'What's your greatest weakness?'
It's one of the most dreaded job-interview questions - especially since hiring managers have long since learned to see right through self-congratulatory confessions like, "I tend to work too hard" and "At times I'm almost too conscientious," writes Anne Fisher, in her Nov. 14 Ask Annie column. What do you think is a good reply? And should interviewers even ask the question?
Posted by Gabrielle S. 4:48 PM 57 Comments comment | Add a Comment

I clicked on this article and have now read it twice looking for the "3 smart replies." Don't tell me that evading the question is the advice you're giving? Were I an interviewer, and I asked that question and the interviewee simply evaded the question, that would be more of a red-flag in my mind, then something canned or cliched.
Posted By Charlie, San Antonio : Tue Nov 14, 11:09:42 AM  

The best answer that I came up with (for those fresh out of college) ... My biggest weakness is hands on experience. You can then go about saying how you have worked on teams/taken project based courses/interned to help improve on your lack of experience.
Posted By Diana, Wilmington, NC : Tue Nov 14, 12:13:21 PM  

I've always used some kind of canned weakness that could be seen in a positive light, like having trouble delegating. Or possibly being dependent on feedback from my supervisor. Or maybe (depending on the job) being too shy. Things like that, that are definitely a weakness, but wouldn't necessary be a bad quality depending on the specific job your applying for. Agree dodging is a bad idea. Talking about how you overcome it is important but I think it's important to come up with something real. Love the idea of reflecting why you would be fired, that is good advice just for self improvement.
Posted By JM, San Diego, California : Tue Nov 14, 12:14:29 PM  

The honest answer? Your greatest weaknesses are most likely the opposite of your greatest strengths. For example, if you're great at detail, chances are you're weak at seeing the big picture.
Posted By Joel, Chicago, Il. : Tue Nov 14, 12:39:00 PM  

I try to answer the question honestly. Having gotten the question before, I was prepared with an answer when I got it (repeatedly) during a recent round of interviews. I think if the question has any value (which I find questionable), it's to demonstrate that you're aware of your main weakness so that you can avoid or correct it. I don't see it as a question that needs to be evaded, though.
Posted By Ben, Yonkers NY : Tue Nov 14, 01:54:18 PM  

How about answering the question by answering truthfully. You have to first identify your greatest weakness. Mine is working for a micro manager. I am not good at it. Some people are very good at it and I would like to become as good as they are. In life the best gift you can give yourself is the ability to be productive no matter what personality type with which you find yourself working.
Posted By JPP, Washington D.C. : Tue Nov 14, 02:06:31 PM  

Most interviewers will tell you to answer something positive whenever you get asked about your biggest weakness. For example, say that you are too demanding of yourself or that you are a perfectionist.

As an interviewer I do believe this is a good question to screen out candidates. Some people are very candid and I have heard some interesting answers such as: "My biggest weakness is that I talk all the time and might get carried away" or "I am not patient and give up easily" but the best answer has to be: "I don't have any weaknesses".
Posted By Francisco , McAllen, TX : Tue Nov 14, 02:18:21 PM  

This dreaded question is non-productive and simply points to the lack of creativity and initiative you have as an interviewer. There's no right answer and it only leads to creative spin by the interviewee.
Posted By Jim -- Cleveland, Ohio : Tue Nov 14, 03:43:20 PM  

When I am interviewing someone I say: "OK, imagine I had your current boss, your last boss, two of your peers and your best friend in a room. And suppose I tell them that they all have to agree on your top 3 strengths and top 2 weaknesses. What will they say. One caution: I don't want weaknesses that are really strengths like 'I work too hard'".
Posted By Colin, Portland, OR : Tue Nov 14, 03:46:15 PM  

An accomplished interviewer will discover the interviewee's weaknesses by thoroughly dissecting their past behavior and track record. This question is generally proposed to read the interviewee's reaction. Someone that is thoughtful, unrehearsed and honest will gain the yards with interviewers. If you're really interested in learning about your "weaknesses", ask your current boss their thoughts on the matter.
Posted By Dayna Marcum, Houston Texas : Tue Nov 14, 03:50:20 PM  

That an interviewer would ask this question (which is at least a 20 year old tactic from the last century) also tells you alot about the interviewer and their weaknesses.

