3 ways to respond to, “What’s your greatest weakness?” — morning meditation

My greatest weakness

What is a morning meditation? To help me build a habit of daily writing, I’m publishing a few thoughts here every morning about ideas that interest and inspire me, mostly drawn from ordinary life. I hope you enjoy them.

Few questions inspire more needless dread than, “What’s your greatest weakness?”

From a hiring manager’s standpoint, it’s a useless question, bordering on mean. Defenders argue that it screens for self-awareness, but if that’s your goal, there are far better questions that can elicit genuinely thoughtful responses (I’ve shared a few below). But asking a candidate, “What’s your greatest weakness?” immediately puts him or her on the defensive and virtually guarantees a pat, premeditated response that reveals nothing other than that this person has thought about how to answer this question.

So what can we do instead?

For hiring managers

Stop asking this question. Cut it from your hiring manuals. Strike it from your handbooks. Consign it to the dustbin of corporate history where it belongs.

If you truly want to determine whether a candidate is self-aware, I’ve found these questions to be far more effective:

  • Why do you believe you’ve been able to be achieve the level of success that you have in your career so far?
  • What are two or three things you’re better at than most people?
  • Think about someone who is very influential in your life. What are two or three qualities you admire most about this person?
  • Tell me about a time when you really messed up. How did you handle it?
  • What does success mean to you? How about failure?

For job seekers

So if you are asked this question in an interview (and at some point, you will be), what’s the best way to respond?

Honestly, don’t. Run away instead. It’s a sign of an inexperienced interviewer who hasn’t done enough homework on you to ask thoughtful, probing questions that are actually relevant to the job you’re interviewing for. Do you really want to work for someone like that?

But let’s say you have a more generous spirit than I do, or maybe you just really need the job. Here are 3 ways to respond that will make you sound smart and allow the interviewer to save face, too.

  1. “You know, I’ve found that I can’t really separate the things I’m great at from the things I’m weak at, because they all feed into each other. For example, I’m the sort of person who needs time to think before I speak. This means you can always depend on me for a thoughtful response to a question, but it also means I can seem reticent in group settings. Is that a weakness? Maybe, but it’s definitely a strength, too.”
  2. “That’s an interesting question. I think what you’re trying to learn is whether or not I’m aware of my own limitations. Instead of giving you a generic answer, here’s a specific story about a time when I ran into my limits and how I handled it.”
  3. And my personal favorite: “Chocolate.”