How NOT to Answer “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?”

There is one question that everyone hates to answer. A question that is difficult to overcome because you are never sure what the right answer is, never sure how to approach it, and it can be deadly to an otherwise successful interview. This question involves self assessment, a fine tuned answer, and a positive delivery. This question almost always comes up… Tell me…

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What is your greatest weakness?

MSN recently surveyed hiring managers across the country and asked them some of the craziest things they have heard in an interview. Some of the answers are silly, some just plain mind boggling, others leave the reader questioning what the candidate was thinking.

Here are our favorite really bad answers:

“I get angry easily and I went to jail for domestic violence. But I won’t get mad at you.” – Pechstein

“I had a job candidate tell me that she often oversleeps and has trouble getting out of bed in the morning.” – Linda Yaffe, certified executive coach

“I am an alcoholic and do not deserve this job.” – Deb Bailey, owner, Power Women Magazine & Radio Show

“I’m really not a big learner. You know … some people love learning and are always picking up new things, but that’s just not me. I’d much rather work at a place where the job is pretty stagnant and doesn’t change a lot.” – Michaele Charles, Voice Communications

How SHOULD you Answer “What’s Your Greatest Weakness?”

Based on the horrible and obvious weakness’s above, you may think the obvious way to answer this question would be to disguise a positive trait in a negative manner. An example would be to answer, “I am a perfectionist” or “I always like to be the leader” or “I am a workaholic”. While these answers seem to be “safe answers” they avoid the question and if you know that, the interviewer knows that. The only careers where being vague or avoiding a question is a positive attribute would be in politics or working as a Tobacco Executive. I’m pretty sure that’s not where you are heading.

Additionally, you have to understand that these generic answers are often the same with multiple candidates interviewing for the jobs. Instead of a cookie cutter answer that prevents your from really shining, try answering the question truthfully, but adding a positive spin. The real reason you are asked this question isn’t to actually find out your weakness. Instead it measures how you react under pressure and if you can handle difficult situations. A great way to answer this question would be to describe a weakness you have had and then back that up with strategies you have taken to overcome this weakness. An example would be the following,

“After assessing my overall traits and work ethic I have come to realize that my weakness has been that I try to over-extended myself and take on more than I can handle. However, in order to overcome this I have taken classes (or read books) that have helped me to learn the effective use of delegation in the workplace, how to schedule and prioritize better, and how to be more efficient in my duties. As a result, I have found that I have been able to be more productive, while creating less stress for myself, and have actively been able to involve those around me by pro-actively utilizing their strengths in our projects.”

This is a great way to answer “What’s your greatest weakness?” because it not only answers the question directly, but also shows how you have had enough self realization to recognize your weaknesses and overcome them on your own. A key point to remember is to not name a weakness that would be an essential attribute related to the job position. If you are a Administrative Assistant do not say your weakness is having a sloppy schedule. Likewise, if you are an Accountant or Computer Programmer it would not be beneficial to mention you lack attention to detail.

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