By Deborah Vieyra
Being asked “What is your greatest weakness?” in an interview may feel somewhat like a trick question. How do you respond to this honestly and still come out looking like the ideal candidate? What sort of balance should you strike between self-awareness and self-deprecation? How do you reveal your Achilles’ heel while still putting your best foot forward?
The reality is we all have weaknesses. If the selection committee is looking for candidates that are free of imperfections, they would have a hard (and rather boring) time of finding anyone suitable. Understanding your weaknesses is right at the heart of personal growth—and being able to articulate your shortcomings displays maturity and a capacity for deep reflection.
To guide you through how to answer this riddle of a question, here are three ways to use the question, “What is your greatest weakness?” to your advantage:
#1 Admit you have weaknesses
Never, and I repeat never, say that you do not have weaknesses. Do not suggest that you’ve managed to work out all the kinks and that you are now without flaws. This will come across as naive, disingenuous, or just plain arrogant. Show from the outset that you know having weaknesses is perfectly normal, and that the best way to approach any shortcomings you may have is to first acknowledge that they exist. When identifying your areas for growth, highlight how you are going about working to improve. If, for example, you have a tendency towards overworking yourself, explain how understanding this trait is helping you move towards a more balanced life. By showing that you not only are cognizant of your weaknesses, but are consciously making the effort to actively do something about them, you will show an advanced degree of emotional maturity.
#2 Provide honest answers
That old adage about honesty being the best policy is most certainly applicable when it comes to speaking about your weaknesses in an interview. It is important that you are honest about weaknesses—but when it comes to what exactly you choose to speak about, choose wisely. One option is choose shortcomings that you have already managed to overcome. Perhaps you have had a tendency to take on too many volunteers activities, leaving you feeling burnt out and unable to cope with your work. You might have worked through this by being more selective about what you have the capacity to tackle. Alternatively, taking criticism personally may have been a struggle of yours. If you identify this as a weakness, show how you have become more open to others’ opinions and have in fact used this as a site for personal improvement. By showing both sides of the coin, you will not only show how your capacity for self-reflection, but also for catalyzing real change.
#3 Don’t Overdo It
Finally, don’t lay it on too thick. They’re looking to see that you have a degree of self-understanding, not for you to make an argument against yourself. You don’t have to mention every little chink in your armor. In addition to this, if the thought of this answering this question throws up some real issues that you feel you have to work on, perhaps it is worth taking this as an indicator that you should do so before tackling a fellowship or new position. If you’re someone who is always late, or a terrible procrastinator, and these things still challenge you, consider what you can do to change these behaviors. This kind of self-reflection now will only stand you in good stead for the future.
Finally, good luck for the interview! Use this as an opportunity to dive inwards and see exactly where it is that you need to focus your energies. This could be a pivotal moment for you.
Deborah Vieyra is a Fulbright alumna from South Africa who completed her MA in Applied Theatre Arts at the University of Southern California. She now works as a writer, proofreader and performer in Vancouver, Canada.
© Victoria Johnson 2019, all rights reserved.