When interviewers ask about your greatest weakness, the biggest mistake would be to respond with some cookie-cutter answer like “my greatest weakness is that I am a perfectionist” or “I work too hard.” Those answers are just sucking up. Interviewers weren’t born yesterday and are not going to fall for the “spin that slightly negative thing into a really positive thing” approach because it sounds too rehearsed and insincere. Unfortunately, most people make this mistake. Instead of having the positive impact they were expecting, it ends up hurting them in the interview.
Companies want to hear a real weakness. They want to know the real you so that they can have a full picture of what makes you tick.
I’ve experienced this on both sides of the interview table. I remember interviewing someone once and asking her this question. She responded with something fluffy that didn’t sound like a weakness at all. I pressed her but she couldn’t come up with anything else. This was a deal breaker for me because it showed a lack of self-reflection and humility about ones own shortcomings.
On the other side of the table, when I was an interviewee asked about my weaknesses, it was an easy (but painful) question to answer. How do I know my own weaknesses? I know them because when I look back at all of the big mistakes, money lost, hurt and tragedies that could have been avoided in my personal and professional life, 80% of the time they come back to attention to detail. It’s still something I struggle with and strive to improve.
If you put Lebron and Einstein on a basketball court, would you think any less of Einstein because of his subpar basketball skills? I don’t think so. You would probably appreciate that both have very different strengths and weaknesses.
The way to talk about weaknesses then is to really just fess up. If you have issues giving feedback, then talk about that and give an example. If your weakness is a tendency to get distracted easily, show how this had a negative impact in your actual work. Don’t sugar coat it and don’t pretend like the problem is gone. Explain what steps you take to mitigate it but admit that it’s still something you’re working on.
Former Navy Seal and author Jocko Willink talks about this in his book, Extreme Ownership. He points out that 99.9% of failure in the Navy Seals has nothing to do with their physical skills or mental toughness.
“What makes a person fail as a leader is that they are not humble enough to accept responsibility for their mistakes…[…] Ego drive can be good and pushes people to do better. Where ego becomes the enemy is when it becomes too big. They can’t take criticism and they can’t take ownership when mistakes happen, so they point fingers at other people. With ownership you take control of your ego and take responsibility for your actions.”
Take full ownership of your weaknesses, faults, and shortcomings. Weaknesses are not positive things. They suck, or else we wouldn’t call them weaknesses. We realize we may never truly turn them into strengths and that’s ok.
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