If the person asking that question is also the person who you will report to, you can expect you will likely not learn a lot that is new or cutting edge since they obviously do not keep up with the modern industry practices about potential employees and how to evaluate them. Or, in some cases, they really just view the interview as a chore they have to do and so do not really work on it.

In either case, ask yourself: Do I want to work for someone who thinks that's a useful question to ask?

As to how to answer it?

"Well, what I told the last three people who asked me that question was..."

Ok, assuming you still want/need this job I suggest an honest but positive response as noted by several people above.
Posted By Mike, Atlanta, GA : Tue Nov 14, 03:58:00 PM  

I agree with Francisco - in fact, I was once about ready to take the question off of my list because I thought it was pretty silly. But what the heck, I thought as I was interviewing a person who seemed PERFECT for a front-office position I couldn't fill, the question is on the sheet so I might as well ask it. Her weakness? I HAVE TROUBLE GETTING TO WORK ON TIME. Frankly, at that point in the hiring process (late 1990's & very tight labor market) I was nearly ready to deal with the admission of an active drug habit - but the whole point of this job was to start answering the phones every morning when the office opened. So we kept looking and found the right person - and I have kept that very silly question on my list ever since.
Posted By Karen, Fort Wayne, IN : Tue Nov 14, 04:11:53 PM  

I tell the truth when asked this question. I say that I truly care about people. This is a weakness because I tend to get attached to the people I work with. When asked what my greatest strength is, I give the same answer. This is a strength because people like me back. It makes me approachable, fosters team spirit, and makes the work environment much more pleasant.
Posted By Vinith Nayak, Edison, NJ : Tue Nov 14, 04:51:26 PM  

Posted By Nick, Columbus OH : Tue Nov 14, 05:28:16 PM  

Easy question if you need the job. My greatest weekness? If I'm working on something I just can't let it go. I'll work night and day to get complete the project on time or resolve the problem. I just can't help myself.
Posted By Crash, Dallas, Tx : Tue Nov 14, 06:06:31 PM  

Dear Annie, I just finished reading your response to 'What's your greatest weakness?' and I cannot find one straight answer. I have been on grueling job interviews where the same question was asked and, after providing an evasive response (as your article suggests), the interviewer simply looked me in the eye and said, "So, again, what's your greatest weakness??".
Posted By Herb, Los Angeles, CA : Tue Nov 14, 07:46:01 PM  

You are just saying to not answer the question as asked directly. Just the type of thing that has it all mucked up.
I've never asked this question in my many years but if I had had to, I would have accepted;
"I really can't answer that question without a better idea of what you are looking for."
Please, let's all play the "game" a little less and everyone will "win" a little more.

-+=- "I've sen it ALL before -=+-
Posted By Ray Keith, Gainesville, Florida : Tue Nov 14, 07:50:15 PM  

I will say that my weakness is being "too hardworking" to the expense of my health.
Truly, being "too hardworking" is a weakness that can jeopardise my health and adversely affect my family life, but on the other hand, it is good to the company.
Answering in this way will save myself from being weak in the eyes of my prospective employer. The employer should be happy to have "too hardworking" worker.
Posted By Ying Pio, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. : Tue Nov 14, 08:06:05 PM  

I was once asked to list my 3 biggest weakness as part of an yearly evaluation process. I got the first 2 with no problem, naming "not so bad qualities" as weakness. But I couldn't find the third. So I just put "Not being able to list 3 weaknesses". Luckily my manager at the time wasn't much into evaluations but did appreciate a good paradox.
Posted By Daniela, Bs.As. , Argentina : Tue Nov 14, 08:48:18 PM  

I disqualify all candidates that evade this question.
Posted By Theo, Calgary, Alberta, Canada : Tue Nov 14, 10:31:38 PM  

A dodge of this question is the WORST answer that can be given. If a person were to skip the answer completely and not give one my biggest impression would be, "this person will probably have a hard time giving me bad news when they need to." Honesty and frankness are desirable traits these days. Skipping or dodging this question should always be a no-no.
Posted By Kelly Pruett, Charlotte, NC : Tue Nov 14, 10:55:40 PM  

