The Dreaded Question, "What is your biggest weakness?”

“What are your strengths and what is your biggest weakness?”

This is perhaps the most dreaded interview question and at some point you are going to have to answer it. Can I offer you some solid advice? Be prepared with a well thought out answer.

Getting through the first part of the question is easy but calling out your flaws, that’s down right scary and could backfire. Instead of answering with the standard, “I’m an overachiever”or “I’m a workaholic”, perhaps it’s time to take a closer look at the question, think about what you and the interviewer can learn from your answers, and formulate a thoughtful response that plays on your strengths without making it seem like you are avoiding the weakness topic.

Let’s start with the goal of the question. Most interviewers ask this question because they want to see how well you handle challenges - including answering tough questions - but also to learn more about the “intangibles” like how you make decisions or handle stress and hear some specific examples of those strengths and weaknesses. Honestly confessing a weakness shows a sign of character and takes courage. Use this as an opportunity to talk honestly about how you work. After all, one of the things you are both trying to asses during an interview is cultural fit.

I often answer the question this way. I tend to rely on my experience and intuition when making important decisions. And even though I gather facts and data and do my research, I tend toward a "go with your gut" decision making style. This is my strength but it also is a weakness, because when you rely on intuition and experience, you can sometimes allow your unconscious biases to impact your decisions. A lot of the time, your experience alone will help you make a good, or at least a defensible, decision. But sometimes you will get it wrong. The important thing to communicate here is that you have a particular working and decision making style. You want to be sure that fits within the culture of the company and is something your future boss will value.

For example, I once had a candidate explain how they had been an overachiever in the past which had led them to over committing and under delivering. They explained that by focusing on prioritization they have been able to overcome this personal flaw. It’s safe, overused and text book.

Whatever you choose, don’t say a fear of public speaking… everyone says they’re overcoming a fear of public speaking!!!

Focus on what you do, rather than what you are. Be careful to not make it sound like therapy by saying, “it’s something I’m working on”.

The person who will benefit most from this answer is you, Don’t be afraid of putting yourself out there, so answer honestly it could mean the job!