How to respond to “what’s your biggest weakness?” in a job interview

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If you’ve ever sat down to be interviewed for a job, chances are you’ve been hit with this question. What is your biggest weakness? While the question is a predictable move on the interviewer’s part, it does give them insight into your mindset.

Can you admit when you are wrong? Are you self-aware enough to know what you need to work on in order to be a better employee? In fact, most employers know this question is cliché, but most ask as a way to gauge your general preparedness.

These are the kinds of questions an employer is trying to answer when they ask you this from the other side of the table.

By now, most interviewees know this question is coming. So, what kind of answer should we be preparing for it?

You may have guessed that we are not equipped to give you a cookie-cutter answer that works perfectly in every interview situation. Point blank, it is important to be as genuine as you can (while preserving professionalism).

While we can’t give you a specific weakness to rattle off when the interview is taking place, we can arm you with strategies in order to respond in an honest, yet impressive way.

  1. Know the skillsets required for the position

Of course, it’s key here to have a good understanding of the position you are interviewing for. That is to say, be aware of what skills are required for the job.

For example, if you’re interviewing for a teacher position, don’t admit a weakness in public speaking! However, you can say that you might need some extra time to prepare before lectures.

  1. A weakness isn’t necessarily a bad thing

People’s weaknesses are just areas that need work. It will be important to frame whatever weakness you choose to reveal in this way. It’s all about context and perspective. If your weakness is that you are bossy in group settings, it might be advisable to say that you are “still learning how to best work in a team.”

This shows the interviewer that you are self-aware, and willing to work on yourself in order to perform better in the workplace.

  1. Keep things specific

When asked what your weakness is, it is very tempting to say something vague. Perhaps if you aren’t clear, the question will be glossed over and you can focus on communicating other things.

Unfortunately, interviewers have been using this question as a litmus test for a long time, with no end in sight. In this vein, your best bet is to prepare an appropriate answer.

When giving a vague answer, it allows the interviewer a lot of room for interpretation. In fact, this rule of thumb works with a lot of interview questions. It is best to elaborate on points in order to define what you’d like to get across fully.

For example, do not say your biggest weakness is that you are shy. This could mean anything to the interviewer! Try stating that you are on the introverted side, but are working on communicating in a group setting.

Beyond this, there are certain things you should absolutely never respond when it comes to the weakness question. These include:

  • Being untrustworthy
  • Being a “perfectionist”
  • Having trouble accepting critique
  • Having trouble showing up on time/being reliable

In an interview setting, there is no black and white, and there are no surefire answers. It will be crucial for you to flex your communication muscle in preparing to sit down with a potential employer. Focus on being genuine, on appearing prepared to work on yourself, and above all, on showing how you are qualified for the position.

Miriam Groom is VP of Sales and Marketing at Groom and Associates, a Canadian recruitment agency specialized in IT recruitment.

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