Some interview questions are pretty darn easy. “What do you do at your current job?” “What are your strengths?” “Why do you want this job?” They’re straightforward questions that typically require straightforward answers. Be honest, upfront and thorough, and you’ll ace them without issue. Piece of cake.
One of the most popular curveball questions job candidates receive in an interview is, “What is your biggest weakness?” While some may think this question is silly or a trap designed to coerce a candidate into making a mistake, it’s actually quite the opposite. How a person answers this question shows a lot about their ability to think on their feet, speak about personal growth, and show initiative to improve as a professional.
So how should you answer this question? How can you frame your weakness in a positive way while also showing you’re a fit for the job at hand? And conversely, how should you not answer this question?
"So, tell us—what’s your biggest weakness?"
We developed two answers to the “What is your biggest weakness?” question. One is a strong answer, one isn’t. Here, imagine you’re the interviewer. Choose the best response. We’ll tell you why one is better than the other at the end.
I would say my biggest weakness is that I’m a perfectionist. Whenever I work on a project or get together with my team, I demand that everything I do and everything we create is nothing less than perfect. Mistakes are never OK with me. If I’m developing code as part of a new software program, I will work until 2 a.m. to make sure there are no issues and the program ends up exactly as the client wanted it.
This may be a bit burdensome to some of my colleagues or teammates, but I will never accept anything less than the best work from myself and from those around me. If being a perfectionist is a weakness, then I guess I’m guilty.
I would say my biggest weakness is probably impatience. Early in my career, I found it difficult to wait for others to complete their piece of code when I thought I could do it more quickly or more efficiently. I’ve always wanted to make sure the software projects I’m a part of are completed well ahead of any deadline.
However, this impatience has helped me better organize my time and my colleagues’ time and become more of a leader. I now work with my team to set specific and attainable goals that are aligned with their work methods—whether they’re used to agile, waterfall or otherwise—and skill levels. It’s something I’m still working on, but I’ve found that a little bit of impatience helps ensure my teams are organized and my projects always get done on time.
So, which response was the better one?
If you picked response #2, congrats—you’re right. But why?
With response #1, the candidate went with one of the most overly used responses recruiters see when asked the weakness question—the non-weakness. Not only are interviewers bored with these responses, but it’s a missed opportunity to show any real character traits or personal growth over time. Plus—who wants to work with someone who lacks the self-awareness to acknowledge they have flaws, anyway?
As for response #2, the interviewee first acknowledges an actual weakness—impatience. However, confessing to a real weakness is only the first part. In the second half of the response, the interviewee showed that they have been working to correct that weakness while also using some of its qualities as a strength. Their impatience means they get projects completed more quickly and has led to better organization amongst the team.
When you’re coming up with your own answer to the biggest weakness question, here are two things it should always do:
1. Acknowledge a real weakness.
2. Show how you’ve managed to recover from that weakness and eliminate it, turn that weakness into a strength, or show how that perceived weakness is actually a benefit.
Remember, this question is an opportunity to show how you have the ability to learn from your past experiences and grow professionally. Make sure you take advantage with an answer that reveals a truly positive character trait.
Also, be situationally aware. If you are interviewing for a position that truly requires near perfection or significant accuracy, response #1 above (with some specifics about how it relates to you and the role, like response #2) could be a good answer. So, in reality there’s no one perfect answer to this one. But thinking about it beforehand can help you give a much better answer.