Everyone has a number of weaknesses that he or she can honestly admit to, but one should not admit to just any of them during an interview. Assume you will be asked the question and prepare before the interview. Provide an answer that will not significantly affect your ability to do the job well (but it should be honest). Then mention steps you intend to take to improve. Being introverted, for example, is not a problem for a technical writer, but is deadly for a sales position. If your biggest weakness is indeed deadly for the job you are interviewing for, it is then time for you to think about why you are even applying for the job in the first place. I think it's a worthwhile exercise for yourself
Posted By Jun, Washington, DC : Tue Nov 14, 10:56:48 PM  

You never gave us 3 good replies...the "conscientious" line you basically said not to use since it is too obvious now. The big headline of How to reply to what's your greatest weakness in an interview wasn't really answered.
Posted By Rob Zella, Wellesley, MA : Tue Nov 14, 10:57:08 PM  

Honesty is a good policy, if you did your due diligence, than you know that the job description probably states something you lack extensive experience in. Be ready for the quesion and answer, "I lack extensive work relating to X, but believe that my experience with (insert your best resume highlights) will help me get over that shortcumming quite easily."
Posted By KAM, Cleveland, OH : Wed Nov 15, 12:03:40 AM  

I believe every strength can also contain a weakness. For example, Gallup says I'm high in self-assurance. Sounds great, but it can also come across as bossy. So you can answer the question just so... "each of my greatest strengths are also my greatest weaknesses..." and then explain. One might be, "I am a learner and it comes across as unfocused." Etc.
Posted By Martha, Houston, TX : Wed Nov 15, 12:44:57 AM  

Spin it around. As others have said, invariably your greatest strength is also your greatest weakness. When I was asked by a prospective employer about a programmer's strengths and weaknesses, I had the same answer - he was pedantic! He would edit a commercially-printed magazine for incorrect punctuation etc., but he also was super strict about editing his code. Never was a comma out of place.
Posted By RKB, Perth, Australia : Wed Nov 15, 01:37:26 AM  

if I were you, I would say:"my greatest weakness is I can't find my weakness"
Posted By Double_Rich; Ha Tay;Vietnam : Wed Nov 15, 02:19:39 AM  

As a hiring manager, I ask this question and a few others to see how the interviewee handles a situation when things get difficult. It is often a sign of the composure and skill they will have when there is bad news to break or when things start getting tough on the job. It also shows me how comfortable the interviewee is with themselves as well as brings out if there are any ego problems. In my line of work, the deadlines are tremendous, things do not function smoothly, and there is not a whole lot of room for people who have to "do it all" or who are not good at adapting or can't function well in a team. For this reason, I ask this kind of difficult question during an interview.
Posted By Mark, Irvine, CA : Wed Nov 15, 03:02:20 AM  

You first.

What's yours?
Posted By Frank, Carmel, CA : Wed Nov 15, 05:04:31 AM  

Unlike like suggested in the column, do not evade the question. Prepare yourself before the interview, and decide which weakness you are going to mention and how to phrase it.
Dithering around the question in my opinion creates a bad impression
Posted By Ben Baines, New York, NJ : Wed Nov 15, 05:26:55 AM  

As a Manager in Hospitality, former Culinary Instructor, and officer in the Army National Guard (currently deployed), it seems to me that everyone is missing the boat on this question. If used correctly, this question is used to determine the level of self awareness of the candidate, as well as their objectivity with their own skill set. By avoiding the question, you demonstrate either a fear of "being caught" possessinig a fatal flaw, or an inabililty to self evaluate and identify areas in which you need to improve. I have used this question while interviewing, and it tells me a great deal about the person I am interviewing. I look less at what the weakness is, and more at how it is expressed. But what I am really looking for is to hear the candidate identify things that they do to mitigate that weakness. We all have faults (I tend to be somewhat disorganized, forgetful, and I procrastinate), but these are not fatal if we can identify them and mitigate them. If the person interviewing you is using the question to try to weed out people based on their weaknesses, then you would probably do better to work elsewhere.
Posted By Mike, Pekin, IL : Wed Nov 15, 05:59:30 AM  

Though I liked the responses, I have to say that as an interviewer I would re-ask the question and ask for a direct answer. If you're not answering, it could be that you're evading it for a good reason.

