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Why do interviewers ask you "What is Your Greatest Weakness"?

"What is your greatest weakness?" is easily ranked among the top 5 in the most commonly asked interview questions. Yet, this question seems so cliche, and many candidates have questioned the relevance of the question. It also presents a dilemma - should I be completely honest, or should I create a weakness, that is actually a strength?

The true objective of the question is for the interviewer to have an understanding of your ability to objectively analyse yourself and to also obtain some level of depth of your strengths and weaknesses. Using your answers, good interviewers can answer a few questions for themselves such as:

1. Do you have a high degree of self-awareness such that you understand your limitations and have sufficient humility to discuss it in an honest manner?

2. Are your strengths and weaknesses a suitable fit for the rest of the team members and for the organisation?

While it is arguable that many candidates are so well prepared for this question that the ability of the interviewer to extract any true information is now limited, do note that there are now other variations to this question that are being used to discover the same information.

Sometimes, we would ask "Tell me 3 weaknesses you have". This usually places the candidate in a more difficult position and some degree of honesty usually kicks in by the third weakness. Another variation is to use a different angle altogether such as "On your worst day at work (or at school), what were you doing that day?". Another method would be for the interviewer to provide a range of skill sets (usually those required by the job) and to have you rank them in order of preference and discuss.

Regardless of what form of question you may receive, do bear in mind that interviewers are genuinely keen on finding out what you perceive your own weakness to be, and how you manage it. Do you portray a growth mindset, are you able to bounce back from adversity, do you have a clear idea of what is required to improve yourself - these are the things going through their minds.

Your best bet to answering such questions is to be honest and thoughtful. Do not deliver a contrived answer that you have no connection to whatsoever. Instead, have a good honest insightful reflection of yourself, think about all the weaknesses you may have, and strategically select a few which you are able to discuss and portray your positive efforts to overcome the weakness or have learnt from the weakness. What I like to tell my interview skills clients is this "Don't lie, but be strategic".

Written by: Siew Ling Hwang, Founder and Principal Interview Coach, Discovering Potential

Ms Siew Ling Hwang, has extensive experience providing interview skills training to candidates for various industries and schools. She specialises in conducting workshops and 1-on-1 training for those seeking to improve their interview skills for school interviews and job interviews. She is also a Certified Practitioner of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) and NLP Coaching, as well as a Certified Advanced Behavioural Analyst. Her unique skillset in combining real world practices, NLP Coaching techniques and personality and behavioural expertise provides clients with an effective session to achieve real improvements that are suited to their own natural personalities.


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