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How to answer the "weakness question"

We’re still in the midst of on-campus interview season! Be sure you are well prepared for what is commonly known as “behavioral-based interview questions.” There are some questions that aren’t so bad, like “Tell me about yourself”, or “Why are you interested in our company?” Then, there are the trickier ones: “So, tell me, what is your greatest weakness?”

It is assumed that practice makes perfect. But in some cases, you must first be aware of the “do’s” and “don’ts.” Here are a few tips on how to answer the “weakness question”:

Don’t be overly broad:  Make sure to be specific when explaining your weakness. For example, saying “I am not good at communicating in a large group of people” can sound extremely different in comparison to “Sometimes I have trouble giving presentations to a big audience.”

DO show how you are improving this weakness: If your weakness is public speaking, then it would be ideal to take a moment to describe ways in which you are progressing in this area. For example, you may explain that you’re currently taking a Public Speaking course in which you practice presenting in front of others on a regular basis, or that you often volunteer to hold meetings in a student organization in which you are involved.

Do keep the job description in mind: You want to be careful selecting which weakness you share with the interviewer. Every job position requires certain skills, so stating that you “don’t work well in teams” while you are interviewing for a sales position in which you will primarily be working with others, would not be wise. Make sure the weakness is not seen as a critical competency for the job.

Remember, a weakness is not always negative. Think about this question from the interviewer’s perspective: Every one of us has areas in which we need to improve. No one expects a job candidate to be perfect by any means. In fact, interviewers are likely asking about an area that you are lacking in to get a feel as to whether the interviewee possesses certain important traits such as self-awareness, initiative and positivity. So, think about taking each of these points into consideration. At the end of the day, the simple fact that an interviewee can assess themself is already a good sign, and any steps he or she may be taking to improve in a certain area is even better. 

“Sometimes the biggest strength can be found in how you understand and confront your greatest weaknesses.”
-Michael Porter

About the author

Katherine Collins

Katherine Collins was a previous Graduate Administrative Associate with Engineering Career Services.