As an interviewee, I have rarely been "let off the hook" quite so easily.

So I answer honestly, talk about how I've been working on the challenge and improving, and wait for the next question.
Posted By Jay Foley, Bradford, Ma : Wed Nov 15, 07:58:24 AM  

Since I would not accept a position from someone who was rude enough to ask me such an inane question the point is moot. The question itself is a red flag that the employer is a jerk. My reply would be, "How is that relevant to my qualifications for this job?"
Posted By Rusty; Petersburg, VA : Wed Nov 15, 10:04:37 AM  

Posted By Rich, Springfield, MA : Wed Nov 15, 10:36:09 AM  

I asked you a direct question. If you don't answer it I know you'll try to spin the truth when I have a real problem.

Personally, I don't ask that question when I hire someone because I know it's a waste of time because there is no good answer.
Posted By Jeff, Wilton, Conncticut : Wed Nov 15, 12:10:37 PM  

I've always found my honest answer works well. My biggest weakness is my need to organize. I'll find one way I like then decide that it would work better another way and want to re-organize things so that the system is the most efficient it can be.

I think this question should still be asked in interviews, if only to see how the interviewee prepares him/herself and handles pressure.
Posted By kate, baltimore md : Wed Nov 15, 12:36:05 PM  

I think that it's important to remember that the interview process is a two way street. While you are being interviewed as a potential employee, you are in turn interviewing your potential employer. While in the past I have provided a variety of answers to this question, today I would respond first with clarifying questions. And I definitely wouldn't hesitate to ask what objective the interviewer was trying to accomplish with this question. While they may want to see how your respond under pressure, you also need to see how they respond under pressure.
Posted By Lloyd, Frisco, TX : Wed Nov 15, 12:59:55 PM  

I don't think the "greatest weakness" question is inappropriate for two reasons. (1) Annual evaluations at most companies discuss room for improvement and growth (2) Career development requires learning new skills and methods which we haven't yet mastered. These areas can be viewed as weaknesses but also opportunities. The ability of a candidate to quickly respond and describe how they are learning in areas outside their core strengths is an appropriate response. It also shows that the candidate understands that career development is an on-going process, we are never finished products. The strength of a strong job candidate is the ability to take on new responsibilities outside their core strengths.
Posted By Jon P., Hartford, CT : Wed Nov 15, 01:08:12 PM  

I think interviewers should ask the question particularly for professional positions - I have and I think tells a lot about the interviewee.

I have three answers:

(1) I tend to accept responsibility for outcomes over which I have little control. E.g Another team is working on a technical solution that must interface with my team's solution. If they are late in delivering, or the quality is poor and it adversely affects my solution, then I wonder if I had been more knowledgeable about their solution's status, then I should have intervened earlier, rather than waiting until the critical date.

(2) I tend to look after my people by showing compassion and understanding of their personal problems and complications, and from time to time I provide too much flexibility in their meeting deadlines. On occasion, some of my people have taken advantage of my caring attitude.

(3) I persistently need to know the "big picture" and the context in which I am delivering services, products or projects sometimes resisting the pressure to deliver prior to acquiring the "big picture" view. This is seen by some senior managers as a lack of urgency.
Posted By Ted Dobbie, Ottawa, Canada : Wed Nov 15, 01:41:08 PM  

The question itself is oxymoronic: greatest and weakness? Maybe one should ask what they really want to know, such as, "What is your worst weakness?" But to answer the topic being discussed, my greatest weakness is a 5'8" green-eyed brunette Italian-American.
Posted By Dave, Indianapolis, IN : Wed Nov 15, 02:00:28 PM  

Isn't this a question about being prepared for an interview? This sort of question is a FAQ for HR and hiring managers.

