my least favorite interview question (+ how to answer it)
Without a doubt, “what’s your greatest weakness?” is an interview question I’ve never really liked, as a recruiter, a career coach, or a candidate. Most job seekers think it’s a trick question and have no clue how to prepare for it, and most interviewers don’t particularly know what they’re hoping to learn from the fluffy answers they typically receive.
Similar to my feelings about cover letters, just because I don’t like “what’s your greatest weakness?” doesn’t mean I haven’t developed a solid method for answering it. There are many different ways to approach your response to this question. The one that candidates generally go with is turning a positive quality into something “negative,” but there’s also selecting a nonessential skill for the role you’re interviewing for, and my personal favorite -- providing an area for improvement that you’ve identified, reflected on, and actively worked to improve upon.
Let’s discuss the final option a bit more. Why is it my preferred option? Because you’re letting the interviewer know that you’re able to reflect on your own areas for improvement, develop an intentional strategy for improving in the area(s) you’ve identified, and analyze the outcomes after you’ve taken active steps to learn, change, and grow.
Also, it allows you to tell your interviewer a story! Rather than the go-to “my perfectionism and commitment to producing high-quality results means that I can get caught up in the little details and lose sight of the overall project goal” or something like that, you can share a more concrete and helpful story of how you identified a particular weakness (or area for improvement), what steps you took to address it, and what the outcome of those steps was.
For example, let’s say that an area for improvement is using technology to eliminate silly human errors. You can say: “Early on in my career, while working on a 2-person team alongside my manager for several months, I noticed that during our intake process, certain clients were falling through the cracks as we attempted to remember all of their needs and preferences in our heads rather than recording them on paper or within a database. Both I and my manager made errors that could have easily been avoided by establishing a more systematic process. With that in mind, I created a tracker within Google Sheets, input all of our current clients, their stage in our intake process, and the task(s) required of our team. I shared this with my manager, and pitched it as an opportunity for us to operationalize a process that we were unsuccessfully keeping in our brains alone. It was a chance for me to identify a problem, and quickly provide an effective solution that could immediately be implemented. My new process allowed us to harness the power of technology to create stronger interpersonal relationships, and led us to have more fruitful interactions with our clients thereafter.”
Short and sweet, but a STORY.
My biggest piece of advice if you use this method: don’t select a skill that’s absolutely critical for this role, as you could be voluntarily presenting a flaw that might cause a potential employer to question your qualifications for the role. Choose an area in which you’ve improved greatly that will enhance and strengthen your candidacy for the job opportunity!