How To Answer The “What Is Your Biggest Weakness?” Interview Question

In N Out Double Double BurgersMy biggest weakness is the lack of more patience. I wish I was a Zen Monk, unflappable in every way. Sadly, I get annoyed when people are more than 15 minutes late without giving a heads up or don’t read directions and start asking questions.

One of the best things about being retired is having more time. As a result, I’ve developed more patience because I no longer have a jam packed schedule. Furthermore, having a smartphone is one of the best time wasters or productivity enhancers around. Waiting in line for an hour has never been so easy with a fully charged device.

I try and contain my frustrations internally, but sometimes they still manifest themselves in facial contortions, curt speech, or jagged emails. The worst is when I let my annoyance fester over to loved ones. I plan to work on some deep breathing exercises to help calm the mind.

ANSWERING THE DREADED INTERVIEW QUESTION

The beginning of this post is an example of how I would answer the “biggest weakness” question today. There are three main strategies to approach the question and pass with flying colors. Answering this question correctly can either synch the interview or blow yourself up.

1) Share something most people have weaknesses for that is unrelated to work. For example, a lot of people love chocolate. You can say your biggest weakness is chocolate velvet cupcakes and smile! It’s the truth, and something you can use to make light of a more serious situation.It shows you are genuine and have a personality. Or, you can say you need to work on your zen when people eat with their mouths open and make lots of noise. Who doesn’t find such eaters annoying? You can make an immediate bond by highlighting a common annoyance.

2) Be honest about a work related weakness that you are gradually overcoming. This one is trickier since you want to put yourself in the best light possible. However, if you are asked the weakness question and find that your first answer doesn’t fly, then you’ve got to get a little serious. Good answers are knowledge deficiency based because they can be overcome through practice and studying. For example, you can say your biggest weakness is shooting free throws if you are a professional basketball player. You can then mention how your free throw percentage has improved by 10% over the years.

3) Highlight a real example where you failed due to your weakness and explain what you learned from the experience and how you improved. It’s important not to highlight a fake weakness.  Examples such as, “I work too hard and need to have more balance,” “I’m too meticulous,” and other annoying answers will instantly sink your ship. Instead, talk about a real failure, and show humility i.e. “I lost the client because I was too intimidated to ask him for the contract. I’ve learned to be more assertive in the future.

HONESTY AND HUMILITY 

The goal of the “What is your biggest weakness?” question is to 1) Find out what really is your biggest weakness, 2) See how honest you are, 3) Observe how you plan to neutralize your weakness and turn it into a strength. It’s important you let down your guard a little to show your interviewer that you are not perfect. No employer expects you to be perfect, but all employers expect you to be honest.

A List Of Good Answers

* More patience

* Spreading yourself too thin / trying to take on too much

* Not focusing as much as you’d like

* Any food weakness e.g. pizza, donuts, lemon meringue pie, cupcakes, rib-eye

* Sports fanatic e.g. you are a diehard X fan (hopefully the same as your employer)

Readers, what is your biggest weakness?  How do you answer the “biggest weakness” question?

Note: For 2013, I plan to use Sundays to write shorter posts answering reader’s questions or share my own relevant thoughts, publish more photo essays such as this one about suffering, or host guest posts from the community.

Photo: A big weakness for only $2.99 each!  SD

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Regards,

Sam

How To Make Money Quitting Your Job

Sam started Financial Samurai in 2009 during the depths of the financial crisis as a way to make sense of chaos. After 13 years working on Wall Street, Sam decided to retire in 2012 to utilize everything he learned in business school to focus on online entrepreneurship.

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Comments

  1. says

    Despite your insightful advice, that question is a pain in the ass. I think the question is very offensive regardless of its intentions. I don’t usually want to tell anyone what my “biggest” weakness is because it can most likely work against me. Therefore, I think the correct option should always default to number 1 above: Share something most people have a weakness for.

    But if it were me, who has a weakness of being “too” candid and oftentimes untactfully honest, I couldn’t default to option 1 because whatever I said wouldn’t be my “biggest” weakness and would therefore be a lie.

    So, would it ever be appropriate to tell the interviewer that you would rather not share your biggest weakness? Isn’t the question a bit too intimate, assuming everyone answers honestly?

      • says

        I agree. But it stands that I think the question does more harm than good by asking people to share their BIGGEST weakness. A weakness? Sure, that’s shareable. That’s where option 1 becomes the default choice.

