The Job Interview: “What’s Your Weakness?”

“What’s your greatest weakness” is one of the most common interview questions in existence – and one of the most despised. This question often feels like a trap – there are so many ways to answer it poorly. Let’s look at the most common mistakes people make with this question.

Mistake #1

“I don’t really have any weaknesses. I’m basically an all-around solid employee.”

How this hurts you: This seems like a great answer at first – you’re perfect! There’s no downside to hiring you! In practice, though, it makes you seem arrogant, devoid of self-awareness, and resistant to constructive criticism.

Mistake #2

“My biggest weakness is that I can be a little lazy sometimes. So, if I don’t have a boss breathing down my neck, I might just goof off for several hours.”

How this hurts you: Some people feel that honesty is always the best policy, but as you can see from this answer, that’s not the case in job interviews. You should not be unflinchingly honest with your flaws – you’re supposed to be selling your best self.

Mistake #3

“My greatest weakness is perfectionism. I’m devoted singlemindedly to doing the best job I can. Sometimes I work myself a little too hard, but it’s only because I care so darn much.”

How this hurts you: This answer tries to disguise a strength as a weakness. This approach fails on three levels. First, it fails because it is the stock answer which they’ve heard a million times. Second, it fails because it doesn’t actually answer the question – hard work is not a weakness, and they won’t be fooled. Third, it fails because it smacks of insincerity.

Mistake #4

“My greatest weakness is that I tend to procrastinate on complex tasks. I always get my work completed by the deadline, but sometimes it takes longer than it needs to.”

How this hurts you: This one comes so close to getting it right – you’ve identified a genuine weakness, but one that’s not debilitating, and you’ve avoided coming across as conceited or dishonest. Yet it still might hurt you, because the hiring manager might worry about how much this weakness will affect your job performance.

So How Do You Answer This Question?

It almost seems like there is no good way to answer this question – but rest assured, there is! Anytime an interview question stumps you, it can be helpful to think about things from the hiring manager’s perspective. This can help you figure out what kind of answer they might be looking for.

Why do they ask this question? Because no one is perfect, and improving your weaknesses is a crucial part of becoming a great employee. Hiring managers ask this question because, on a surface level, they want to know if you have any major flaws which would make you a liability for the company. Beyond that, they want to make sure that you are humble and self-aware enough to identify your shortcomings. But even that isn’t enough – what good is it to know that you’re bad at something, if you make no effort to improve?

Winning Strategy

Pretend that instead of asking you, “What’s your greatest weakness?”, they asked, “Tell me about how you overcame your greatest weakness.” Identify a weakness that you’ve struggled with in the past, but focus most of your answer on the efforts you’ve made to overcome this weakness, and the improved result. Use the STAR formula to structure your answer.

Winning Example

“My greatest weakness is a natural tendency to procrastinate on complex tasks. I’ve always gotten my work done by the deadline, but sometimes it’s taken longer than it had to. Last year, I realized how much my inefficiency bothered me, so I took a time management webinar, and afterwards I went to the library and checked out three books on procrastination. I learned lots of helpful tips and strategies, including a new way of writing to-do lists so that I don’t get overwhelmed by large projects. Since I implemented these strategies, my project completion rate has gotten much better.”

One last hidden trap

Choose your weakness carefully. Do not pick a weakness that is crucial to the job duties at hand. For example, if you’re applying for a position as an accountant, don’t say, “My greatest weakness is that I used to be really uncomfortable with numbers.” No matter how great a story you can spin about overcoming your discomfort with numbers, they will not hire you as an accountant.

Written by Lynnette Lee.

The Job Interview: Shine with the STAR Formula

People waiting for an interview

What is it, and why is it important?

The STAR formula is a method of structuring your answer to certain interview questions, in order to make sure that your answer is organized and properly showcases your achievements. Without this structure, your answer may be rambling, unfocused, or underwhelming. The STAR formula has become a very popular trend in interviewing. We had one client recently who was told, specifically, that she did not get a job because her interview answers did not make use of the STAR method.

When would I use it?

You should use the STAR formula to answer behavioral questions – that is, questions which ask for specific stories and examples from your past work experience. These questions include:

  • Tell us about a time you faced a tough problem at work.
  • Give me an example of a time when you handled an angry customer.
  • Tell me about a time you had a conflict with a co-worker.
  • Give me an example of a time when you met an impossible deadline.
  • Tell us about your greatest professional accomplishment.

What does it stand for?

Situation: Give us the background information. Lay out the situation so that we’ll understand what was going on. Your English teacher would call this the exposition.

Task: Tell us what you needed to accomplish. What was the challenge that faced you? Note: this is very similar to Situation, and in fact some people combine these two categories into Situation or Task. Do not spend too much time on Situation and/or Task. Although it is crucial to give enough explanation to make your story easy to follow, be careful not to get bogged down in boring and irrelevant details. Just give the necessary facts.

Action: Talk about what you did in this situation. What actions did you take to calm the angry customer, or resolve the conflict, or meet the deadline? This is the exciting part of your story, so spend most of your time here. Be specific with the steps you took. And make sure you’re talking about what you personally did, rather than what your team did – this is no time to be modest.

Result: Let us know how everything turned out. After all, what story is complete without the happy ending?

Winning Example

Interview question

Give us an example of a time when you went above and beyond to get the job done.


Situation: My work at the credit union is very customer-service-oriented, so going above and beyond the job description is frequently necessary in order to make the customers happy. For example, last year one of our customers was approved for a home loan, but she couldn’t come in to sign her final paperwork because she was a single parent and her daughter was in the hospital.

Task: I knew that her loan approval was going to expire if I didn’t find a way to get her to sign that paperwork.

Action: So I took it upon myself to take the paperwork to her. I spent my lunch break one day driving over to the hospital, getting her to sign the paperwork, and triple-checking to make sure that she had done everything that was necessary.

Result: She was so grateful; she kept saying that it was such a load off her mind at a stressful time, and that she appreciated the personal touch. In the end, it worked out well for everyone – her daughter got better, her loan paperwork went through, and the credit union now has a loyal customer for life.”

Written by Lynnette Lee.

Practice makes perfect! Contact us to schedule an appointment for assistance with crafting your answers or for a mock interview.