Before any interview -- consider your strengths and weaknesses, if you can't come up with a weakness ask a sibling, friend, or parent -- you'll get an honest answer (I hope). What will come through to the hiring manager or to the HR generalist is that you gave the question thought and recognize that you as a candidate are not the perfect applicant but the RIGHT applicant for the job.
Posted By Faye, Washington D.C. : Wed Nov 15, 03:07:22 PM  

The first time I was asked that question in an interview I immediately said "chocolate". I got the job.
Posted By Sherry, Rochester Hills, MI : Wed Nov 15, 04:32:42 PM  

My response to this interview question:

"Sometimes I focus so much time on work that I need to work at maintaining a proper work-life balance. In short, sometimes I am too passionate about achieving work-related goals."
Posted By Jim Chuong, Toronto, Canada : Wed Nov 15, 05:05:48 PM  

This question is designed to be thought-provoking, and back-handed. The answer is this. TALKING ABOUT YOURSELF is your greatest weakness. Human beings don't learn about others if via one-way discussion about themselves, but the ability to have a shared dialogue of unique experiences that make us who we are. In an interview, human instinct is to have an answer. When in actuality, we must show the ability to convey an experience as it relates to your character and beliefs. I am sure everyone has heard the line, "talk is cheap". Sitting in an interview, humans typically have an obligation to speak, but also the obligation to ask though-provoking questions in order to learn through listening. In my line of work, if you use your mouth more than your ears you are dead. I know it is an overused cliche, but it it the truth. We were born with one mouth, and two ears for a reason. Our natural ability to learn is hindered by our urge to speak. Once you have that figured out, you have come along way. Rememeber, our greatest weakness is having to talk about ourselves. And, if we must, be prepared to tell interesting, succinct, and relevant stories to your audience about who you are, where you have come from, and what you have learned along the way.
Posted By Chris S., Edina, MN : Wed Nov 15, 05:29:34 PM  

The best response when faced with this line of questioning is "Thank you for your time, but I don't accept positions that are based upon Behavioral Based Interviews". When they pick themselves up off the floor, explain that you do not want to work in a company that picks it's employees based upon how quickly they can come up with a line of baloney. That's not the kind of person you are, and you don't want to work around that kind of people. You have experience, education, references and accomplishments, and you are able to document them. If the interviewer's idea of the ideal employee is somebody who can answer questions like that off the cuff, they need to be looking for a politician, not a professional. Your time will be best spent elsewhere. If everybody refused Behavioral Based Interviews, HR departments would actually have to start doing their job instead of reading from prepared scripts.
Posted By TC, Springfield, MO : Wed Nov 15, 08:48:31 PM  

If you think for a moment that you have no weaknesses that means your self-righteousness and/or inflated ego is your weakness. If you have never explored your weaknesses then you must do so, not just so that you can improve on them, but more that you can learn to recongnize the situations where you must rely on others.
Posted By Ryan, Calgary, Alberta : Fri Nov 17, 11:29:33 AM  

Interesting discussion. I was recently asked this question and babbled on about how I couldn't find a file quickly if asked because I need time to process my thoughts. I have a good memory and can find files quickly as I have a good filing system but I do need time to process thoughts and problems before I find a solution. My mistake was to put these two items together which made me feel like I wasn't qualified for the position as an executive assistant who needs to be able to find things quickly when asked. I didn't get the job and I have been pondering how I could have had a better answer ever since. My honest answer would be my greatest weakness is that I'm inherently lazy!
Posted By Christine Bidwell, Boston, MA : Fri Nov 17, 05:05:44 PM  

I'll have to agree that a candidate avoiding the question would turn me off in an interview. this isn't a cocktail party, where you get to chose which questions to ask.
Posted By Dave, Tokyo Japan : Tue Nov 21, 01:54:59 AM  

In my last interview, I stated that a weakness that I have and am working toward was not being able to speak more than one language.

It's the truth and it's something that I'm trying to work toward.

I mentioned that I wanted to be able to speak with and help more than on type of person and that it limits my ability to work on a broader level.

