Let me start by saying your greatest weakness is your greatest weakness.
It’s not your greatest strength disguised as a weakness.
Let me explain why I just had to say that…
I have come across way too many HR professionals recommending that you should take your greatest strength, take it to the extreme, and then present that as your weakness to the interviewer.
Here are some examples they suggest:
- I work too hard... (Right...I'm sure you do)
- I am a perfectionist... (You know it's almost funny hearing everyone saying this in interviews)
- I don't delegate as much as I should... (This isn't the worst answer as far as bad answers go)
- I am very critical of my own work... (Uh, I feel sorry for you)
Seriously. If you mention one of the above weaknesses as 99% of the candidates do, what do you think will happen?
The hiring manager will immediately label you as a BS’er.
You think you are so smart that you could pull it off? No way.
It may work for a mom and pop shop employer but not a Fortune employer. Worse, not only it won’t work, but it will work against you.
It’s that bad.
But no worries. You are in the right place and I will present you an awesome approach here. After all, 6,320+ career experts and universities who linked to this article can’t be wrong.
First things first, let me introduce myself. I am Deniz Sasal. I am a manager with PwC Consulting in our strategy consulting business unit. I am also the creator of The Career Mastery and infamous Landing Interviews Guaranteed (1-hour long free masterclass where I teach candidates advanced strategies to pass job interviews)
I launched The Career Mastery blog as a side project in 2016 because I wanted to help unemployed and underemployed find better jobs with large multinational employers and management consultancies.
See, I’ve joined a lot of interviews as a hiring manager. And one thing I noticed very clearly is that today’s job applicants are extremely misled. There is so much wrong advice out there given by completely unqualified non-achievers who have the audacity to teach. And as a result, many candidates end up wasting so much valuable time and settling for sub-par employers.
Alright, let’s continue…
If you give one of the answers mentioned above, how do you think I will react? Or any hiring manager at a large multinational.
I will feel that you will continue to BS me in every opportunity you get. There is simply no appeal in hiring a team member or subordinate who will just try to lie his way through tough times.
With all your qualities, hard skills, dedication, that college degree you studied so hard for…would you rather these be overshadowed by an impression as a con artist?
I am confident that the answer is no.
I understand why you are confused, though. I really do.
You were misguided by all the wrong advice.
If you Google “What are your biggest weaknesses best answers and samples,” most websites will talk about how to trick the interviewer with your answer. Career advisers will tell you the best way to respond is to look for a weakness that is not too “weak” or is actually a strength in disguise…
I am confident that I will change that notion for you soon.
In the world of consulting, we are challenged with deadlines and quality deliverables on a daily basis.
It’s tough out there.
This is same with large multinational companies, be it investment banking, consumer goods, marketing, sales, anything. A large MNC didn’t get to be number one with lazy employees.
Clients are demanding and competition is fierce. Whoever is not up to the challenge gets lost.
In these high-intensity environments, leaders need soldiers who will fight with them as one united team.
So, what’s my point?
There are no lies or cheats in such a team. There are no acts, no pretense.
So, when we are looking for new additions to such an environment, we make sure we can confidently trust you to deliver at the quality you committed to. There are no excuses, buts, uhmms, or what.
And if we’re going to be truthful and all…
I’ll tell you that this question is not about exposing your weaknesses or your shortcomings. It’s about giving you the opportunity to prove your honesty.
I hope I’m being clear when I say how honesty plays an integral role in your interview process of course while being careful about the impression you give. There is a fine line to walk here.
As hiring managers, we all have a checklist. And it goes like this:
- Is she trustworthy?
- Can she say sorry when she messes up? Can she learn from it and then move on with lessons learned?
- Is she honest?
- Is she motivated to work hard for the team?
- If the answer is “YES” so far, only then do we move on to evaluate the hard skills.
As a hiring manager, sometimes we test you with this question to understand whether you are trustworthy or not.
We can even increase the pressure and use your answers against you…
Look for inconsistencies in your answers…
Try to make you say sorry…
Are you adult enough to say sorry when you need to? Or is it a pride issue?
Am I dealing with self-entitlement here? (If so, I suggest you work on that before you start interviewing with anyone. It will be obvious.)
It’s a mind game, at its best. You were asked a very simple question under pressure: What is your greatest weakness? If you can’t answer this honestly, you surely will not answer honestly once we start working together and I ask for that presentation you should have delivered in the morning.
Alright. I hope so far it’s clear to you. You know now that the first thing you need to establish is honesty.
Let’s get to it.
What is your greatest weakness? Here is how I answer.
I can give you a billion examples and show lists of weaknesses, but it would be difficult to tackle this topic without knowing your domain, background, and experience.
So, I will first share with you my very own weaknesses and perhaps you may also relate to some of them. If they don’t relate to you, then I will give you more examples below.
The examples below will give you a good idea of what to say when the interviewer asks you about your weaknesses. Please read through and then we will analyze.
My first weakness: Although I am very good with applications of PowerPoint, its tools and functions, I am not the greatest when it comes to designing the slides.
This is true. I really am not a good designer. I can’t design a slide based on what I have in my head. But, luckily, PwC has probably the best slide library in the world. So, all I have to do is go through about 400 slides and pick a good template. To be perfectly honest, even if I were great at it, I’m not sure if I would be allowed to take initiative and design my slides anyway. Consulting companies invest millions of dollars to make sure they have the best colors and layout.