        For example, what if someone’s biggest weakness is, “it takes me a while to get use to working with people. I’m usually nervous, and it’s a big turn off for most people.” Are you saying that someone who answers this way is in a favorable light? Of course not. Should they have not been honest and shared this information even though it’s their biggest weakness?

        My point is, on the surface the question seems to be a good one to determine a potential worker’s fit for the organization’s culture. But further look can probably led to legal action on the grounds of non-hiring based on a question that is arguably non-work related.

        • says

          Good point Romeo. Yes, if your biggest weakness is very detrimental to your chances of employment, then you need to consider what your biggest weakness is in the current context.

          The employer doesn’t want to know your darkest secrets. The question is a test of your humanness, and ability to communicate properly.

        • JayCeezy says

          There is only one answer that would make me hire anyone immediately.

          But seriously, I have muffed this question and think it is a great way to separate people that will not be a good fit. If one is offended by this question in an interview context, chances are pretty good they will be offended early and often and might be difficult to work with. The whole concept of being judged can be offensive; or, the interviewee can navigate past the moment. btw, just mentioning ‘legal action’ in regard to this question is also an indicator to a potential employer.

        • says

          But surely everyone is in the same boat, with the same awful question? Everyone knows, by and large, that most answers are BS. I like the approach that you be honest, but then give an example of how your overcoming it. Although I wouldn’t be too honest. Me, I’m terrible with numbers and have an awful attention to detail. I would never mention those, but likely something that is more acceptable, such as shyness.

  2. says

    I actually like this type of question because it gives me a chance to show how adaptable I am and how I can overcome pretty much anything. Plus I think it is easy to related to people with a weakness. Everyone has them, and everyone has to work hard to overcome them. People don’t relate to how amazing you are, but they can relate to how hard it can be to work with people who talk to much. Great insights!

  3. says

    As much as I despise these kinds of questions, and behavioral questions in general, they’re a part of the interview so you’ve got to get used to them. Sam is spot on with this article. When I interviewed for my current job, I used a combination of humor + option 2 or 3 from the above list.

    I: What’s your biggest weakness?
    Me: Tigers….
    I: *chuckle*
    Me: But to answer your question, (discussion of some work related issue that I’m not good at or wasn’t good at and how I’m progressing to become awesome at it).

    Don’t to to BS the interviewer and talk about how you’re a workaholic, or a perfectionist, etc. No one believes that, even if it’s true.

    And don’t say anything that you can’t end of a positive note with, like “I’m not good with people.” Always keep interviews positive.

  4. says

    This question is designed to find out how you think and particularly how you address a weakness. The best answer is describing the weakness and what you are doing about it. If you cannot come up with a weakness, it is negative because you never reflected on your strengths or weaknesses. For example, I was very impatient because no one operates on my timetable. I would explain how how I use my impatience in a positive way by taking action. It relieved my frustration and moved things along. Employers are trying to understand how you solve problems particularly when you are unsupervised which is most of the time.

  5. says

    To your starting points – I think retirement slows most people down. It drives me batty how much Mr. PoP’s parents have slowed down as they near to retirement. These are people that were NEVER late for decades, and now they’re regularly 20-30 minutes late just because. It’s awful.

    For the biggest weakness question, I’ve used the fact that one of mine is always wanting to know “Why” to understand a process or reason more thoroughly. The person that chose me as their selection pick was a former teacher and LOVED teaching me and answering all my “whys”. It was a great fit.

  6. says

    My biggest weakness is pizza. I’m trying to lose weight and get in shape however whenever lunch time comes I find myself eating two huge meat lovers slices. I lose three pounds in a week and gain it all back with two bad lunches, ack!

    I think answering questions from the communities is a great idea and I’m pretty excited about it! When do you plan to start and how are you going to collect questions? I’d like to know so I can start to get mine in there and beat the line ;)

    • says

      That is an honest answer, that I think a lot of people can relate to. And of your interviewer is not allergic to cheese, and is a little heavy, then it may be a real good rapport builder. But, it may backfire as well, so dance slowly.

      There is no formal Q&A process. Sunday will is freedom to post whatever day!

  7. says

    Now that I’m retired, I can tell the truth and say my biggest weakness is the aversion to work overtime for free. At my old job, they routinely expect engineers to work overtime. This is fine when you are young and single, but not when you have a family. I occasionally stay late and come in on the weekend when deadline loomed, but I was very disgruntle about it.
    Strangely, now that I’m self employed, I don’t mind working until 1am on my own projects. Working from home makes a huge difference.

