How to answer: "What is your greatest weakness?" (with Examples)
What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses is a common interview question. Keep reading to learn how to answer this question, with examples!
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Here’s the simple answer:
- Both weaknesses and strengths should be answered with a positive interpretation in mind
- Answers can be short but should always include context or an example to take control of the image you want to create of yourself for your interviewer
- This question is to learn about your transferable skills, not technical skills
- Reflect the requirements of the job description when providing an answer for your greatest strength, and try not to reflect on an essential requirement when providing your biggest weakness
If you’ve ever been asked the question “What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses” before, you were probably asked during an interview, and even more likely, you were probably a little stumped trying to find the best answer. This article breaks down why this question is asked, how to answer it, and a template to get you started.
Why do interviewers ask this question?
Since no one is perfect, explaining your weaknesses demonstrates that you understand with honesty where your shortcomings lie and that you’re willing to improve. The role you’re interviewing for may not necessarily have the opportunity to improve that particular trait, but explaining what your weakness is and why, the impact, and how to improve can show critical thinking, learning, and tenacity. These are soft skills that can always be valuable to an interviewer.
Similarly, knowing what your greatest strengths are demonstrates to an interviewer that you know the reasons why you’re a good fit for the job. An interviewer is typically experienced with analyzing a candidate’s resume, but a resume can always contain fluff that doesn’t honestly speak to a candidate’s relevant skills and experiences. Asking about your greatest strengths is an interviewer’s way of knowing whether or not you think you’re right for the job, and if so, why.
How do I answer what my greatest weakness is?
Always answer this question with a positive response that indicates self-awareness and room for improvement. Essentially, your weaknesses should be answers that could be good strengths as well. Ever heard of the comedic interview answer “Caring too much and working too hard?” The real answer to this question isn’t far from this one.
Be sure to never answer with a skill that is essential to the job you are applying for as you’re essentially taking yourself out of the running for a position. It’s also important not to list a technical skill as almost all technical skills can be improved with practice.
Here are some general answers that always work for this question
- I take on too much responsibility
- I like being a perfectionist
- I’m really determined to see every project through
- I focus too much on the details
- I always try to be a leader
- I don’t always have confidence in my work
These questions are some general ones that all have positive undertones but remember to provide context or examples to support your answer.
Taking on too much responsibility might refer to a job where you took on too many tasks at a time and struggled to say no, or trying to be a leader can demonstrate how sometimes you look to take on the initiative on new tasks before completing previous ones.
The former actually demonstrates that you’re a hard worker who enjoys taking on new challenges, and the latter showcases that you have a natural talent for being a leader or an out-of-the-box thinker.
Both of these employees have weaknesses that wouldn’t hinder their performance in most roles and that can be managed or improved on.
How do I answer what my greatest strengths are?
Here are some quick tips for this question
Do you have a lot of interviews lined up? Maybe you just want an answer that’s easy to remember? Here’s a list of some general strengths that always work for this question:
- Time management skills
These skills are always a sure answer and a positive response to the question “What are your greatest strengths” because of how transferable and common these skills are to every position. Although job descriptions don’t always list every skill you need to excel at the job, these answers are essential to a great employee.
Here’s what these strengths say about you:
- A determined employee shows a willingness to see a project through from start to finish
- Strong leaders can inspire and delegate tasks, improving the efficiency of a job’s duties
- Problem-solvers are adept at analyzing complex problems and improving processes within an organization or for clients
- Self-motivated individuals are great at working independently and can manage setbacks
- Time management skills know how to prioritize projects for maximum productivity
- Having flexibility shows that you’re willing to take on new skills or projects that come your way
Be confident when answering with one of these strengths. You might think that you’ve never shown one of these traits before, but remember you can back up these answers with real-world experiences. Reference extracurricular activities like volunteerism, school clubs, or sports if you don’t have previous work experience to reference.
How have you answered this interview question before?
This question is one that I’ve frequently encountered, and I always have a couple general answers from the list of traits above that work. I keep my answers to the point to reflect the succinct nature of the question.
As a student who is routinely trying to find internships, I worry about not measuring up to the asks of a job description. But it’s important to remember that few jobs actually need you to have every skill listed in their job requirements, and their goal is to find an employee who would be willing to learn new skills.
I became a Business Analyst for my first internship despite not meeting many of the requirements, but I discovered the position from a junior HR associate at the time who encouraged me to apply anyways.