She seemed pleased with the answer, is this a viable/correct answer?
Posted By AJ, Milwaukee, WI. : Wed Nov 29, 02:32:19 PM  

Annie: 'What is your greatest weakness/' is not the kind of question we should learn to avoid or dodge? When employers, or potential employers ask us that question, they are trying to see if we have enough insight, and care enough about it, to work on our deficiencies. Now that we know that this question might be asked, we should prepare for it. And that might require a little thought.
Posted By Paul Smith Chicago, Ill. : Sun Dec 03, 06:37:28 PM  

I have heard them all since that used to be one of my interview questions. If I were asked, my greatest weekness is my family, they are the reason I strive to do better and they will be the reason for me to take time away from work. My family comes first.
Posted By Mark, Lathrop CA : Mon Dec 04, 09:01:10 AM  

That question always catches me off guard. Being a female in a male environment for over 25 years in the steel industry, one would think that being a female is a weakness. It is not. And one should never assume this. Growth development, implementing & learning new progress establishment from others within organizations and the real meaning of the word "customer" - everyone in our life is a "customer". Leave a real impression of who you are with everyone. Especially in the interview process.
Posted By Wolfe, Kemah, TX : Mon Dec 04, 03:52:01 PM  

When I conducted interviews in my previous job, I was usually dealing with college students (as interns) or recent graduates. I asked the question this way: "What areas would you like to see growth in?" after asking about their strengths.
I found that to be a better way to gauge their insight into themselves as well as their focus on goals. Also, it helped me see if we were heading in the same direction, as in, did they want to learn the kinds of things we would be teaching them, and would we both benefit from their employment.
Posted By Laura, Lansing, MI : Wed Dec 06, 02:04:39 PM  

Being in consulting I go through a lot of interviews. You have to treat this question in context. I they ask
about your weeknesses after asking, "where do you see yourself in 5 years?", "Why did you leave your last position?", and "What kind of job's interest you most?" then give the canned answer. At that point they are just going through the motions and hoping not to find a reason to disqualify you. If you encounter a competent HR manager who actually seems to be asking relavent, unrehearsed questions, give them an honest answer. There are much fewer HR managers at this level than you might expect.
Posted By Bill G. Chicago, IL : Wed Dec 06, 07:56:03 PM  

The absolute best answer to this interview is, "Lying in interviews." That gets a chuckle, then you go into your serious answer which is, "I don't know what my weakness will be in this job. In the past I've always recognized my weaknesses and corrected them. For example...(give good example). Every new job comes with new challenges, and I can tell you I'm adept at recognizing my weaknesses and correcting them."
Posted By Rich, Seattle, WA : Fri Dec 08, 03:47:53 PM  

Being called a struggler by your boss is a strength or a weakness???
Posted By Misha, Austin TX : Mon Jan 29, 12:40:11 PM  

On my first job I did much more than a younger married man who also had a lower mgmt. title. But I had more responsibility. When asked why I was told bcz he was a married man with a family, i.e., his 'need' was bigger than mine! That was in the 50's. But still I think we women are still afraid to rock the boat bcz we're afraid they'll find a way to let us go. I retired from a telephone company where most employees were women, MOST lower supervisors & lower 'middle' management were women, but ALL the top management were men! As far as I know, this still is the case. I also wonder if many women say no to offers bcz they are also raising kids & feel they're needed more at home. I even knew one lady whose husband resented her making more than him. My first jobs were with banks, in the 50's & early 60's, where I don't remember ANY women management at all!
Posted By Carole, Lake Forest, Ca. : Mon Mar 26, 12:08:32 PM  

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About this blog
Anne Fisher, Fortune magazine senior writer, answers career-related questions and offers helpful advice for business professionals. To submit a question, please e-mail askannie@fortunemail.com. Sign up for her weekly newsletter here.

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Most stock quote data provided by BATS. Market indices are shown in real time, except for the DJIA, which is delayed by two minutes. All times are ET. Disclaimer. Morningstar: © 2018 Morningstar, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Factset: FactSet Research Systems Inc. 2018. All rights reserved. Chicago Mercantile Association: Certain market data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Dow Jones: The Dow Jones branded indices are proprietary to and are calculated, distributed and marketed by DJI Opco, a subsidiary of S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC and have been licensed for use to S&P Opco, LLC and CNN. Standard & Poor's and S&P are registered trademarks of Standard & Poor's Financial Services LLC and Dow Jones is a registered trademark of Dow Jones Trademark Holdings LLC. All content of the Dow Jones branded indices © S&P Dow Jones Indices LLC 2018 and/or its affiliates.