What is Your Greatest Weakness?

Just finished opening week for the major league baseball season. My hometown team, the Cleveland Indians, has thus far won three games and lost three. They’ve done some things very well and others…let’s just hope the poor play in the losses was the result of “jitters” and can be corrected quickly.


As a fan, I was encouraged by how much better the team played last season than the previous year, but there is always room for improvement.Every player, no matter how well they perform, can always improve on part of their game. And thus it is the same with employees – we can always be working to sharpen up/improve some part of our skill set, no matter how wonderful we think we are.

With still so many people submitting resumes for job openings (several hiring managers in my network have recently advised that they continue to receive “hundreds” of resumes for any one job posting), interviewers need some questions that will help them screen out candidates from consideration.  One of those is the dreaded, “What is your greatest weakness” query.

Candidates have historically cringed when asked this question, since they firmly believe that the person asking it is trying find out something bad/negative about them in order to use that information as a reason for elimination from consideration.

Although some interviewers and hiring managers do, in fact, use this question for that purpose, I feel strongly (based much on the input received from dozens of hiring managers, recruiters and HR executives) that for most the purpose is to provide candidates with an opportunity to differentiate themselves from the competition. Not everyone can easily handle a tough question.

For example how about telling the interviewer how you continue to work on improving your public speaking skills and to that end, have been attending Toastmasters for “x” amount of months and, as a result of doing so, have seen a significant improvement in your ability to execute dynamic presentations. How do you think that answer compares to what interviewers normally receive as a response – such gems as:

  • “I work too hard”
  • “I’m too honest”
  • “I never take any time off”

Frankly, answers like this make hiring managers laugh…and, they are not laughing with you, if you know what I mean.

A couple of months ago, I was interviewed by Tim Muma from the LocalJobNetwork.comwebsite for one of his Internet radio shows.  I was asked why hiring managers use the, “What is your greatest weakness” question and how candidates should answer it. The recorded interview can be found by clicking here.

But, before you click over to listen to the interview, here are a couple of tips for you to consider, when asked that question:

1. Turn a “weakness” into a positive.

2. This is the candidate’s opportunity to demonstrate for the hiring manager how they will be able to respond when asked tough questions by others within the organization, prospects and clients.

3. Talk about a “weakness” that is aligned with what the target company is seeking from its ideal candidate (pay attention to what are defined as required skills in the job description). This tells the hiring manager that you have done your research on his/her company – most candidates don’t bother doing ANY research, thus an opportunity to differentiate yourself.

4. Develop an answer that clearly demonstrates how you are working on something at which you perform well so that you will be great at doing it! Something that shows that you are pushing/challenging yourself to be the best you can be.

Back to baseball…Most of the truly great players will tell you that they are always working to improve some “weakness”. For example, the player who had the best batting average last season is likely to state that he is trying to do a better job of hitting a certain pitch (e.g., curve ball), because that is his weakness, and pitchers on other teams are aware of such. So, you have the best hitter for the season stating that he has a weakness – in this case a curve ball, but he is working on going from being just “OK” hitting that pitch to being really good or great at doing so. What manager of a major league baseball team would not love to hear that!

So, instead of cringing when you hear this question coming your way, embrace it as an opportunity to separate yourself from all of those other candidates who “work too hard”.