Stop Answering ‘What’s Your Greatest Weakness’ With Badly-Spun Positives

Stop Answering ‘What’s Your Greatest Weakness’ With Badly-Spun Positives
To sign up for our daily newsletter covering the latest news, hacks and reviews, head HERE. For a running feed of all our stories, follow us on Twitter HERE. Or you can bookmark the Lifehacker Australia homepage to visit whenever you need a fix.

The idea that you should answer “what’s your biggest weakness>” in a job interview with something that’s really just a positive trait (“I’m a workaholic!” or “I’m a perfectionist!”) is something you’ll hear often from career coaches. The truth is, just stop. Every interviewer everywhere has heard it before, and would rather you were honest.

Photo by Samuel Mann

This is one of those job hunting tips that’s often repeated. We’ve discussed how to best answer this question before, among other tricky interview questions.

If you catch yourself about to spin a positive into something that could appear negative just to get through the question without looking like you actually have any weaknesses, you’ve probably revealed your real issue then and there — a lack of clarity, honesty and capacity for introspection. Ultimately, your answer to the question should be well-considered and relevant to the job and the interview, and it should be an actual point you’d like to work on and improve — not something designed to just make you look good.

Alison Green, writing at US News Money, also points out the obvious — that every interviewer everywhere ever has heard the pat answers before, and those cliches just won’t work anymore:

If you’ve picked up any guide to job searching in the past decade, you’ve probably seen the advice to claim that your biggest weakness is that you work too hard or you’re a perfectionist. But so have most interviewers, and at this point, those answers sound clich├ęd and disingenuous. What’s more, they make you sound like you either don’t have much self-awareness or you’re unwilling to have an honest discussion about your fit for the role you’re applying for.

Good interviewers don’t want to talk about weaknesses so they can play “gotcha”, but because they want to make sure they won’t put in a job where you’ll struggle.

In reality, the “your greatest weakness” question is a place for you to show where you can — and would like to — grow once you land the position. Obviously you shouldn’t go to an interview and say your greatest weakness is something that’s critical to the job you’re applying for, but showing you have a little ambition and plenty of room to grow and learn new things is more valuable than trying to save face.

Ignore This Common — and Awful — Career Advice [US News Money]


  • I would also phrase the response appropriately,.. i.e. not “my greatest weakness is …..” but more a positive spin like “An area I would like to improve about myself is….” probably shows a desire to grow.

  • It’s pretty hard to know how to answer all these ‘trick’ questions when one person is asking it expecting the person to spin it into a positive because thats what everyone says you should do and the other says nah I’m sick of hearing it spun that way do it honestly now.

    Was the initial purpose of this question to get people to spin a negative into a positive or was it purely to see if the person can reflect on their true weaknesses and work on them?

    I think most interviewers see this question as the ‘gotcha’ mentioned in the article because they have read they should ask it and are generally not great interviewers. In my experience the amount of bad interviewers tends to outweigh the good ones.

    So its a toss up to whether you get someone who is genuinely interested in knowing how you need to develop to overcome your true weaknesses (and whether they will affect you in the role) and someone who is just asking the question as the status quo and expecting the answer to be the status quo. But then I suppose if its the latter you might not even want to get the job anyway…

  • Reminds me of a comic that made me giggle.

    “So what’s your greatest weakness?”
    “I’m too honest.”
    “I don’t think that’s really a weakness.”
    “I don’t give a fuck what you think.”

  • Here’s one I gave in my last job – Entirely unrehearsed, it just fit in the context of the interview
    “Look, you’re going to interview lots of great candidates for this job, and I’m sure they’ll all be a little bit different. I think I’ve got some skills and attributes that’d make me really good for it: My demonstrated ability to inspire people, get things done on time, set good expectations and meet them, my programming skills, and my unusual mix of (Skill type X) and (Skill type Y).
    If I think back through my last few jobs, the only times where I’ve done something that I or my manager wasn’t happy with was when I spent too long on planning or designing a “labour saving device” to help make a process easier, and the labour saving device ended up taking more time than the actual job would have. I think if you guys decide I’m a good candidate for this, that’s something I’ll be really aware of and look to change”
    The HR person made some sort of noncommital thank you response, but the person who ended up being my boss said “Do you know I think that’s the best response to that question we’ve had all week?”
    I got the job, so there’s one datapoint.

Show more comments

Comments are closed.

Log in to comment on this story!