In a job interview, a man is asked "what's your biggest weakness". Interview questions and answers revealed.

How to Answer the “What's Your Biggest Weakness” Question in a Job Interview

Hannah Mason
Interviews

How to Answer the “What's Your Biggest Weakness” Question in a Job Interview

Hannah Mason • Jul 12, 2022

What is your biggest weakness?

There are some interview questions that have become a go-to for hiring managers and recruiters alike. ‘What’s your biggest weakness’ is one of them, and has cemented its place as one of most dreaded of all interview questions.

If you’re feeling unsure about how to answer the 'what is your biggest weakness' interview question, then you’re in luck. In this article, I’m going to unpack this interview question and explain the best way of answering it so that you impress the interviewer and leave a strong impression.

Let’s be honest, this interview question can often feel like a trick question. An interview is supposed to be your opportunity to convince the company to hire you, to talk about how great you are and all that you have to offer.

It’s not a therapy session and certainly not the context that you want to be discussing your biggest weakness. Your interviewers are not people you trust and want to be vulnerable with.

After all, the whole exercise of an interview is set up so that they can judge you. So, why would you want to say anything negative about yourself at all?! Why give them an opportunity to find reasons to reject you by telling them your biggest weakness?

The most common response I see to the 'what is your biggest weakness' question is for the interviewee to respond with a ‘trick’ answer. They say something that could be considered a weakness but that they know is really something the interviewer would consider a strength.

You know the kind of thing; “I’m too much of a perfectionist”, “I work too hard, I need to learn to switch off”.

This tactic of sharing something that isn’t really a weakness can work in the sense that you avoid sharing something that could disqualify you. But does it impress the interviewer? No.

They’ve heard these responses so many times before. It can all feel like a going-through-the-motions of interviewing and quite frankly is a missed opportunity to make an impact.

In fact, I once coached an interviewee who was pressed by the interviewer to share more and more weaknesses until the interviewer felt that he was speaking genuinely and truthfully.

Thankfully, not all interviewers will push this hard but that doesn’t mean that they don’t see through your evasive answer.

Why do interviewers ask “What is your biggest weakness?”

Some interviewers ask 'what is your biggest weakness' simply out of habit, but the more intentional interviewers have some genuine reasons to include this interview question.

1. The interviewer wants to understand your level of self-awareness

Talking about our strengths is one thing, but being able to speak articulately about our biggest weakness requires a greater level of self-awareness and emotional intelligence.

Demonstrating humility and a real understanding of your weaknesses, or potential blind spots, demonstrates that you are well-rounded and can offer the interviewer valuable insight about your personality.

2. The interviewer wants to see your willingness to learn and improve yourself

Whilst we all want to give the best impression of ourselves in an interview, no-one actually wants to hire the person who thinks they’re perfect. If you come across as overly arrogant, or as though you think you have zero weaknesses, this can be a big red flag to potential employers.

Instead, this question should be used as an opportunity to show you are engaged and open to continuous learning and self-improvement.

3. The interviewer actually wants to know what your weaknesses are

Not all interview questions are filled with hidden meanings and intentions. Some interviewers ask this question because they are genuinely curious.

Perhaps they are trying to figure out how you would fit in the team and whether there are people or resources to support you in the areas you are weakest.

Perhaps they know some of the challenges facing the role and don’t want to set someone up to fail. They want to understand who you are to ensure you can thrive in the role. Whatever their reasons, avoiding this interview question can leave the interviewer frustrated that you haven’t answered the question.

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What's the best way to answer the ‘what’s your biggest weakness’ interview question?

There are 3 things you can do to impress the interviewer when answering 'what's your biggest weakness'?

1. Be real, use this time to connect with your interviewer. But, keep it professional.

2. Show how you can/could mitigate this weakness and demonstrate you understand the requirements of the role.

3. Use this as an opportunity to address concerns the interviewer might already have.

Let’s take a look at some examples of how to answer 'what's your biggest weakness'?

Example one - 'what's your biggest weakness?'

“I expect when you look at my background, the biggest weakness I have compared to other candidates is that I don’t have direct experience of marketing cosmetics products.

However, I know this is something that could hold me back so I have been spending time looking into recent marketing trends in this area and understanding what your key competitors are doing.

This research has led me to think that my unconventional background could actually help me draw on more diverse ideas and bring something new to the table. We all know that in marketing, different is often better, and I’m confident that I can leverage my successful experience in marketing health food products to deliver campaigns that are fresh and disruptive.”

Example two - 'what's your biggest weakness?'

“I’ve realised that I often fail to act quickly and decisively. I like to have all the details before feeling confident to move forward.

My understanding is that this role is very fast-paced and that in order to win business, speed is important. I hope that this position will challenge me to trust my instincts more.

The funny thing is my first instinct is usually correct but I know I need to be pushed out of my comfort zone, I think this role will really force me to do that!”

Example three - 'what's your biggest weakness?'

“I didn’t progress in this industry through the typical route and as a result, I have less technical experience than some of the people I manage, not to mention the fact I am also younger than many of them.

This has always been a challenge for me and I’m sure it would be something I would need to overcome in this role.

In previous positions, I have found that leading with humility and demonstrating that I am here to support my team’s success have been really helpful in getting them on side.

I am constantly working to keep on top of the technological and technical side of the business, but I think people also appreciate it when you trust them to know more than you in some areas. After all, my role is to lead the team, not be a technical expert, and I think acknowledging this and being honest is the best approach.

Do you think this approach would work well for the team at your company?”

Conclusion

I hope you can see how the above examples show a genuine self-awareness and understanding of the role, and that you are inspired to think through your own weaknesses and answer this interview question confidently.

Learning how to answer 'what is your biggest weakness' is essential if you want to ace an interview. 'What is your biggest weakness' is one of the most commonly used interview questions, it's also the interview questions that's most likely to slip people up.

Remember, your interviewer is not looking for a ‘perfect’ candidate. They are looking for someone who will perform their role well, get on with the team, work hard and hopefully thrive in the position.

Having weaknesses doesn’t disqualify you. But, being able to connect with your interviewer, be likeable and show you ‘get’ the role, will go a long way to winning an offer.

If you need help preparing for an upcoming interview, get in touch.