There are some job interview questions that come up time and time again. For instance, the dreaded “What’s your biggest weakness?” We know it’s gonna be on the test, but somehow we still avoid studying for it, thinking, “I’ll just reframe a strength into a weakness when the time comes.”
And while many of us were taught to answer that way, the approach is outdated. Say “I’m a perfectionist,” for instance, and all you’ll do is elicit an eyeroll. (Ok, maybe not an outright eyeroll, but an internaleyeroll at the very least.)
Look, if you’re having a hard time trying to decipher that greatest weakness question, you’re not alone. Few of us enjoy considering our lesser qualities, much less talking about them in front of people we’re trying to impress. But the key to answering lies in understanding what the interviewer isreallyasking.For the most part, hiring managers are trying to find your level of self-awareness.
Being able to speak to your strengths and weaknesses exhibits a high level of self-awareness. And for a company looking for an employee with the potential to grow, it’s important to seek out someone who’s honest, self-aware, and always working to improve.
Your final answer will be tailored to your specific industry, job, and personality. But there are a few steps you can take before the interview to ensure you give a concise, professional, and honest answer.
Here’s a checklist for how to answer: “What’s your greatest weakness?”
Step one: Do some self-reflection
Think about when you’ve struggled in a particular work situation. (Remember, you’re keeping these answers strictly related to your capabilities as a working professional. You’re not confessing your relationship woes!) Has a former boss or supervisor raised a skill you could further develop? Was there a project you had some difficulty with? Now, think about why.
It’s easy to point fingers at other people for whatever problems you may have had. Maybe you’ve just chalked it up to a bad fit and bad stroke of luck. But the challenge is to reflect on what you could have done differently to better the outcome. Maybe if you would have been firmer or clearer in your requests, you could have delivered the project on a shorter timeline. Think about it and then move to step two.
Step two: Re-examine the required and expected skills for the job
Consider whether your weakness falls under the required skillsets for this job. If you’re applying for a managerial role where you’ll have to deal with a multitude of personalities and your weakness is communicating effectively—well, that’s not going to cut it. If, however, your weakness lies near the very bottom of the “other skills” listed, you might not be in shaky territory.
Step three: Focus on the lessons learned
This is your chance to show some humility. No one—no one—can proudly proclaim they have no weaknesses. We all do. They differ, of course, from person to person. But a person who’s interested in self-development continuously examines their weaknesses and analyzes where they can improve.
The key part of your answer lies here: What steps have you taken to improve? If you’ve noticed that speaking up in a group is challenging for you, perhaps you later worked out regular check-ins with your supervisor where you could communicate more effectively one-on-one about your team’s needs. Or perhaps you took it upon yourself to enroll in public speaking classes to get over your fear of giving presentations. Whatever it is, focus on what you learned about yourself and how you’ve actively taken steps to improve.
Step four: Circle back to your strength
Okay, so this is the last part of your answer. If your interviewer hasn’t already asked about your greatest strength, this is your opportunity to place the focus back on why the hiring manager should choose you. An easy way to do this is by closing your answer with a reassurance that your weakness will not be a problem in the role you’re applying for. If team presentations aren’t where you shine, perhaps it’s not that big of a deal since the role you’re applying for is one where you’ll be working independently most of the time. Or if your weakness does relate (however slightly) to your job, focus on how you plan to proactively tackle the situation. Articulate how your greatest strength compensates for your greatest weakness and go from there.
There you have it! Best of luck—and always make sure to have your own questions to ask at the end of the interview.
This story was originally published on June 20, 2018. It has been updated (and will continue to be updated) to include new tips, advice, and guidance, to ensure we are always giving you the best, most valuable resources.