When I've interviewed for jobs, I've always dreaded one particular question: "What's your greatest weakness?" It's a trick question: If you make yourself look bad, you could sabotage your shots at the job. But if you make yourself look good, you're not even answering the question. Yet people answer this question and somehow manage to get hired, so there must be some good answer.
When interviewers ask this question, they're not just paying attention to the content of your response — they also want to see how well you're keeping your cool, says career counselor and executive coach Roy Cohen. "Bear in mind that the interviewer is not your therapist," he tells Bustle. "These sorts of questions are asked typically to determine that you act appropriately in stressful situations, that you exercise good judgement and know how much and how little to share, and that there are no obvious reasons to disqualify you."
Hiring managers are also looking to see how you've dealt with your weaknesses, Natalia Burina, who has interviewed hundreds of candidates at Silicon Valley tech companies, tells Bustle. "The interviewers want to see that you're self aware and have a growth mentality."
Here are some ways to answer the question "what's your greatest weakness?" while both being honest and painting yourself in a positive light.
1Talk About What You Want To Get Better At
Instead of thinking in the negative (even if the question is framed that way), think about the abilities and qualities you'd like to develop, career coach Mary Warriner tells Bustle. That could be a technical skill — maybe your coding abilities aren't as developed as you'd like — or maybe it's an interpersonal skill, like delegating tasks or public speaking.
2Talk About How You're Improving
Don't just talk about what you're not great at — talk about what you're doing to get better at it. "That shows that you are self aware and taking initiative," says Warriner.
3Name A Weakness That Can Also Be A Strength
"I work too hard" or "I'm a perfectionist" may be too obvious, but there are some weaknesses with upsides you can name while still being genuine, Steve Pritchard, HR Consultant for giffgaff, tells Bustle. One might be "I'm very critical" — and then give an example of how your attention to detail has paid off. "As long as you can prove that this weakness won’t cloud your judgement, or stop you from meeting important deadlines, you’re covered," says Pritchard.
4Tell A Story
Don't just name a quality — talk about an experience that made you aware of the weakness and how you picked up the pieces and moved on. "When you interview, briefly set context, explain what happened, and close with what you learned and how you worked to improve," says Burina. "The goal is to be clear, interesting, and demonstrate what you learned."
5Show How You've Taken Them Into Consideration
It helps to show awareness that even if you've been working on your weaknesses, they're probably not gone, says executive coach Eamon Rooney. Rooney recommends saying something like, "I’ve made a choice in my life to focus on maximizing my strengths while working with others who complement my weaknesses" — and then talking about how you've done that.
6Pick Something Small
If you don't feel like you can spin a weakness as a strength or don't have much to say about how you're improving, at least pick something that's not a major deal-breaker. Valerie Streif, Senior Advisor with thementat.com, tells Bustle she recommends something like "asking too many questions" or "striving too hard to please everyone and not focusing on making the right decision for the company."
7Name Something That Would Only Be A Weakness In A Different Job
One trick Cohen teaches people is to name a weakness that might hurt your performance in a different job but shouldn't be a problem in the one you're interviewing for. If the position is a salesperson in a store, for example, you might say, "I get bored easily and need to be moving around. Talking to people, listening to them, arranging stuff, and just busy. If I had to sit behind a desk all day, that would be the worst possible role for me."
So the good news is, you don't have to lie on this question. You just have to highlight your strengths as well, show you're working to improve, or share genuine weaknesses that aren't total deal-breakers.