How to answer the what is your greatest weakness question in interviews

David Tuohy 19.10.2017

Having expertly walked through your experience and highlighted the relevant examples that show that you have the skills and competencies for the job, the interview panel asks you to outline your greatest weakness. What do you say?

I will outline a few approaches that you can take here and the pros and cons of each. Whichever approach you take, key is that you have thought about your answer before the interview – otherwise this can be a real banana skin.

1. Hedge your bets (try to make a negative look like a positive)

The default answers most candidates give go something like this:

“Sometimes I work too hard”

“I can be a perfectionist”

“Sometimes I can be impatient, I like to see things getting done”

“I find it hard to say no, I’m a real team player”

Cons:

You will find plenty of advice that says these answers turn weaknesses into strengths, but if the panel accepts that answer, then they should have just asked you for your strengths and left it at that.

If I were interviewing, I would probably ask the candidate to give me an example that demonstrates this weakness to understand if “working too hard” really means “I’m inefficient” or “I can’t prioritise” or “I can’t set boundaries”. Or if being a “perfectionist” means you regularly miss deadlines or allow other work to backlog.

You have missed an opportunity to demonstrate your self-awareness and motivations and to move the conversation into a positive discussion about your career.

Pros:

Many candidates give this answer, so the panel may be deaf to it at this stage and may just move on – in which case hedging your bets has paid off…in the interview that is, but another candidate may have a stronger answer to this question and beat you to the job.

2. Choose a non-critical weakness

Here you review the job specification, let’s say it’s a role in Corporate Tax, and then you say something like:

“Well, in terms of my tax knowledge, I don’t have much experience in Income Tax”.

To which they say,

“Well, that won’t be an issue as there is no Income Tax in this role”.

And you would think, “Great! Next question.”

But what if instead, they said,

“Well, that won’t be an issue as there is no Income Tax in this role. Tell us what you think your greatest weakness is relative to the role?”

Now you’re in trouble!

Cons:

You have missed an opportunity to demonstrate your self-awareness and motivations and to move the conversation into a positive discussion about your career.

Pros:

If nobody challenges you, you might get away with it, in the interview at least. But interviews are about getting the job, not just not messing it up!

3.Frame your weakness AREA FOR DEVELOPMENT, within your career goal(s)

To begin with, a weakness is only your weakness if it affects your ability to achieve your goals. So, for example, if you are a Corporate Tax Manager and you want to be a Corporate Tax Director, not being good on income tax has no influence on your career progression – it’s just one of a million other things you’re not good at in life.

So first you need to establish what your goals are (you may have already been asked “where do you see yourself in 5 years” in the interview, so you can refer back to that.)

“Well, in 5 years I would like to be a Corporate Tax Director, leading a team and working with multinational and large companies”.

Then identify the areas for development that you see in order for you to achieve those goals,

“I have had very good relationships with my clients, but I have had very little exposure to pitching for new business and working on business development. This is an area I intend to focus on over the next 3 years so that I can be effective as a Director and continue that progression to Partner.”

The panel will admire your ambition, clarity around your goals and what you need to do to achieve them. If they are smart at recruitment, they will even say something like,

“Well, you know, you would be joining us at Tax Manager level and we develop very clear career paths and milestones with all our managers to support their progression and we invest quite a lot in training and CPD so that you can achieve your goals within our company.”

Cons:

You need to have clear, achievable career goals in place, and be very clear about your areas for development – otherwise, you’ll come across as having poor judgement

Pros:

Done right, this approach steers the conversation onto how the company and the role will support your career development and sets you apart from all the candidates that chose options 1 and 2!

#masterinterviews

David Tuohy's picture
Team Leader
dtuohy@morganmckinley.com

LATEST JOB VACANCIES

Are you a qualified or part-qualified accountant with a commercial or family business background interested in
Cork20.07.2020
Audit Director - Dublin City Centre - €80k
Dublin City Centre01.07.2020
Qualified Accountant - 3 day week - Practice
Cork12.06.2020