  8. says

    I do not suffer fools gladly. I can tolerate it, with a smile, from clients but I have no patience for coworkers and people in my personal life who lack knowledge on even the basics of world events or laws that govern us in our health care business. I need a lot of work in this department but it would be easier if other people could try and be a little up to date on their own profession.

  9. says

    As an interviewer, unless we had good rapport going into the question, I could find myself annoyed with the candidate if they answered something silly about cupcakes. I do like your response, because it is a bit more professional.

    • says

      Yes, going w/ #1 depends on how good the rapport is up to the question. If it’s a supper stiff interview, maybe something witty might help break the advice. Otherwise, stick with the others.

  10. says

    I hate asking this question, however it does make it painfully obvious when you are talking to someone who’s a little full of themselves. Since it will probably be asked to everyone eventually, I’d agree that it’s good to have a genuine response that you’ve since overcome.

  11. Mike Hunt says

    I usually answer it along the lines of the #2 strategy, relating to gaining more experience in a certain area. And then to put some color around that. Everyone needs more experience as each job is unique.

  12. Paul S says

    This question was asked in my Peace Corps interview a number of years ago. I chose #2 above. My answer was that I had always been fairly argumentative but I had realized this a few years earlier and I had learned to accept that other people had their own opinions, I didn’t always need to change people’s mind and I argue much less as a result. As an experienced engineer in my 30s, having spent some time in the developing world, the recruiter and interviewer both said I was a great candidate and were excited for me. The woman reviewing my application, who had final say, told me that she asked my references if I was argumentative based on that response. Having known me for many years, they said that I certainly could be argumentative [no s#!t, Sherlock!]. Then she proceeded to ask me questions like “Do you think you have changed enough?” and “Do you think you should continue to work on it for a while before join the Peace Corp?” I couldn’t argue with her or it would prove her point. She then told me that she was rejecting me, there is no way to appeal and I was welcome to apply a few years later. Frankly, I think that she was concerned that my altruism stemmed from my religious beliefs, based on her questions about that, even though I told her that I had no intention of evangelizing. I ended up doing some volunteer work at a church in Peru for six months while the Peace Corps continues to hire 22 year old liberal arts majors who’ve never been outside the states and who quit as soon as they realize that there’s no Starbucks within 1000 miles of their new home. Next time my answer will be “Chocolate Chip Cookies”!

  13. says

    I haven’t had a boss for ten years, but if I had to choose my biggest weakness as an employer it would be that I have let emotion influence some decisions, usually with employee hiring and firing. I’ve hung on to toxic employees way to long in the hope that I could change them. You have to get rid of the bad apples before they spoil the rest.

  14. says

    I think it is always best to be honest, so I go for strategy #2, the only problem I can see with it is when you try to explain that you are slowly overcoming it, you might end up sounding defensive which is not good at all. I guess the best thing to do is mention how you’re working on it, but not to be make it too lengthy.

  15. says

    Honesty is the key especially to yourself. Sometimes we do not stop long enough to analyze our biggest weakness. Instead, we allow it to persist, not a good idea. Discovery can be powerful and in order to do so we must look in the mirror without blaming others. One of my biggest weaknesses in times past has been “info overload.” These days I am working on mastering one task at a time then moving on to the next.

    Building an online platform is not easy if you are a info nut. Focus is the key, and as Will Smith once told of he and his brother building a stone wall, they did it one stone at a time.

  16. says

    I like approach #1 and then leading into #2 depending on how they react. I’ve had people tell me they didn’t have any weaknesses and I had to pinch myself to avoid rolling my eyes and saying something like “ok I know you’re lying so you can stop wasting my time and leave now.”

  17. says

    I’ve gotten this question in every interview I’ve ever had. I think your ways of answering it are spot on. Personally, I combine #1 & #2. Our local sports teams are usually pretty bad, so I’ve found it goes over well to joke about not being able to stop watching X teams games, then lead into a work related weakeness which is spun into a positive.

  18. says

    The hardest interview question for me was “describe yourself using just one word.” With prior planning you can get a great answer together, but I was not expecting that one at all. Ended up using “clever,” but cringe when I think back on it since I hesitated for so long.

  19. James says

    can you please guys help me for answering these question “what is your weakness” only a simple word. i was to say my weakness is being late. please fill these sentence and come up with positive ” in the past, i have struggled with………………………” thankyou

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