Coburg Banks | Multi-sector UK recruitment agency

How to answer “what is your greatest weakness?” in an interview

By Anthony Hughes | Feb 21, 2017 | Candidate Tips

How to answer “what is your greatest weakness?” in an interviewI personally detest this interview question.

I faced it a few times myself when I first started out on my career and it’s one that I never really felt I’d cracked.

Probably because it’s stupid.

But unfortunately, it still gets asked, over and over again.

So let’s take a look at the wrong ways to answer it – and then some examples of what you could say instead…

The Cliché.

Do NOT fall into the classic trap of answering with a cliché strength dressed up as a weakness.

The interviewer will have heard:

  • “I’m just a bit of a perfectionist
  • “If anything, I just work too hard. I don’t know when to stop.”
  • “I just care too much about my job.”

And they’ll be bloomin’ sick of hearing it.

Best case scenario, they’ll roll their eyes and move onto the next question, worst case; they’ll tell you outright that that’s not a weakness and ask you to answer again.

(Honestly, this has happened to one of my candidates and they said it was very awkward).

The Lie.

You should also definitely NOT be tempted to say you have “no weaknesses.”

Nobody is perfect, everyone has flaws and by saying you don’t you’re going to look a little bit arrogant and you’re going to look like you’re shirking the question.

This is their interview, they make the rules (however annoying) so you have to like it or lump it.

Recruiter Pro Tip

You’re perfectly within your right to “lump it,” by the way.

If you think the process is unprofessional or that you are being treated unfairly, you are within your right to say something, refuse to answer a question and/or just get up and walk out.

I always have to remind my candidates that recruitment is a two-way process and should be based on mutual respect; no one should make you feel (really) uncomfortable.

Honesty is the best policy (most of the time).

The Joke.

At this point, to settle the tension, you may feel the need to make a joke and lighten the mood!

That’s fine, but do think carefully about what you say:

“I’m as stubborn as a mule,” “I love gin” or “interviews” may sound hilarious in your head – but you just don’t know how your interviewer will react.

They may take you too seriously or they may think you’re avoiding the question.

So what should you do?

Tell the truth (to a certain extent).

It’s much better to choose a weakness that you are actively working to overcome, than to pretend you’re “perfect.”

Here are some sample answers:

  • “As a marketer, I read loads of blogs and I have so many different ideas of things I’d like to try but this meant I struggled with organizing it all. I’ve downloaded a variety of organisational tools like [name tools] to help me manage this better and my organisation has definitely improved.”
  • “At [Company Name] we used [Software] which meant that I had little exposure to other more modern packages like [Software]. I knew that these would be skills I would need for my future career, so I took an online course to get to grips with them.”
  • “I find it difficult to say no to random tasks from co-workers and managers. So much so, that my workload is often impossible to complete. I have now created a calendar, blocking out busy times and scheduling in tasks as they come. This helps me to prioritise and makes it easier for everyone to see how much I have on, when I’m free and gives me more back up to say ‘no’.”

Take some time to really talk through exactly how you’ve improved your situation and become a better, more employable person because of that.

If you feel like there are any obvious gaps in your knowledge that this role will require, focus on these and emphasise how keen you are to build that skill set in order to do well in your new position.

Recruiter Pro Tip

I said “tell the truth (to a certain extent)” for a reason!

Obviously avoid any examples that are just plain negative like ‘I’m not a very good time-keeper’ or ‘I tend to irritate other people,’ or ‘I’m crap at [Skill]’

You don’t want to completely put them off hiring you!

Finally, always end on a positive note…

For example: “I’m a quick learner so I’m certain this is something I would be able to pick up easily.”

Summary

So there you have it. Some tips on how to answer that dastardly question: “what’s your greatest weakness?”

Remember:

  • Everyone has faults; it’s ok to admit that.
  • Turn your negatives into a positive…
  • …but not in a really obvious and cliché way.

Most importantly, always show how you’re currently working hard to improve those weaknesses.

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Or are you…

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Good luck.

- Anthony Hughes

Anthony Hughes

Anthony is a recruitment veteran of 18 years and is also one of the original founders of Coburg Banks. He now trains recruitment consultants on the best methods to utilise when sourcing and assessing applicants for their clients. 

 

> More blog posts by Anthony Hughes

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