T), the Action you took (A) and the Results achieved (R). This is what makes your interview answer uniquely yours and will make your answer a star!

Further review: know the answers to these 100 Common Interview Questions to be fully prepared for your interview!

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