The Interview Coach: The “Greatest Weakness” Question

April 02, 2012 |

Job interview expert Carole Martin has been a prime contributor to our Veteran Jobs blog, and now she’s offering her advice to veterans and servicemembers who have questions, general or specific, about tackling the civilian job interview process. Send Carole your questions at interviewquestions@interviewcoach.com, and moving forward, we’ll feature her answers in this blog.

Question:

 Hello. I was wondering what is a good answer when an employer asks, “What are your weaknesses?” I don’t want to sound cocky but don’t want the answer to make me look bad during the interview. (If this makes sense.) Thank you for your time.

Respectfully,
Ileia

Answer:

The Most Dreaded Question of All: What is your greatest weakness?

 There is a formula for difficult questions called the Sandwich Technique.

(+) Begin with a positive statement
(-) Slip in the negative (or weakness)
(+) End with a positive statement

Sample:

 Q: WHAT ARE YOUR GREATEST STRENGTHS AND WEAKNESSES?

A: (+) My strengths are my energy and enthusiasm. I have a proven track record for working above and beyond what is asked of me.

(-) My weakness is that I get impatient when I don’t get the data I need to do my job because someone else didn’t meet a deadline.

(+) I continue to work on stronger communication skills so that I can deal with and understand people who don’t have the same work ethic.

This answer works because we can all work on our communication skills, particularly when it comes to being understanding of someone who is not pulling his/her weight. This is not the time to reveal a time-management or planning problem. Think of something you would like to improve about yourself. Be careful of sounding like a workaholic or a perfectionist – and always have a story ready to back up your statements.

The Interview Coach, Carole Martin, is a celebrated author, job coach, and speaker on the subject of interviewing and recruiting. She is also a contributing writer at Monster.com and featured on talk radio. Carole is using her proven methods for coaching job seekers on competitive interviewing skills in technical and non-technical industries. You can download her free worksheet for determining your Values Exercise at the Interview Coach website. Follow The Interview Coach on Facebook, Twitter and Linkedin to learn about current workshops and seminars Carole is offering.

About Ho Lin

Ho Lin is an editor at Military.com. His interests include naval history, the New York football Giants, and loud rock music.

Comments

  1. Libertarian says:

    This is absolutely the wrong answer, because the interviewer knows it's a pat response, just as you know it's a pat question. Try this: "I have lots of strengths and lots of weaknesses, just like everyone else. But let's talk about the job and see if we're a good fit, OK?"

    I've done this several times and the relief on the interviewer's face at not having to listen to a lot of pre-figured BS is palpable.

    • I don't think that the answer is "absolutely wrong" – you may not like it – but I don't think it's black and white. I think every person has to use an answer that fits his or her personality.

      Your answer – "let's talk about the job" – is very "take charge" and dodges the question like a politician but if it suits your personality than it works for you. This answer will not work for many other personality types that are less aggressive. .

      There are many ways to answer this question without sounding canned. The answer will only sound canned if you answer it in a canned manner.

      Your answer should emphasize something that you are working on to be a better performer – something you are trying to improve about yourself. It should not be anything specific that is a job requirement — like time management.

      As an interviewer – I would ask – "If I were to ask your boss where you could improve your skills – what would he/she tell me?"

      Thanks for your input

    • ViaGedern says:

      I agree. I have conducted many interviews, and when I hear the "I can't achieve a work-life balance, I spend too much time working" answer, I throw up in my mouth a little bit. It takes the interview down an uncomfortable path for the prospective employee when I ask, "So explain to me how it is a problem for this company if you put in long hours and work hard."

      • Jon_K says:

        Hi ViaGedem. If the situation was reversed and you were sitting on the other side of the table, how would you answer the dreaded interview question: "What are your greatest strengths and weaknesses?

    • I just want to know…did you get the job with that low-level response? I think your answer was not only surly, but it was obviously curbed to 'expose' the stupidity of the question..which is the proverbial "elephant in the room". Suggested Answer: "I have many strengths relevant to the tasks required of this position." "I'm also aware of areas of continuous improvement, which would be a component of my projected, and ongoing growth & development"

      Every NEW position requires SOME training…& "professional development" is a perpetual industry staple expense. i.e. Any org., worth it's 'salt'…an expected investment in staff.

  2. KoaKai says:

    The problem with the answer "(-) My weakness is that I get impatient when I don’t get the data I need to do my job because someone else didn’t meet a deadline" can be taken as someone who blames their shortcomings on others…

    …and following up with "I continue to work on stronger communication skills so that I can deal with and understand people who don’t have the same work ethic" implies that it's someone else with the problem when in reality it takes two.

    In response to LIBERTARIAN's comment: I don't suggest brushing off an interviewer's question as many times they're not just looking for someone to go with the motion, they're looking for someone to solve a problem or deficiency within the team.

    My suggestion…
    (+) My strengths are my energy and enthusiasm. I have a proven track record for working above and beyond what is asked of me.
    (-) My weakness is that I sometimes try to help out too much making it a challenge to identify where we need to employ more resources. I need to convey to others that we need more assistance rather than try and do everything.
    (+) Communication is key. First thing I like to do is get to know the different communication styles of my team and enhance our collective abilities to get tasks accomplished on time.

    NEVER use negative key words when responding to interview questions, they stick in people mind.

  3. Libertarian says:

    I once took a chance in an interview when asked my greatest weakness. I said, "I get very impatient with interviewers who ask pat questions looking for rehearsed answers." He stared at me for a few seconds, then burst out laughing and we had a solid interview. And, yes, I got the job.

    • Avva says:

      This last courageous risk you took! I LOVE IT! …and especially the outcome. Good for you.

      P.S. Did you have a previous repoire with the interviewer? lol!

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