Exposing your greatest weakness in an interview
And how to correctly deal with this situation
"What's your greatest weakness?"
Have you ever been asked this question in an interview and were like, "Yea, uhm, well...I sometimes want to achieve too much?"
This question is tricky, but here is how you can crush it.
I've interviewed quite a few times in the last few years, and I also had the honor to interview a few outstanding software engineers. I witnessed this question many times, although I never asked it myself. My job as a tech lead is to assess the technical quality of candidates and see how much they fit into my team. I like to use other techniques to do this, but I still understand why HR managers love to ask questions like this one.
Why this question is important
Self-awareness is important for everyone.
It's valuable to know what your
- And weaknesses
are and what you
- And dislike.
Knowing your own weaknesses is especially crucial.
It gives you the ability to know:
- Where you could improve
- Which tasks you might struggle with
- When it is better to ask for help
- Which situations you might not want to find yourself in
Self-aware employees can ask for education, certification, and help to improve their weaknesses themselves. They usually also know what tasks they can ask for help with right from the beginning. Additionally, they know about social situations they might not like.
Employees who are self-reflective enough to know their weaknesses are valuable for a company. Even an introvert can be a great team member, especially if they are committed to improving to get along in their team well.
Lastly, honesty is shown through this answer. Answering with an honest weakness exposes the candidate to the interviewer. But the candidate shows that they can be honest even if something isn't in their own favor.
How to deal with this question
If you aren't already self-reflecting regularly, prepare yourself to put in some work before your interview. Assess yourself and honestly ask yourself what your weaknesses are. Write them all down and sort them.
Here are some essential rules for the weaknesses, their order, and a description:
- Choose a weakness that wouldn't cost you the job
- Be honest, only real weaknesses. Don't just make something up
- Add an example of how you worked to improve this weakness
- Show that you can take the help of others to overcome a weakness
- Neither be arrogant nor underestimate or short-sell yourself
Take your time, and don't rush this step. You can reuse this work in the future for other interviews. Follow the rules above closely. You want to crush this question and not only give a probably satisfying answer. This is why only saying something like, "I tend to become impatient after a while," is not enough.
The first spot on the list should be taken by:
- An honest answer
- One that still favors you and doesn't shed light too negative on you
- A weakness you can tell a story about
- What it affects
- How you overcame it
- What you did and still do to improve on it
An example of a good answer
"I tend to focus too much on details. A few times in the past, I put more work into some features I developed than would have been needed to create a good solution. This lead to me not having enough time to help my teammates out. I had a few talks with my managers about this, and I realized that software doesn't always have to be perfect. It only needs to do what it is supposed to do.
Since realizing this, I put more thought into my features and create code reviews earlier to ask for feedback. This allows me to discuss my approach with my teammates and them the chance to evaluate my approach and inform me when we reached a point where my code is good enough.
I still struggle with my detail orientation from time to time. But I actively work on improving on this, while early code reviews give me a good opportunity to learn from the experience of my peers.
I'd love to get some help with this, and if you, as an employer, offer training on this, I'd be happy to take it."
This example answer checks all marks.
If this is really something that happened to you, no interviewer can ask for more.
You exposed yourself, and it's their turn to assess whether they believe you and are okay with it.
Some common weaknesses
Here are a few examples of common weaknesses you might also suffer from:
- You have a problem with patience
- You struggle organizing your work
- You don't like to delegate tasks
- You might be timid
- You don't like public speaking
- You perhaps struggle with data analysis
- You need to improve your software testing skills
- You like to rush things
- You can't deal well with stubborn people
- You don't like letting go of a project
- You have trouble saying no
Decide for yourself whether you suffer from one of these examples. If so, pick the one that is really your greatest weakness.
If yours is not included here, you will have to dig deeper and honestly ask yourself what the issue is that you suffer the most from. It may take some time, and perhaps you don't even find the correct one, but it will still be an honest one because you came up with it.
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