Second weakness: I am confrontational. A bit too much perhaps. This has given me many problems in the past, especially with clients from regions where confrontations are discouraged, such as Japan and the Philippines.
Although I mastered the art of confrontation, in certain cultures, confrontation itself is frowned upon. So, there isn’t really anything I can do about it other than be honest with the partner and excuse myself from those projects or not include uber-sensitive people in my teams. It’s rare to find consultants who run away from confrontation but they are out there.
Third weakness: We have a strategy development tool at work called “Transform”. I am just not good at using it.
Prior to PwC, I used different methodologies and frameworks to develop strategies and somehow I can’t get rid of the thought-processes I developed earlier. That doesn’t mean I am bad at strategy development, but I am just not very good at following “Transform”.
Fourth weakness: I get bored very quickly.
My motivation peaks at the 1st day of a new engagement, stays at peak for about a month or two, then drops very quickly after 6th month. As a result, I try to get projects that are shorter than 6 months in duration. This is not a major problem as 95% of our projects fall within the 6-month time frame.
Fifth weakness: I am not a copywriter. And my ability to write long reports depends on who I have in my team.
To counteract this, I usually get a junior consultant who is a native English speaker to make sure my work is properly edited and proofread.
Enough of my weaknesses already?
So, let’s analyze them.
What am I doing here? I’m giving you the weakness but then explaining that it’s really no big deal. In other words, the weakness is not something so great that it will fail me. But at the same time, I am still being very honest with my answers.
I suggest you do the same. After stating your weakness, don’t forget to talk about what you are doing to be better or why that weakness isn’t a deal breaker.
The weaknesses I listed above were my very own weaknesses which may not relate to you at all.
So, I thought to go extra mile and share with you more examples that you may use in your interview. Some of these examples are riskier than the others. Sometimes, a risky answer may work great for the same person in the morning as opposed to in the evening, or how the interview started. The same answer may work great if you kicked off the interview with an awesome impression, or work completely against you if you couldn’t create that impression. So, you be the judge of it.
Here you go with more sample answers to “what are your weaknesses”;
May get overwhelmed
Although I am a fast learner, I can get overwhelmed if I need to learn too many things in a very short time.
Adapting to new tools
I sometimes have difficulty catching up with software tools we use at work. At my previous employer, we started with SAP, took me a good couple of months to learn the system, just when I thought I mastered it, we then changed to Oracle. I think I wasn’t as quick to adapt to the new system as some of my other colleagues.
I am a morning person. I perform incredibly well in the morning but then my performance gradually decreases as we progress in the day. As a result, I try not to schedule important meetings or presentations after 2 pm.
Obsessed with visuals
I am obsessed with getting visuals right in presentations. I have given my team a hard time in the past on this. Visuals are at least 50% of the work while developing a presentation. In fact, it’s only 50% of the work, yet, it gives 80% of the impact. So, you can understand why I am obsessed with it.
So, now, get to work. Start writing down all your weaknesses in an Excel list like below:
Once you finish the list, start evaluating based on the criteria below:
- Will mentioning this weakness hurt your chances?
- Is it something vital to your performance at work?
- Is it something not easily fixable if you work on it? (Certain weakness cannot be immediately fixed, like my lack of copywriting proficiency.)
Eliminate all those that you answered “Yes” to.
And if you aren’t left with anything, then go back to your favorite spot and continue thinking. Come up with at least 2 weaknesses that you can answer with a resounding “NO” to with the questions above.
Now, let’s say you really thought long and hard but still couldn’t find a good weakness. And you feel you have no option but to make up one.
My first suggestion is to urge you to think a bit more. But if you still can’t, then I understand to a certain degree.
After all, if you are a fresh graduate, you may have very little relatable experience.
“Exactly, Deniz! I have no experience, so let me just go ahead and copy a weakness statement from the Internet…”
Don’t Do It!
In this case, I think you have a perfectly justifiable reason not to know your professional weaknesses as yet. So, why don’t you say it that way?
If you are a fresh graduate, then go ahead and say the following:
“Well, here’s the thing. As much as I want to share my professional weaknesses, I still haven’t accumulated enough work experience to share with you a list of my weaknesses. It’s not that I don’t have any. I’m sure I will have many of those. But I guarantee you that whatever they will be, I will work on them. If you are interested in my weaknesses related to my personal life, I’d be happy to share with you all. How much time do you have?”
And that’s it. With that answer, you may even collect so many “honesty points”.
If you do come up with a good list, then I suggest you slidify them. Put your skills, strengths, and weaknesses in 1 neat PowerPoint slide. Take it out in the meeting and present it to the hiring manager. Trust me, it will work wonders. You will immediately realize his mood will change drastically. Yes, it’s that good.
Here is my suggestion for a PowerPoint template you can use;
You can download the editable ppt version of the slides once you register to my free masterclass. (It’s free for a limited time)
P.S. Would you do me a favor? If you think you found great value from this article, can you then please share it with your network? The SHARE buttons are on the left. Thanks! If you share it on LinkedIn, please remember to add me to your LinkedIn connections. In fact, you may want to browse through my connections in LinkedIn as well. I have many connections who are executive recruiters.