Many of the requirements were just assumptions of the technical skills a successful intern should have in this position, but were no means requirements to get the position. What was more important to the role were the soft skills I demonstrated by answering this question.
I discussed being a problem solver as my strength and being too detail-oriented as my weakness.
The job called for:
- Analyzing day-to-day business operations to find areas that could be more efficient ➡️ problem-solving would be essential!
- No job requirement indicated a weakness that I could use to my advantage ➡️ I cited being too detail-oriented as a general weakness.
Transferable or soft skills are harder to learn in a single job experience, whereas technical skills always have courses and hands-on learning opportunities.
Have some more time to prep for an interview? Make your answers more specific
Interviews can be nerve-wracking, and sometimes you just want some general answers that always work. We provided those for you! But what if you’re looking for something more specific, or a more targeted answer?
Look to a job description for a list of skills a hiring manager is looking for in a candidate applying to a specific role. When answering your strengths, match your skillset to the requirements of a job by choosing a skill listed as your answer!
If a posting is asking for an employee who’s:
- A problem-solver
List one of these skills as your answer and back it up with an example of how you’ve used this skill in your day-to-day life or in a previous career, academic, or extracurricular experience.
It might not be obvious how you can match your answer to a listed skill, especially if a lot of them are technical. But remember that behind every technical skill, there is a soft skill to match!
Looking at a posting that asks for familiarity with project management tools like Asana, Jira, or Trello? A quick internet search reveals that project management involves being able to plan, execute, and analyze a project at different stages ➡️ Project management tools help you to stay organized and prioritize tasks for execution.
You might be familiar with being highly organized and using time management skills, and now you know your answer to this interview question!
Someone acquainted with project management tools is familiar with time management and organization, and someone who already has these skills would have no problem learning them on the job.
Digging a little deeper into technical skills will reveal the soft skills that you should use in your answer to this common interview question.
Is there anything I should avoid saying?
Here’s a list of things you should avoid saying when answering this question:
- Avoid being too vague. General answers are okay, but you want to provide context when answering so as not to sound too generic or like you have no idea why you’re providing this answer.
- Don’t prioritize either strength over weakness. Try to focus on evenly answering both questions, although this can be tough during an interview, so as not to give the impression that you weren’t prepared to answer both.
- Don’t be defensive! Everyone has a weakness, it’s important you can identify what it is and that you’re willing to work on it. Being able to answer what your weakness is can show humility and being a lifelong learner.
- No need to exaggerate your answers. These are to-the-point and quick questions that are trying to yield a similar response. An honest self-reflection is what an interviewer is looking for.
Template for answering with your greatest weakness
The steps for answering this question can be followed like a reusable formula:
- State one strength or weakness first
- Provide an example or context behind each
- Explain how you can or do improve upon the weakness, or how the strength can be related to this position
How do I use this template?
Here's an example of this template in use:
- My greatest weakness is my perfectionism. Sometimes I can be too determined to see a project through from start to finish.
- During my last internship, I was in charge of managing different segments of marketing campaigns, including tools to help launch a campaign and analyzing an event’s sales data after it was complete. I worked on multiple campaigns at a time, and I really value ensuring everything I work on is done to perfection, so I’d find it hard to let go of the projects that I’d have a hand in building.
- I’ve come to learn that completing my role on a project to the best of my ability is the best way to ensure the project will end up a success, and the more efficiently I can complete my duties, the better I can apply myself to future projects to ensure they’re done just as great.
- My greatest strength is my organizational skills. I enjoy organizing my day-to-day life, and I like managing my priorities with agendas and to-do lists. This skill has helped me throughout every professional role.
- Whenever I start a new project, I always identify deadlines, stakeholders, and priorities to stay as organized as possible and to prevent overdue deadlines as much as I can.
- I would say that my organizational skills are highly relevant in this role as a Project Manager as I believe that staying organized is key to this job’s everyday responsibilities.
- Positively reflects the job description and role (e.g. a Project Management role)
- Demonstrates self-awareness
- Demonstrates that a candidate was willing to improve on their weakness
- Is a positive spin on a personal weakness
- Relates the strength to the position that the candidate is applying for
Answering your greatest strength and weakness is a lot less daunting than it may seem. Practice answering this question using our template, and before your interview, rehearse how you would answer this question to lend to your confidence!