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What is Your Biggest Weakness? With a Giveaway!

This article was written by in Career and Work, Giveaways. 17 comments.

When I had the chance to interview a prospective supervisor I avoided asking this question, but every interview I’ve had in which I am the one auditioning for a position, I’ve been invariably asked about my weaknesses. Fortune Magazine is tackling this question.

Dear Annie: After a detailed conversation about what I’ve been doing, the hiring manager suddenly said, “Tell me about your greatest weakness.” I was at a loss because I wasn’t expecting that and, while I know I’m not perfect, I couldn’t think of any weaknesses that were bad enough to be worth mentioning, so I just stared at him and said nothing.

Years ago, I was told that one should take a positive aspect about my personality (even if it’s invented, like perfectionism) and pretend it’s negative. For example: “My biggest weakness is the fact I am a perfectionist. I double-check my work twice before presenting said work to my managers. Sometimes this means I take extra time, but the result is my work is of high quality.”

Obviously, this is no answer to the question. But what is the interviewer expecting? An answer in which one shares stories of disorganization, shady ethics, and sex in the office after hours?

One could take the perspective that this “weakness” question is asked less for the answer than for the style and attitude of the candidate when presented with the question. I don’t buy this approach, unless the interview is being performed by a psychologist. Most middle managers I know wouldn’t recognize Psyche herself if she suddenly appeared on the table in the middle of the conference room in which we were discussing the prospect of working. Here’s what Annie suggests:

Next time you’re stumped by an interview question, if you have the presence of mind, try steering the conversation toward another topic – such as why you think your qualifications are perfect for this position.

You can fool some of the hiring managers all of the time, or all of them some of the time, but I think Annie may be on to something. One problem I have in interviews is talking. I start talking way too much. It borders on rambling and I end up concluding my thought with, “I don’t think I really answered your question.”

I hope my honesty wins them over in the end. Luckilly, Annie has a professional psychologist offer some suggestions:

* Focus the discussion on how you’ve improved over time.
* Talk about how the job you’re applying for will help you stretch and build your skills.
* Describe a valuable piece of advice someone gave you, and how it has helped your career.

Those are suggestions I can take to my next interview. Unlike the weakness-is-really-a-strength approach, I think using these tips will help tip the outcome towards the applicant.

And now for the completely unrelated giveaway. On Monday, I reviewed The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read [Amazon affiliate] by Daniel R. Solin. The main premise was that one should invest in index funds. But if you’re interested in reading about the details, comment here with an interesting interview story and I’ll send my copy of the book to one lucky winner, picked randomly.

Published or updated November 15, 2006.

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About the author

Luke Landes is the founder of Consumerism Commentary. He has been blogging and writing for the internet since 1995 and has been building online communities since 1991. Find out more about Luke Landes and follow him on Twitter. View all articles by .

{ 17 comments… read them below or add one }

avatar 1 Anonymous

When I interviewed for my current job, I thought everything went really well – we seemed to all hit it off and they seemed impressed by my qualifications. Right off the bat, everyone assumed I was a whiz with computers and math (somewhat yes, completely no) – my supervisor told me recently that they assumed I had those qualifications, though we didn’t talk about them at any length in the interview, because I wore white socks with black shoes and therefore I must be a geek.

I was actually interviewed for a job by a psychology PhD student – the questions were DEFINITELY designed to assess how I answered, not what I answered. It was very weird. I guess she assumed that her boss would take care of finding out whether I was actually qualified to do the work. She did ask me that weakness question and I said that I sometimes expect too much of other people and I get annoyed when they aren’t working in an efficient way (ie slacking off.) That seemed to please her.

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avatar 2 Anonymous

In my last interview, I answered:

“I’m pretty weak physically. I don’t think I could protect any of you against any normal person. (Laughter by interviewers) No but seriously….”

Yes I got the job.

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avatar 3 Anonymous

In a recent interview when asked this question I stated that I did not enjoy talking on the phone. I stated that I realize it was a must for my job, teaching youngsters with disabilities employability skills, but sometimes it feels like trying to answer the dentist while he’s got his hands in your mouth.

I will admit that is not the correct answer for many people but its honest.

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avatar 4 Anonymous

The last interview I had, this dreaded question came up as expected. Going into the interview I had prepared a great answer, but once I was sitting down face to face with a bunch of people who were judging my every move, I drew a complete blank.

I ended up saying one of my biggest weaknesses was the fact that I have trouble delegating work. I can have a hard time letting go of control over every aspect of a project, thus I end up doing a lot of mundane tasks that eat up time that could be better spent doing more appropriate tasks.

Well, that worked out quite well because in my current position, I don’t have any support staff and I am literally responsible for every little thing, from ordering office supplies to compiling reports. In this case my greatest weakness turned out to be my greatest asset for the particular situation.

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avatar 5 Anonymous

I was once caught off guard by the same question and I used the weakness is really a strength angle. I don’t think it was very affective but it provided me a way to avoid sitting there without a response.

I have also said in the past that my biggest weakness was my stubbornness when I am in need of help. I don’t like to ask for help and would prefer to figure things out on my own. I have no idea what the interviewer thought but it didn’t sound terrible to me.

