Written by Arcelia Camacho, PMP
“What is your biggest weakness?” can seem like a tricky question in a job interview. After all, you have learned to put your best foot forward during the hiring process. Why should you talk about your flaws at this stage of the process?
Why do hiring managers keep asking the “weakness” question?
Hiring managers ask “What are your biggest weakness?” to:
(1) Evaluate your reaction to an uncomfortable situation. We all have difficulties talking about our flaws, and this question adds pressure to the already stressful job interview. Hiring people want to see how you perform under pressure. Do you freeze? Do you lie and say you do not have any weaknesses? The “weaknesses” question is designed to put you on the spot.
(2) Measure your level of self-awareness. We are only human which means we all have flaws. Hiring managers know that and want to measure your degree of self-awareness.
(3) Look for examples of how you have faced obstacles. In a work environment, a weakness is a fault in one’s character that can be fixed. When hiring managers ask about weaknesses, they want to know if you can evaluate your work performance objectively and learn from constructive feedback along the way.
(4) Facilitate the decision-making hiring process. Have you ever taken a multiple choice questions exam? If you have, you know you can answer this type of question by elimination. You first eliminate the wrong answers, and then you scrutinize the last two options and choose the best answer. Interviews are like multiple choice questions: When you get to the interview stage, the hiring committee has already short-listed you. At the interview, they know they are in front of the best candidate, they need to identify him or her. The “What are your biggest weakness?” is a question that helps them filter out the other short-listed candidates and pick the best one.
Other interview questions about weaknesses
Other questions that ask about your weaknesses are the following:
- What do you think is the biggest challenge to your success?
- What areas do you most need to improve?
- What part of the job will be most challenging for you?
- Tell me about something you would have done differently at work.
- What do people most often criticize about you?
- When was the last time you were angry? What happened?
- What do you find are the most difficult decisions to make?
- What is the most significant criticism you received from your boss?
- If I called your former supervisors, what would they tell me are areas you could improve on?
- Are you working on any developmental goals currently? Do you set goals for yourself?
- Which of this role’s tasks or duties would you struggle with the most?
- Have any difficulties or issues arisen in your current role?
- What is the biggest regret you’ll have on leaving your present job?
- Is there any area of your skill set that you feel still needs work?
- Tell me about a time when you let your team down.
How you can answer the “What are your biggest weakness?” question
1. Prepare a list of weaknesses you have improved upon. It is better to write it down on a document you can often access (Tip: Save it in the cloud). Your list is ongoing. When you start thinking about your weaknesses, select only those you have improved through training, volunteering activities, mentoring or more working experience. Do not pick personality traits that are hard to change.
Here’s one of my weaknesses. I get nervous when I have to present in front of a large, unknown audience. I have learned to manage that stage-freight by exposing myself often to unknown large audiences through volunteering activities.
2. Evaluate the skills you need for the job. Most probably, you had completed this stage when you prepared for the “What are your greatest strengths?” question.
3. Choose 2-3 weaknesses that do not match the qualifications listed in the job description. It may seem obvious but you won’t believe the number of people who talk about a weakness that is an essential skill for the job because they are under-prepared and over-stressed.
4. Script your answers. The STAR (situation, task, action, response) interview response technique is an effective way to ensure you include the two important elements of your answer: the weakness and the steps you have taken to work on it. Going back to my weakness – I get nervous when presenting in front of large, unknown audiences - here is how I present it to the interviewer:
Weakness: I tend to get nervous when asked to present to a large, unknown group of people. I’m very comfortable with familiar audiences regardless of the size of the group, and I enjoy the spotlight.
[How I have fixed it] I attended a Toastmasters club for a year to overcome the nervousness feeling. I also got advice from seasoned public speakers. A few months ago, I started presenting at volunteers, and new members’ sessions at PMI Toronto and I got great feedback from the audience. I plan on continuing to seeking out opportunities to keep improving in this area.
5. Practice makes perfect. Rehearse your answers with people you trust. With enough practice, you will adapt your answers to your style and personality, so they are no longer scripted. You should be able to adjust your answer so it flows with the conversation. It may take time to fine-tune your interview performance but your efforts will pay-off. Start practicing with us! Share your script with the question “What is your biggest weakness?” and we will provide feedback so you can keep improving.