3 reasons why interviewers ask: What is your biggest weakness? 2 ways to answer

UnhappyI have yet to find anyone who likes to answer this question in an interview.  However, most managers still ask it…even those who hate to answer it themselves.  Fortunately, it seems that fewer hiring managers are doing it, realizing there are more effective questions to ask to get the desired information.  However, every job seeker must be prepared to provide a response.

  1. Should it be asked? 3 motivations
    What is the interviewer really trying to find out by asking this question?  My unscientific survey provides three primary reasons, only one of which is sincere, and even that one isn’t likely to result in obtaining the desired information. Sadly, the most prevalent reason for asking this question is that somehow, somewhere years ago, it was placed on a list of standard interview questions, i.e. interviewers think the question must be asked because it always has been!! They don’t really know what they’re trying to learn by asking it.
  2. What is their reaction?
    The second most common reason the question is asked is that the interviewer just wants to see how the candidate reacts, what s/he says, but that the actual content of that response is unimportant.
  3. How will s/he fit in with my team?
    This last reason conveys a sincere desire to assess the candidate’s honest view of her/himself, that everyone has strengths and weaknesses.

How do you know?

Unfortunately, a candidate can’t tell which of these three reasons is a particular interviewer’s motivation. Additionally, even if an interviewer’s reasoning is #2 or #3, they will consider your answer as a negative if they interpret this characteristic as a potential problem. Given the highly competitive nature of interviewing, candidates must opt to present only their positive characteristics.

No matter the reason, the question is asked and you need to be ready for it. Here’s how.

Don’t be flip
Much has been written about how to respond. I don’t have any weaknesses. This is disingenuous and implies that you don’t take the question seriously. I am a workaholic. This response is intended to convey that you will be totally dedicated to your job and that this really isn’t a weakness at all. It’s on the right track but not a good answer because even if it’s true, it may convey that you have an overly intense, rigid personality. More likely, the interviewer will assume that you’re just trying to take an easy way out of answering the question.

It’s no longer a weakness
Think of some aspect of your work style or skill set that has grown throughout your career. What is a characteristic that you have had to evolve or develop over the years as you have expanded in responsibility? Here are a couple of examples:

Personal trait
Early in my career, as an individual contributor, I prided myself on being an expert problem solver. I would focus on an issue, analyzing pros and cons, until I came up with the best solution. As I have taken on increasingly responsible leadership roles, I have learned that it is better for me to delegate to my team. This has increased the confidence of individual members, allowed them to work better as a whole, and has actually resulted in more creative solutions.

Skills – Choose something that’s not crucial for the position at hand such as public speaking.
Going back to high school, I was very nervous making presentations to even small groups.  I improved over time but remained quite anxious.  On a friend’s suggestion, I joined a Toastmasters group and now I’m beginning to actually enjoy it, but I can always get better.

Not only do these answers allow you to respond to the question sincerely and not point out a current weakness, they also allow you the opportunity to convey additional positive traits.

Having concluded that there is little to no value in the answer, no matter what it is, and that any value it may have is not nearly worth the discomfort it causes the interviewee, I’m not in favor of asking this question in an interview.  In fact, I would like to see it eliminated entirely.  If you are a hiring manager, please review all the questions you ask to determine their usefulness in assessing a candidate.  Eliminate those which don’t add value and focus instead on behavioral questions, “tell me about a time when…”

Please let me know what you think about this question and if you have a better answer to the question What is your biggest weakness?

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2 thoughts on “3 reasons why interviewers ask: What is your biggest weakness? 2 ways to answer

  1. Pingback: 3 reasons why interviewers ask: What is your biggest weakness? 2 ways to answer | Career Advice and Other Musings | PEP Jobs

  2. Pingback: Interview Tips & Job Advice | PEP Jobs

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