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avatar 6 Anonymous

We’re always told to ask this question (or similar “behavioral” questions) when we interview potential employees. I don’t like them, for the reasons you mentioned. You really wind up testing someone’s interview skills rather than their job skills. Other examples of this type of question are “Give me an example of a time when you failed.”

But what you’re looking for, and you don’t need to be a psychologist for this, is someone who recognizes that they aren’t perfect. Every interviewer in the world can see right through the “My biggest weakness is that I care too much about my work” answer.

I think it’s best to list a real weakness, but you’ll want to follow it up with an example of how you’re trying to rectify the weakness.

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avatar 7 Anonymous

I should have mentioned, we’re sometimes asked to follow up this question probing for examples. That’s to see if the person was lying about the original answer. It’s fairly easy to tell when somebody just starts making things up.

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avatar 8 Anonymous

When I was interviewing for my current position I was interviewed by one of my potential team members. After asking me a few logic questions and some various things about programming and different programming languages (I was interviewing for a sustained engineering position; I fix the bugs and make it go) he stood up and was like “I need cigarettes, let’s go for a walk.” We proceeded to walk to the Rite Aid a few blocks away where he bought a pack of smokes. Most of the time we were walking we talked about various aspects of the job as well as what we each liked to do in our spare time. Aparently the fact that I wasn’t flustered at all by the unexpected situation was a big plus. I have to deal with unexpected situations at work all the time and now his logic kind of makes some sense. Though mostly I think he just needed a cigarette.

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avatar 9 Anonymous

I dream of one day answering that question with “My biggest weakness is that I have absolutely no tolerance for stupid interview questions”, while smiling politely.

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avatar 10 Anonymous

I’ve been asked this question a few times and I do what was suggested as the alternative. Instead of taking something positive and make it sound somewhat negative. I say I’m not really super detail oriented and then I promptly tell the interviewer what I do to compensate for this and make sure that it doesn’t interfere with my ability to do the job.

I have never had anyone question or follow up on this answer. I’m still wainting for the dreaded list your 3 biggest weaknesses… that will be the day I don’t get the job based on number 2 or 3. Being bluntly honest has some drawbacks to it.

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avatar 11 Anonymous

I got that stupid “weakness” question and blurted out that I was a really bad liar. It’s true! I don’t think I impressed the interviewer though.
If I were interviewing someone and asked them that question and they said something like “my biggest weakness is [insert positive attribute here]” I’d probably just say “bullshit, I want a WEAKNESS!” rather than “oh, wonderful.” See, I AM a bad liar!

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avatar 12 Anonymous

When interviewing for surgery residencies I was asked if I would ever leave the program without finishing. My response was this: “No.” >pause

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avatar 13 Anonymous

I interviewed for an internship at a government agency last year where my future supervisor (who is a Bush political appointee – not for much longer I imagine) asked me straight-up, “What are your thoughts on the Administration’s fiscal policies?”

My throat went dry because I had to make a choice between the diplomatic answer and my REAL opinion.

Thankfully, not pandering worked in my favor.

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avatar 14 Anonymous

The toughest question I had to answer was “what were some of the biggest weaknesses among your past supervisors?”

all of a sudden i went from perky and chatty to plain stumped. so i steered the conversation toward my past manager’s strengths which got me off the hook and allowed me to breathe again.

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avatar 15 Anonymous

I really, really hate the rhetorical weaseling of “I’m too good! It’s a curse!” I don’t think any interviewer at a company worth working for would be fooled by that garbage. I prefer to answer truthfully, with a real weakness (mine include difficulty prioritizing, unwillingness to ask for help, and phone avoidance, so I notice I’ve got some things in common with other commenters) and detail how I’ve tried to improve in that area. I’ve been asked this question twice, answered this way twice, and gotten both jobs.

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avatar 16 Anonymous

I’ve been asked the “what is your biggest weakness?” question at almost every single interview I’ve attended. My “best” response:
“I tend to be very curious about things and ask a lot of questions.”
The person interviewing me then asked, “Is that right?”
Me: “yes.” followed by about a minute of dead silence. Haha.

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avatar 17 Anonymous

I’ve only had one interview that didn’t include this asinine question. But now that I think about it, the entire interview was about my weaknesses…

Interviewer: “So, how long have you been a CPA?”

Me: “I’m not a CPA.”

Him: “Oh. I’m sorry. I meant to ask how long you’ve worked in finance.”

Me: “I don’t work in finance.”

Him: “Okay, that’s fine. What about tax law? What first got you interested in tax law?”

Me: “I’m not really interested in tax law. I’m more of a web designer… um… what’s the title of this position?”

Him: “Senior Tax Policy Advisor.”

Me: “I’m sorry, but that’s not what I applied for.”

At that point, since the interview was basically over but for a few polite and inconsequential questions, I decided to salvage a little dignity by becoming Johnny Confidence.

Imagine my surprise when I got called back for a second interview. And a third.

Later on, I learned that I was their second choice for the position (out of a field of forty), and would have been offered the job if their first choice hadn’t caved in on his salary demands. I’ll always be frightened of Tax Policy Advisors, because I almost became one, with no experience and no qualifications. And with a lot of weaknesses.

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